CeBIT: 7 Megapixels For Everyone
By Carlo Longino, Wed Mar 09 18:00:00 GMT 2005

Press day at CeBIT saw a number of announcements of handsets boasting cutting-edge technical features. While people fawn over a 7-megapixel cameraphone, is manufacturers' obsession with ever-better technical features making carriers miss the point?

Samsung had the biggest news of the day with the announcement of its 7-megapixel cameraphone -- or its 7-megapixel camera with a cellular radio, depending on how you look at it, and it will also be showing off a 5-megapixel handset with an optical zoom, as well as a "MusicPhone" with a 3-gigabyte hard drive.

This technical innovation is impressive, fantastic even -- for now. But it won't be long before these features, like others before them, become commoditized and standardized across different handsets and manufacturers. But there's still a great deal of work that can, and needs to, be done in software and services. It's a point that bears repeating: what good is a powerful device that's impossible to use?

It's an important point for operators as well, for a few reasons. While they may hope these advanced features will drive data usage, say through uploading all these huge image files or downloading a bunch of music tracks, they're no magic ticket. With current data pricing levels, never mind that of content, users won't see much value in utilizing the network-based functions of the devices; they simply cost too much. But there's another aspect than price, as well: there have to be some compelling services and applications. Operators can't simply hope all these technical advances will automatically just lead to increased data use, particularly when they're just enhancements of existing functionalities.

Siemens was showing off several different software innovations, many of them just prototypes, that can become revenue-generating services for carriers and content providers. Its new 3G handset has built-in GPS, and the company's bundling a navigation application with it. Navigation systems are proving a key selling point in Europe for PDAs, with half the PDAs sold there including a GPS unit. Adding downloadable traffic and road condition updates to the software makes it a valuable and useful service with a recurring revenue stream.

The company has also got "talking SMS", which converts an SMS into speech and has an animated character speak the message to the recipient. Ok, ok, it doesn't sound all that great, but at least they're thinking of some stuff. LG was also talking about its "Push-to-View" technology, which is like push-to-talk, but with video. It lets users share live video with groups of other users, and features some presence technology to let users control their experience. Again, perhaps it's not earth-shattering, but given PTT's penetration of the business and enterprise market, it seems like a decent bet.

Handset features alone won't drive an increase in mobile data traffic. But what all these cool features can -- and should do -- is enable compelling services. Manufacturers are delivering on their end by crafting ever-more powerful handsets. Now it's up to operators to help craft an ecosystem that's hospitable to development and deployment of mobile services and applications.