Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Future of Cameraphones

Cameraphones have a bright future. Pretty much everyone has a phone, almost all of them have a camera already, so even if people don't use them, they will remain a check-off feature that everyone has. Given this, you can't really judge the success of them as a camera just by sales.

The real advantage that they have is that you always have them. You don't have to debate whether or not to take them or make sure you remember to grab it. You just have it.

The downside is the picture quality is fairly poor and I don't see that changing a whole lot. The sensor is just too small, and if you make it bigger, then it and the lens take up more space and add weight, both of which are at a premium on phones.

In the next five years I predict:

  • the pointless megapixel race will continue 2MP now, probably 4 or 5 in five years. Mostly useless over 2MP and totally useless over 3MP, the quality just isn't there, even in bright light.
  • LED flashes: This will help things a little. More and more phones will get white LED flashes on the camera. They will actually help a lot of shots where camera phones are used, a group of friends taking a picture from a few feed away, like at a party or sitting around a table at a restaurant. As a bonus, they can be used as a flashlight.
  • Video: They currently have pathetic video (mine does something like 176x144 at 10 frames a second). This will get better, but who knows how much. I think in 5 years, most phones will be doing 320x240 30fps and high end ones will do 640x480 @ 30fps.
  • Phones with real cameras will remain a small niche. There are a couple of them now, with real flashes and zoom lenses. Here's the problem. The bigger camera parts add weight and bulk, and you have to carry them around all the time, even when you don't need the camera. Better to have a smaller, not as good camera with you all the time for those spur of the moment things and bring a point and shoot when you know there will be photo ops. There are some people who carry a point and shoot everywhere, and a camera like this would be an advantage for them, but I doubt that is a huge market segment.


  1. Interesting thoughts. I would think that the megapixel size will be higher that 5 in 5 years. There are phones with 10MP and works towards 12MP for phones next year.

    The convenience is the big factor. 19% of US users say their camera phone is their primary camera and that number is 80% in Japan, but satisfaction is only 50%.

    I think camera phones have a long way to go to replace dedicated cameras, but that day is quickly coming. I put down my wishlist and further thought on my blog post about camera phones here.

    Thanks for your thoughts, great food for thought.

  2. Adam,

    For general purpose phones, I don't think the MP count will go above 5 because the sensors and lenses are too small. Even at 2MP you are getting poor pictures in anything less than perfect conditions. There are two problems, first, with the sensor is noise, as the pixels get smaller, you get more noise, even in good light. Second is the lense, they can only resolve so much detail and if the pixels get smaller than the smallest detail the lense can resolve, they don't do any good.

    If they made the sensors larger, there would have to be more distance between the sensor and the lens, and the lense would have to be bigger, this leads to a thicker phone which I don't think many people want.

    There will be some phones that are as much camera as phone, and these will probably have a much higher MP count and take decent pictures. They are, however, much larger than most phones and will remain a niche product.