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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 12:21 GMT
Phone users become picture savvy
Nokia 7250 mobile camera phone lens
No trendy mobile phone should be without a camera, network operators say
Sales of mobile camera phones are surging worldwide, outpacing sales of personal digital assistants like Palms and Pocket PCs.

But of the 18 million camera phones sold in 2002, more than 70% were snapped up in Japan, and another 13% in South Korea.

CAMERA PHONE SALES (2002, in millions)
N.America 0.2
W.Europe 1.32
Asia Pacific 15.85
C.&S. America 0.03
E.Europe 0.26
Other 0.22
source: Strategy Analytics
Trailing far behind is Western Europe, where multimedia messaging services that allow the sending of pictures were rolled out only towards the end of 2002.

Experts at Strategy Analytics, who compiled the figures, predict that the sales boom will continue, but warn that a limited choice of phones on offer and ill-designed software are holding back growth.

The killer application?

Mobile phone operators around the world have invested heavily in faster mobile phone services.

Sharp's GX10 camera phone for the European market
Sharp's GX10 camera phone has an unusually large LCD display
However, they are still searching for so-called "killer applications" that guarantee healthy returns on these investments.

The Japanese example suggests that sending pictures from a mobile phone to friends and family - either to their phone or their e-mail inbox - could be just such a money spinner.

In the two countries with the world's most advanced mobile phone networks - Japan and Korea - nearly 16 million embedded-camera phones were sold last year alone.

Vodafone's Japanese subsidiary J-Phone was the world's leading camera phone operator in 2002, with more than six million phones on its books, although Strategy Analytics predicts that this year it will be overtaken by the country's largest mobile phone firm, NTT Docomo.

Europe, meanwhile, is playing catch-up, with 1.1 million phones sold during the last three months of 2002 alone, taking the total to 1.32 million.

In the Americas, in contrast, subscribers bought just 230,000 camera phones.

The temptation of multimedia messaging comes at a price for network operators.

Strategy Analytics estimates that each camera phone sold in Western Europe is subsidised by up to $500.

As a result, camera phones last year outsold personal digital assistants by five million units.

Camera phones and 'wicked people'

And there is the danger of a social backlash against camera phones.

Nokia 7250 camera phone
The screen of Nokia's new 7250 camera phone is too small, says Strategy Analytics
James Bond proved in his film how easy it is to snatch a picture with a camera phone, and thousands are following suit.

On a multitude of web sites, irresponsible happy camera phone owners are showing off indiscreet pictures taken without the subject's knowledge.

Japanese camera phone maker Yatane is selling phones that make a loud shutter noise to warn people that they have had their picture taken.

Saudi Arabia has taken the more radical approach and banned the sale of camera phones outright because of their potential "misuse by wicked people".

The issues of privacy, decency - and secrecy - are being discussed in other countries as well.

Singapore, China, Ireland, Scotland, Japan, and Dubai are among the countries where authorities or companies have banned the use of camera phones in government buildings, public swimming pools, fitness centres and schools.

Not user-friendly

But the biggest hurdle for the take-up of camera phones is the same that plagued European mobile phone users in the 1980s and is still holding back services like text messaging in the United States: Many multimedia messages can not be sent from one phone network to another.

Poor software, warns Strategy Analytics, is another big problem.

Most camera phones have a navigation that is not very user friendly.

"Device vendors and carriers must take note that they risk slowing future camera phone growth if they do not heed the lessons of WAP."

Wap bombed with the public, after failing to deliver their promise of providing internet services on the move.

And there is the issue of choice. There are not many camera phones to chose from, although Japan recently has seen a boom with 25 models now available.

See also:

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