Weekly Wrap: Cameraphones, Cameraphones, Cameraphones
By Carlo Longino, Fri May 14 09:15:00 GMT 2004

Cameraphones were all over the news this week, mobile gamers gather in Los Angeles for the E3 trade show, and more...

Some observers wondered about the future of cameraphones this week, as carriers aren't seeing the devices drive data usage like they'd hoped. Handset vendors remain focused on delivering integrated cameras with higher resolutions, though it doesn't seem users are all that interested in sending picture messages -- data from the UK this week echoed similar results we've seen lately from other countries, saying 80 percent of users haven't used MMS, even thought more than have have handsets capable of doing so. The idea of sharing photos clearly isn't catching on as carriers had hoped, leading some to turn to content. The World Cup in 2002 spurred a lot of interest in photo messaging in Asia, and T-Mobile is hoping this summer's European football championships will do the same on that continent. All of this comes as policians continue to scrutinize cameraphones, the US Congress taking its turn this week (as if they've got nothing more pressing to do) to blow some hot air.

Our own Justin Hall's got his thumbs limbered up for some gaming action at E3, the world's top video-game trade show being held this week in Los Angeles. The buzz at the show's opening was about new handheld units from Nintendo and Sony, both of which include wireless connectivity. Nintendo's new GameBoy DS features dual LCD screens and Bluetooth, while Sony's PSP includes Wi-Fi. The announcements sets the stage for an interesting battle between the two platforms, and it will likewise be interesting to see how the companies build on the wireless connectivity. Justin also brought news from the show of a company that's building a GPS add-on unit for the existing GameBoy, creating an opportunity for mobile maps, but perhaps as well for geo-games.

We told you last week about a couple big European 3G launches, and never one to dwell, the industry's already looking to 4G. Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin told a conference this week the industry should work together on forthcoming technologies to avoid the division between the standards camps that's hurt 3G. Ericsson's research boss said this week that 4G's already on the horizon, and the world will be blanketed with 100-megabits per second mobile connections by 2012. Both present somewhat unrealistic visions, given the divisiveness that's marked the business' slow progress towards 3G, but I'd have to give the nod to Sarin's comments as the more reasonable. Maybe.

Bluetooth's been in the news a lot recently, as the much-maligned technology seems to be gaining some respect while battling security concerns. The Bluetooth SIG is hip to the trash talk though, and this week held a conference to help IT pros lock down problematic handsets. It seems Bluetooth can't get anything right -- it's secure, but not popular, and gets tagged as DOA, then it's popular, but not secure and now is dangerous.

Watching TV over mobile networks got a lot of press several months ago, and NTT DoCoMo said this week they were looking for 3000 FOMA users to test streaming TV on their mobiles. DoCoMo and a Japanese pay-TV company will supply live feeds as well as archive material to the service, which should launch within a year if the trials go well. The jury remains out if watching TV on mobile devices will catch on, but one analyst has said 120 million people will be doing it by 2010.

A couple SMS answer services are sprouting up in the UK, where people SMS questions, and for a pound get the answer sent back to them in minutes. It highlights a big gap in mobile search technology, pointing out that search engines' mobile versions are still too cumbersome, and that on a mobile device, users want answers to their task-based searches, not links to pages that may or may not help, and may or may not be suitable for viewing on a mobile device. Keep an eye on this space.

Elsewhere on the site this week, we take a look at some cool programs coming out of Intel's reasearch labs: Howard Rheingold fills us in on the Urban Atmospheres and Urban Probes programs, which study social uses of emerging technologies, while Mark Frauenfelder goes Carrollian talking about the the Jabberwocky project, which studies how people interact with familiar strangers, or people they see on a regular basis but don't communicate with. Douglas Rushkoff also wonders if mobile services that essentially help people lie will end us just making us more honest, while Steve Wallage delivers the last in his series of interviews on listening to the needs of mobile users.