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Camera phone: From birth to how it transformed the world

Posted: 05 Nov 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Panasonic? smartphone? camera? sensor? cellular network?

Have you ever wondered when it all started? How that feature-packed, can't-live-a-day-without-you mobile device came to be? Today, a smartphone without a camera is unthinkable. 20 years ago, this combination would have been an unthinkable marriage of two completely different products without even sparking the slightest industry interest.

Camera phones made their little-noted debut on the global stage in the fall of 1995 during Telecom 95 in Geneva.

At that conference, Japan's Matsushita (Panasonic) unveiled a camera phone that made no headlines. The device failed to crack the website of the conference's organiser, the International Communication Union (ITU) community, recalled Jacques Kauffmann, an independent imaging-technology consultant, and president of Imaging Management & Communications in Wilmette, Ill.

The telecommunications industry then had little idea how imaging (and video) would forever change data traffic and cellular network infrastructure.

Slow rise to fame

Vice versa, the imaging industry never dreamed then how cellular phones would eventually eat their business alive by decimating the market for standalone consumer cameras. Of course, "back then [in 1995], no one from the imaging industry was attending telecommunications events," said Kauffmann.

By melding two technologies and industrial sectors, imaging and communications, camera phones brought profound changes to businesses, markets and consumers that few saw coming.

Asked about the results of the camera phone phenomenon, 20 years later, Richard Doherty, research director of Envisioneering Group, pointed out: "the runaway success of the selfie," "the death of privacy " and the impact on the industry which "changed the cost of imagers forever, accelerated CMOS imaging form what was only CCD to begin with."

Game-changing device

For decades, investors, marketing and engineering executives preached the gospel of "convergence," "disruptive technologies" and "game-changing" applications. However, most of these preachers, media included, have proven terrible at predicting such disruptions, or even recognising a "game-changer" while watching the game.

Typically, the experts in any given industry or technical field are reluctant to climb down from their personal soapboxes to examine the potential value of a new product category they've never seen. For the imaging industry, devoted to the improvement of imaging, the poor picture quality generated by camera phones made it almost impossible for them to take them seriously.

Kauffmann personally called Matsushita's prototype a "camera phone." He told us, "While I myself found this 'new' device revolutionary and promising, some imaging industry leaders I talked to didn't agree. A 'gadget' was a common comment I heard. In a way, it reminded me of similar comments made in the second half of the 1980's when single-use cameras [disposable cameras] were introduced."

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