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Mobile photography gets serious at MWC

Christian Lindholm

Mobile phone cameras are nothing new. But at MWC, smartphone players are betting that a better camera may just be the best way to capture new users.

The fact that everybody is equipped with a phone, virtually all the time, was always the key point about cameras as part of mobile handsets. You’ll never miss the moment again was the promise – and sure enough, many of us now seem to leave our cameras at home when we go to the school play or a sports event.

The traditional weaknesses of smartphone cameras – namely, that they take too long to start up and then even longer to store the images – have meant that they’ve somehow not quite delivered on the promise. At the moment, mobile phone photography – even on the iPhone – can be frustrating. In fact it’s easy to miss something crucial while you’re starting up the camera, and sharing files is not fully intuitive: one interaction for sharing via email, another to upload to Facebook, post to Twitter etc. Eventually you are stuck with big image files and nowhere to store them permanently. Yet who wants to carry around a heavy SLR and a bunch of memory cards?

Now we’re seeing a new generation of phones that finally unites the ‘moment-is-everything’ abilities of a phone with the speed and image quality of an SLR camera – how about 41 million pixels for a start? That’s what the new Nokia 808 PureView is packing. Combining both speed and quality, Nokia is hoping to be the camera to capture life’s most meaningful moments without compromise.

But the real innovation is only just beginning, set in motion by these hardware developments. What we’ll see now is a range of software services that take advantage of the new hardware, giving users seamless and invisible ways to share incredibly high quality images and video captured with these new devices.

One of the unique features of Nokia’s 808 PureView is the scalable nature of the images. The idea is that the image will be intelligently sized according to the environment. PureView’s 41-megapixel sensor lets users zoom in up to six times by selecting an area, and you can apparently do this without losing quality.

HTC launched the One S at MWC 2012 – another handset aiming for sector-defining camera performance. The time it takes to launch the camera app is just 0.7 seconds from the home screen, and focusing adds 0.2 seconds. In total that’s about one second to take a picture from a standing start. This is combined with the ability (finally) to pluck a still photo out of a reel of HD video.

HTC’s One S

But where we’ll really see the fruits of these investments is in the overall eco-system for the distribution of your photos. HTC has integrated Dropbox into the HTC Sense 4, enabling HTC One customers to use 25 gigabytes of free Dropbox space for two years, which is enough to store more than 10,000 high-quality photos.

HTC’s Media Link accessory, which will allow you to just swipe your phone’s screen with three fingers and start streaming towards any TV with HDMI port, also shows how cameraphones are perfect complements for the wired-up sitting room and the ‘largest screen in the house’, previously known as the television.

This should be a significant type of trend, where the differentiators are a combination of service and hardware in perfect balance. It may seem like a subtle change to simply pack high-power cameras into a phone, but the eco-system connections that Nokia and HTC are developing indicate that we are finally seeing a maturity arriving with the smartphone camera, making it an even more essential feature in the never-ending battle to win the hearts of new users The options for sharing content, and integration with home devices, are opening up rapidly.

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