When it comes to cameras – and that includes camera phones – many consumers are fixated by the megapixel count.

Yet John Turner, product manager for multi-media at Symbian, said higher resolution was definitely no guarantee of quality.

He said this was especially true since the majority of camera phone photos are taken in the darkened environs of bars and nightclubs.

"There is a four to six megapixel sweet spot for camera phones," he said. "But customers have in their minds the idea that resolution equals quality, so they are always going to want more resolution.

"The majority of pictures are taken in a pub or nightclub but only a quarter of all phones have in-built flash.

"So camera phones are not catering for that primary use. That will change over the year to come and improve things a great deal."

Camera Phone Sales Outstrip Cameras

Camera phones have increased so rapidly in popularity since the first snap-on versions were introduced in Japan in 1999 that they now threaten the market for traditional digital cameras.

So much so, that by 2009, more camera phones will have shipped cumulatively than "normal" cameras have shipped in the entire history of photography.

Turner said the camera fitted well with the trend towards a convergence of digital devices, allowing it to be integrated with the cell phone, Internet and GPS.

He said this was to the consumers’ benefit – with just one device to carry and charge, while allowing users to connect with social networking sites, tag photos with locations and so on.

But this has also created a few challenges, according to Turner, because consumers now expect camera phones to function as well as cameras.

So it’s now taken for granted that "standard" features, such as higher resolution, better storage performance, better battery life, smile detection and image editing, will also be on the camera phone.

Megapixel Fixation

The fact that consumers regard megapixels as a headline indicator of performance is something that retailers and manufacturers haven’t been quick to discourage.

Indeed the megapixels count continues to climb rapidly, with 12 mpx expected to be offered on some handsets next year and 16 mpx the year after – putting them firmly in amongst the mid-range digital camera market.

Ericsson AB of Sweden recently announced that through technologies such as “HSPA Evolution” and” LTE” (long term evolution), by the year 2012, they would develop mobile phones with cameras from 12-20 megapixel and Full HD video shooting capabilities.

The future might also bring an XGA resolution display (1024×768 pixels) with a digital camera and new camcorder technologies to mobile phones.

Turner said this striving for greater resolution didn’t necessarily translate into better photos, since issues such as shutter lag were making a "hard problem even harder".

He said Symbian was working closely with partners such as Scalado to address these challenges.

Symbian is also spending money on improving multi-media in general and making it easier for its partners to introduce new features, such as accelerometers and HD multi-media processing.

Turner said this would be seen in big changes that were going to be made to the operating system by the end of the first half of 2009.

So no more blurry, out-of-shot party pics then. What camera phones features do you regard as the most essential for developers to concentrate on?

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