Ina Fried

Recent Posts by Ina Fried

Is the Camera Phone Poised for a Comeback?

It’s very clear that the phone has become the primary camera.

Samsung’s new Galaxy S4 Zoom

For evidence, one need only look at the rise of Instagram and the prevalence of iPhone and Android pics on photo-sharing sites like Flickr.

Smartphone cameras have added flash and lots and lots of megapixels. But it’s really been a triumph of software over hardware. Modern smartphones still tend to have tiny lenses and tiny image sensors (albeit ones packed with a lot of pixels).

That’s starting to change, though, with hardware makers beginning to dabble in devices that put the camera front and center.

Phones like the just-introduced Galaxy S4 Zoom and Nokia’s 808 PureView knowingly add bulk and cost to build in large lenses, big image sensors, and the kind of zooming capabilities that people expect from a true camera.

These new devices have all the benefits of a smartphone married to the kind of hardware that creates an image worth framing, not just sharing.

In reality, though, these devices actually represent Camera Phone 2.0. That’s because, before the dawn of the modern smartphone, a number of companies tried products that merged a phone with camera-like designs. Though not all of them made it to the U.S., Samsung had devices like the SCH-B6000, Sony Ericsson had models such as the K850i, and Nokia had the N93, among others.

Cameraphone 1.0: Samsung's KCH-1000

Cameraphone 1.0: Samsung’s SCH-B6000

There were a couple of problems the last time around. First of all, once you had the pictures, there was little you could do with them, as phones lacked the kind of sophisticated image-editing abilities found on today’s Android or Windows Phone. Second, the networks were quite pokey, to put it mildly, meaning it was slow and expensive to send the decent images these phones could capture.

Given all that, it will be interesting to see whether this new crop of camera phones finds a willing market. For all their image-capturing abilities, they are by definition pricier and bulkier than a garden-variety smartphone.

A second category of device, also nascent, is the connected camera that contains the brains of a smartphone, but as part of a device not intended to be a primary phone. Samsung’s Galaxy Camera is the best example of this genre. Its future, too, is an open question.

New devices with cellular capabilities have traditionally meant a separate contract and data plan, though the arrival of shared data plans could make such devices more palatable, assuming that customers are willing to swallow the upfront cost.

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