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The Great Cellcam Debate

Posted by billday on December 23, 2003 at 1:07 PM PST

I'm not a big fan of the expression "digital convergence", but I do appreciate its results. One of the most important of these results: Cell phones with built in digital cameras (some people refer to them as camera phones, but I prefer cellcams) .

I first wrote about cellcams in my first java.net blog entry. In it, I discussed the Nokia 3650, my main device since mid-2003. The 3650 is a Series 60 based MIDP 1.0 smart phone with support for WMA and MMA. It even allows me to use MMA to capture still photos via the built-in VGA camera (though video capture is limited to a native Symbian app). This converged device has allowed me to finally shed the PDA-plus-separate-cell-phone-plus-separate-digital-camera lifestyle for a more liberating cellcam smartphone all-in-one persona.

Nonetheless, the 3650 has it's shortcomings. It's big and bulky, which proves a real pain when I'm out for a jog or short on pocket space. It's J2ME implementation isn't upgradable, so I'm not able to take advantage of all of the new MIDP 2.0 capabilities. And its camera, while taking serviceable 640x480 digipics (roughly 0.3 megapixels), isn't going to replace my Canon S400 with its four megapixel (Mpix) resolution for the shots that really matter. If Nokia wants to challenge the likes of Canon for the instant, in your pocket, "always ready" class of digital cameras as it seems to be indicating, they have to do better than the 3650.

Which brings me to the crux of this blog: Although the first generation of cellcams has sold me on the promise of converged devices, I'm looking for the next generation to truly deliver on that promise.

What I want from a cellcam in 2004:

  • MIDP 2.0 including WMA via JTWI
  • 1+ Mpix quality camera with flash and support for MMA
  • Bluetooth including the Java APIs for Bluetooth (throw in WiFi, too, and I'd really appreciate it)
  • Small and light (the Nokia 7210 and 7250 seem to have done well, so why not a next gen cellcam of roughly the same size and weight?)
  • Tri- or quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE for worldwide roaming

I could come up with a longer wishlist, but I'd be happy with the one above if someone will just bring one of these devices to the market. Are my requests unreasonable? I don't think so. Several manufacturers are bringing out cell phones in 2004 that meet my J2ME requests, and multi-band GSM handsets are already widely available in most of the top cell phone makers' product lines. Kyocera has plans for a 1.2 Mpix cellcam with built in flash in the US in 2004, and NTT DoCoMo has already launched a 2.02 Mpix camera in Japan.

All that is missing is a device that integrates all of these capabilities together. The closest thing I've found so far is the Nokia 6230 (due Q1 2004). The 6230 will meet most of my requests save for Mpix image quality (no improvement over the 3650's 0.3Mpix and no flash, unfortunately) and WiFi support. Why not up the camera resolution, add a cheap flash and WiFi, and really take on Canon (and Kyocera, and PalmOne, and...)?

And while we're at it, why not enable not just still photo capture but also video capture via MMA? That could really shake up the applications of these gadgets. Heck, it's the holidays, maybe if I dream big Santa will take care of it, right? My fingers are crossed...

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