RealTime IT News

Camera Phone Pictures Worth Printing?

Camera-enabled cell phones are a great gimmick. You can snap funny pictures to send to friends, or record a special family moment on the fly. There's even a college course in how to use camera phones to produce short movies.

However, the inferior picture quality and less than convenient print options give digital still cameras a decided edge.

Enter Hewlett Packard , which this week announced it's licensing Photosmart digital image technology to Flextronics, a major supplier of camera modules to phone manufacturers.

HP's Photosmart technology, which corrects and enhances images, was first introduced for its digital cameras in 1995. HP has continued improving the technology since then for its cameras.

Flextronics said new camera phones with Photosmart will bring a higher level of quality to the market.

"Our industry-leading relationship with HP guarantees that Flextronics will be the first to offer OEM camera phone customers a product that delivers a level of quality never before seen from a camera phone," said Mike Burger, president, Flextronics Components Group.

"We look forward to providing our customers with a higher level of image processing technology at an affordable cost and are thrilled to be HP's camera module partner."

The first phones to incorporate Photosmart are expected to appear in the second half of next year. Neither company would confirm which phone makers plan to incorporate Photosmart, though Flextronic's list of clients includes Motorola, Kyocera and Sony-Ericsson.

"We expect to see Photosmart technology in multiple camera brands and multiple products as well," said Boris Teksler, director of IP (intellectual property) licensing, at HP. "We are not in the cell phone business directly, but this is great camera technology we saw an opportunity to license."

Teksler said that according to industry estimates only about one percent of camera phone users bother to print camera phone images, whereas about 10 to 15 percent print from their digital camera.

With various wireless technologies either established standards (such as Bluetooth) or emerging (such as Wi-Fi) for mobile phones, consumers now have more options for easily printing their images.

Analyst Roger Kay said printing is a big part of HP's motivation to license Photosmart.

"That's their goal. Anything that helps phones produce higher quality photos plays to HP's strength in printing," Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, told internetnews.com. "Cell phones represent a much higher growth market than PCs."

High growth indeed. Prismark Partners estimates that 600 million camera-enabled phones will be shipped worldwide in 2006. The research firm expects that number to grow to more than 975 million by 2010.

"This agreement is a breakthrough for the booming camera phone market because it will transform photos into higher quality images, into keepsakes to share and print," said Tara Bunch, vice president of HP's imaging and printing group.