Why Camera Phones Will Overtake Digital Cameras
I am going to ignore the fact that there are currently more mobile phones with cameras out there than digital cameras. The reason: most cameras on mobile phones don’t have enough resolution to be useful. Of course, those of us who follow the trends on mobile phones know that phones are starting to have multi-megapixel cameras. The Nokia N90, for instance, has a 2 megapixel camera. This is obviously not as good as the 4 to 6 megapixel standalone cameras that are out there now, but even 2 megapixels is quite acceptable as fellow VoIP blogger Martin Geddes writes in A picture is worth a … thousand dollars.
I think it’s safe to say that within a couple of years, it will be common for a camera phone to pack 4 to 6 megapixels, possibly greater. The gap between digital cameras and cameras in mobile phones will continue to narrow.
One of the reasons that cameras became so popular is that they became cheap and easy for the average person to use. Digital Cameras, on the other hand, have tons of features–features the vast majority of people don’t use. I couldn’t tell you half the stuff my digital camera does. Even if I could, it would take me some time staring at the manual to figure out how to make it use that whiz-bang feature, and unless it was something I used all the time, I would promptly forget. It’s kind of like the way most people use Microsoft Word–90% of the time is spent using 10% of the functionality.
Consider the user interface for the digital cameras on mobile phones. There is only a few modes and a few features on these camera phones, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to use them. The User Interface of the phone makes it much easier to “know” you have these features and put them to use. For example, one of my mobile phones has something called a “Sequence Mode” that will take a series of pictures one after the other by pressing a single button. It took me all of five seconds for me to discover I had this feature, one second to activate the feature, and another several seconds to try it it out and see that it did what I wanted. I saw the results immediately and from now on I understood exactly how it works. All without having to consult a manual. Can my digital camera do that? Not any that I’ve seen at least.
The other thing a mobile phone has going for it over a digital camera is ubiquity. Pretty much everyone carriers a mobile phone these days, but leaves the digital camera at home frequently. Or worse, as happened to my wife yesterday, her camera ran out of batteries. Mobile phones are used all the time and are kept charged–more often than the infrequently used camera is. That makes mobile phones flat out “more available” than a conventional digital camera.
Assuming that the mobile phone designers can maintain their “ease of use” when it comes to the camera and the camera phones can keep up with advances in digital photography, I think the rise of the camera phone and the decline of the standalone digital camera is a forgone conclusion.