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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 March, 2004, 16:32 GMT
Mixed picture for camera phones
Sandy Murray
BBC News Online Scotland

Pupils in West Lothian primary and secondary schools have been banned from using camera phones in the interests of "safety, security and well-being".

While the cameras may be the bane of teachers' lives, they have proved attractive, particularly to younger phone users.

But their ability to capture images almost anywhere has also been one of the stumbling blocks to their widespread use.

The ability to take pictures undetected by those around the user may have been the stuff of spy fiction a few years ago.

The latest mobile technology makes it a reality.

Before camera phones become as commonly used as more conventional mobiles, public attitudes will have to change.

Anna Friel
A campaign featuring actress Anna Friel attempts to give the 3 brand "personality"
Sales so far have disappointed the providers of mobile video services.

Nine months after its launch, the third generation operator 3 had to admit to falling well short of its customer targets.

It had aimed to have a million customers for its video services by the end of 2003.

By December, the actual figure was just 210,000.

The company has now started promoting the service with television commercials featuring former Brookside actress Anna Friel in a variety of water-themed locations.

Official bans

The disappointing sales came as no surprise to independent media analyst Eric Wiltsher, who admitted to being a sceptic on the widespread take-up of the service.

He agreed that there are some obvious applications - for medical staff in remote areas or for educational purposes - but thinks this will only provide a limited subscriber base.

"Before Christmas, everyone and their auntie claimed that video phones would be this year's big thing," he said. "They weren't.

"There are countries banning them altogether.

"You won't find them in most of the Middle East and you won't be allowed into many countries there carrying one.

"Even here, in most situations people will ask why you are taking a picture phone with you, why not take a camera instead and be up front about it."

Another factor counting against the new technology is cost.

I've now seen enough of people drunk in pubs taking pictures of each other, people stuck in airports sending pictures of themselves back home, to think it might take off
Barry Fox
Technology writer
Although the basic equipment is often affordable, increasingly so as retailers try to boost sales, subscribing to the video service can cost far more than a conventional mobile network.

According to Mr Wiltsher: "The cost is just too dear."

But that is something the providers of the service could address.

Technology writer and broadcaster Barry Fox said he was convinced they will bring down the price as far as is necessary to drum up business.

And he has come to believe that the use of the camera phone is starting to overcome some of the difficulties which held it back initially.

"It was a slow and clumsy start," he said, "but it is starting to catch on as more networks are compatible with each other.

"People do seem to want to take pointless pictures of each other."

Popular attitudes

Mr Fox said there is increasing evidence of people being comfortable about using the video phones in public.

video mobile phone
Users of video mobiles can capture images anywhere
He said: "I've now seen enough of people drunk in pubs taking pictures of each other, people stuck in airports sending pictures of themselves back home, to think it might take off."

Which leaves the question of whether the attitude of most potential users will allow the use of the phones to spread further.

Video phones for domestic use have been technically possible for some time. They have not been a popular success.

Video conferencing from a home computer is also possible but its use remains limited.

Worries which have led to the ban on camera phones in some schools are part of the reason.

According to Mr Fox: "People are just wakening up to the privacy concern about these phones."




SEE ALSO:
Mobile phone sales dial up record
03 Feb 04  |  Business
Video phones show slow take off
16 Dec 03  |  Technology



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