RealTime IT News

Camera Phones To Get More Oomph

Micron is targeting the next generation of mobile phones with more storage and better image sensors. The semiconductor maker expects camera phones and other mobile devices that incorporate its latest technology to be available this fall in time for the holiday shopping season.

Along with HP and other mobile device makers, Micron  made its announcement at the big 3GSM World Congress taking place in Barcelona, Spain this week.

On the sensor side, Micron's 1.75 micron pixel design will enable 5-, 3- and 1.3 megapixel camera phones in the same slim handset form factor already on the market. Analysts say many consumers are frustrated by the low resolution of most of today's camera phones, which offer only one or two megapixel resolution.

On the storage side, Micron is offering phone makers a multi-chip package that includes a 128 megabytes of DRAM (memory chip) and NAND  flash memory in 128-, 256- and 512 megabyte capacities.

Gartner analyst Joseph Unsworth said this is all part of Micron's strategy to be a one-stop shop supplier to camera phone makers.

"Micron is rightfully targeting the handset makers which is one of the fastest growing segments of the industry," Unsworth told internetnews.com. "This is part of Micron's diversification strategy. They've always had DRAM, but now with NAND and image sensors they can provide a complete solution."

Unsworth noted that Micron can also parlay external storage products for mobile devices now that it owns flash drive maker Lexar.

For consumers, the higher resolutions and storage won't necessarily mean more expensive phones. "Three-quarters of the volume of camera phones are given away [with a service contract commitment]," said Vern Klein, director of marketing for Micron's imaging group. Those volume or mainstream phones will mainly incorporate the three megapixel parts. He said five megapixel will be in high end premium priced phones.

But even 3 megapixel and the higher storage will provide improved picture and video quality. "We think YouTube and sites like it, will help drive video phones in the marketplace," said Klein. "It's all about having that camcorder-like device with you that gets the shot, not the thing you have at home waiting to use for the wedding shot."

While pixel resolution continues to rise on the digital camera side, Gartner analyst Jon Erenson said the benefits aren't growing commensurately.

"With digital cameras, the resolutions out there today are more than enough for most people. But there is still room for improvement on the camera phone side. The real challenge has been to get the higher resolutions in a phone that is still small enough for consumer to want," Erenson told internetnews.com. "Micron's been really aggressive making this happen. When you get to three megapixels, consumers are going to take more pictures."

Mobile phone users will also have new printing options in the coming year. At the recent DEMO conference, a company called Zink (for zero ink), showed a new technology for inkless paper that could be used to print images off camera phones with a tiny built-in thermal printer.

Apple's forthcoming iPhone will initially offer two storage capacities, 4 and 8 gigabytes. But even Steve Jobs admits the company only hopes to capture one percent of the market in the first year after its release this June. Unsworth said the $499 starting price will be out of reach for most mainstream consumers. "Over time, I would expect Apple to lower the price of the iPhone," he said.