CeBIT 2004: Getting the Picture
By Carlo Longino, Wed Mar 17 19:00:00 GMT 2004

It's been a full day of press conferences here in Hannover, with vendors pushing higher-quality kamerahandys and an ecosystem of devices and applications around them.

Some time in the recent past, stats came out showing that cameras integrated into handys outsold traditional digital cameras. Photo enthusiasts and the traditional camera powers have shrugged off the competition, feeling assured that handys' cameras' low quality would protect their market. But Japanese mobiles regularly feature 2-megapixel cameras, a feature Sharp is bringing to Europe, and 1-megapixel cameraphones are quickly becoming standard.

While undoubtedly a 5- or 10-megapixel camera is going to make a better 8x10 to give to Grandma, 2 megapixels is sufficient for most general consumer use and the point at which most consumers will quit carrying a standalone camera and rely on their handy for most pictures. And quality is only going to improve, and fast.

But the real killer for the traditional camera makers is that handy makers are aggressively pursuing applications and hardware that make it easy for users to share the images they've captured, because they understand that photos and videos are, at their root, forms of communication not too unlike voice calls or text messaging. Treating them as such, as points of interaction rather than points of consumption, makes the photo or video experience much more engaging and rewarding.

This morning Siemens unveiled some new handys, with the S65 and its 1.3-megapixel leading the way. The S65 is positioned as a powerful business phone (though it's not a smartphone), with Bluetooth, "extended PIM" that wirelessly syncs with a PC, Outlook and Notes, solid design and a compact MMC. The other handys announced today were the C65 consumer handy and the M65, an outdoor multimedia handy that's water, shock and dust resistant.

Siemens, which has an extremely successful wireline cordless phone business, wants to get wireline users in on the fun as well, announcing a new cordless phone in its Gigaset line that features a color screen and a camera, as well as MMS capabilities. We don't particularly understand the attraction of trying to mate mobile services to fixed lines, but clearly Siemens thinks people will want to create and share images from home too.

Nokia announced its first megapixel handy, the 7610. It's got some other interesting features, including a movie director application that lets users edit their video clips on the handy and add effects and music. Also included with the handy is the Lifeblog software , as well as Adobe Photoshop Album to help users organize, track and share their images. The company also released a new version of its Image Viewer, which allows users to view their handy's pictures and videos on a TV, and the Nokia Image Album, which has a 20GB hard drive to store photos, which it can recieve from handys via Bluetooth or infrared, or from digital cameras via USB cable or memory card. The device can also be connected to a TV to view photos or a PC to burn them to CD or send via e-mail.

The two companies' embrace of imaging as a form of communication is going to give them a tremendous advantage over more static digital camera companies, who seem content to stand as still as their photos.

In other announcements, Nokia announced some new N-Gage games that finally fulfill some of the promise of the much-maligned device. The Sims Bustin' Out and Crash Nitro Cart are N-Gage ports of popular franchises, and the latest Tiger Woods golf game allows up to four players connect, regardless of location, through the N-Gage Arena. But most exciting is Pocket Kingdom: Own the World, the first massively multiplayer online mobile game. Pocket Kingdom is an N-Gage version of a fantasy role-playing game, and given the success of online games like Ultima and EverQuest, should prove to be quite popular.