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 dot life Monday, 30 December, 2002, 11:17 GMT
What's the point of picture messaging?
Mobile phones with cameras were one of the hottest gifts this Christmas. But are they an expensive gimmick or a useful new way to communicate?
You unwrapped your gorgeous new mobile phone on Christmas morning, and gawped with delight at the colour screen, the fun games, and the built-in camera. Now what do you do with it?

The mobile phone companies are trying to get us to "muck about" with our new portable digital cameras. Why? Because they want to breathe new life into flagging profits.

New users are being enticed with deals
For example, Orange has free picture messaging until Feb
After that it will cost 40p a message
Long before Christmas, picture messaging was labelled a turkey. "More cwap than Wap" said the Sunday Times. Some analysts doubted why, after the novelty had worn off, anyone would want to send low resolution pictures over the phone at a hefty cost.

So, is there any practical use for a digital camera in your phone?

Sean Davies thinks so. He's been using picture messaging for a couple of months now, and says his business has been transformed as a result.

The 37-year-old tree surgeon from Earlstoke, Wiltshire, says using two Nokia 7650 picture messaging phones has saved him a great deal of time and money.

He has found practical (and profitable) ways of putting his pocket-sized camera to good use.

Since he spends a great deal of his time driving around the largely rural landscape of Wiltshire, being able to send and receive photos from his two teams of employees has transformed the way he works.

Orange ad
Where there's muck there's brass
Sean's 10-year-old business runs two gangs, one for light tree surgery in people's gardens, the other involved in heavy-duty work using big specialist equipment.

The job includes a lot of unsociable hours and emergency calls, so keeping tabs on what work is being done by which team is crucial.

"The picture messaging system is great for communicating between the two gangs," says Mr Davies.

For the record

"They can send me pictures of work, ask for guidance on specific tasks, or for me to step in if there's any kind of dispute with a customer."

Man with mobile
Will users get bored with picture messaging?
Pictures can also be sent to any e-mail address, directly from the phone - a feature that vastly expands the usefulness of the service, he explains.

"The pictures also help us keep a record of what we are doing. We photograph everything, from many different angles, before we start working on it. Often we are working in emergency situations, with trees that have crashed through buildings or cars, and it's really helpful to be able to record images of everything first.

"Sadly in today's litigious society it's vital to have that record of things in case we are ever on the receiving end of legal action.

All hail the mobile office

"We work very closely with the local council. They have not started making use of this technology themselves just yet, but we are able to e-mail pictures straight to the desks of the people we work with.

Man with big, old mobile phone
"All I wanted for Christmas was a new mobile"
"Eventually, though, I think councils and emergency services all over the place will be using picture messaging."

Mr Davies says his phone has become essential to his daily work routine.

"I don't just use it for voice calls and taking photos. It's a mobile office. It synchronises with my computer at home, so all the photos are automatically backed up and I can carry my calendar around with me in my pocket.

"I use the phone every time I visit a new customer to provide them with an estimate. I take photos of the site, then add voice notes to them. In a day I might see eight different sites, so this is a great way to remember which tree is where and what the customer wants done with it.

Man with old Leica
"Has it got last number redial?"
"Before I had the phone I used to do all this with dozens of little bits of paper all over the place. This is a much better system."

Picture messages cost money to send. The cost varies between service providers, and many of them are offering cheap, or even free, picture messaging for a short time to entice people on board. Clearly, the mobile phone companies are hoping to make a lot of money from the system in the long term.

But for some users, a pocket-sized digital camera that can e-mail images to anyone, from anywhere, could soon become a sound investment.

Your comments so far:

We use the picture messaging to send photos to guys in the office to advise on installations. What is the old saying "a picture paints a thousand words".
Nathan, England

Surely the industry to really make this take off is the porn industry. How long before ads appear in the back of men's magazines to "call this number and receive a naughty picture"?
Rik, UK

Him: "Darling, I'm working late at the office tonight"
Her: "Show me the pictures then"

Daughter: "Mum, I'm sleeping over at Sophie's tonight"
Mum: "Show me a picture"
Ian, UK

Photos could be sent by police if someone goes missing or if there is a nationwide search for someone.
Mark Green, England

My partner would find it very useful. She works for an estate agent, and needs to travel to remote places to take a photo and beat the her publishing deadlines.
Christopher Tsangari, UK

Have you found a good or novel use for picture messaging?

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Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.

Weely guide to getting buttoned up

See also:

24 Oct 02 | Business
03 Sep 02 | Business
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