Camera phones rival DVD players sales

Introduced three years ago in Japan and less than a year ago in the USA, they’ve caught on so fast that Nokia and other phonemakers say most new phones from now on will have built-in cameras.

”They’re becoming a standard feature,” says Nokia spokesman Keith Nowak at the Comdex technology show here. Nokia, the No. 1 cellphone maker, introduced six models in the past two months. All include cameras.

Costs are plummeting, too. Not quite a year ago, U.S. camera phones ran as high as $399. Plus, consumers had to sign with cellphone carriers for two-year service agreements. Now, T-Mobile is giving a camera phone away — as long as consumers subscribe to monthly service. AT&T offers a camera phone for $49.99, plus service contract. Sprint offers a phone for $79.99, plus monthly contract.

To date, 80 million camera phones have sold worldwide vs. 6 million in the USA, research firm IDC says. This year, analyst Ron Glaz of IDC says more camera phones will be sold worldwide, 57 million, than digital cameras, 44 million.

By comparison, DVD players, introduced in 1997 and called the fastest-growing consumer tech device by the Consumer Electronics Association, sold 30 million players in its first three years, says researcher In-Stat/MDR.

Camera phones are especially popular in Japan. But U.S. sales are also robust, tech analysts say. About 12 million digital cameras sold in the USA last year.

While pictures taken with camera phones lack quality — and are most often used in e-mails or as PC screen savers — ”the best camera is the one you always have with you,” Nowak says.

Most camera phones have 1/4 megapixel sensors vs. 3 for most digital cameras. Megapixels is a measurement of resolution. In Japan, new models have 1 megapixel sensors. That makes for better picture quality, but it is still inferior to full-featured cameras.

For phone makers, adding a little lens to the back of the phone isn’t very costly, Glaz says. Phone companies, meanwhile, can make a lot more money off consumers if they do more than just talk. Sprint charges $15 on top of the monthly service plan — which starts at $35 for 300 minutes — to send photos from phones. AT&T’s monthly plan starts at $29.99. It costs $2.99 to $19.99 extra a month to send photos.

Camera phones have spread so fast, they’re already being restricted. In Los Angeles, one prominent gym, the Sports Club, has banned them because of fears that someone might post shots from the locker rooms on the Internet.

Singer Britney Spears recently demanded all camera cellphones be confiscated before she appeared at a recent press party.


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