Cameraphones approach Digital Camera Quality
By Eric Lin, Fri Jan 23 06:30:00 GMT 2004

All three major operators in Japan now offer cameraphones with 2 megapixel (or better) resolution. Now that cameraphones are approaching the resolution of digital cameras, can they approach the functionality?


Processor manufacturing technology advances mean we can fit more pixels into smaller sensors, enabling megapixel cameras to fit into smaller spaces on converged devices like cameraphones. Smartmobs found a report detailing the current and near future states of high end cameraphones in Japan. This month each of the big three mobile operators in Japan (DoCoMo, KDDI, Vodafone) are set to launch two megapixel cameraphones. As with any other processor, manufacturers are continuing to make smaller and denser sensors that will find their way into upcoming handsets.

As sensors become more dense, either because they are smaller or have higher resolution, other hardware improvements will need to follow. high density sensors need more light sinch each array has less space. Many manufacturers are already integrating LED flashes into their phones, and to produce even brighter lighting, some are turning to Xenon bulbs- the same technology used in luxury car headlamps. More light is not all these new high res modules need- they also benefit from better optics and more storage.

Expanded memory, including storage card slots, are already showing up in more handsets, even in feature phones as opposed to the traditionally memory hungry smartphones. According to the report, creating auto-focus mechanisms tough enough to withstand the rigors of daily mobile use (and abuse) has been a challenge. However Japanese manufacturer FDK will ship samples this month of an auto focus module they claim can withstand 30 1.8 meter drops. As users expect more camera-like quality from more camera-like phones auto focus and quality optics will certainly make an impact on their success.

The idea that sufficiently advanced cameraphones could replace digital cameras for most users is becomingly increasingly likely- just as sufficient advanced smartphones will probably supplant PDAs. Signs of this are already emerging as this holiday season a digital camera for kids that looked like a clamshell cameraphone was launched in Japan. While the form factor is popular now, it is unlikely that clamshell with the camera in the lid will be the final or optimal design for more camera-like cameraphones. We already see new designs for DoCoMo like those from Sony Ericsson where the phone is held horizontally, like a traditional camera, with dedicated controls. The technology is basically ready, but the design will need to evolve to enhance usability for all the functionality users want from future phones.