Smile! You've just been caught out on camera phone

Eugene Lacey: Is anybody going to do anything outrageous ever again in public? With a camera phone in every pocket you are going to have to behave.
Written by Eugene Lacey, Contributor

Sometimes the most obvious questions about technology don't get asked? Questions like why would I want to take photographs with a cellphone? Or when I want to stop using my computer, why do I have to go to the 'Start' button? (Ok, that one has been asked.)

But there are plenty of other issues that we just accept because, well, that's the way it's always been. It's only when a complete novice, or a child, asks you why your Web-based email system doesn't have a spell checker, or why people use 'IM' to talk to colleagues who are sitting less than six feet away from them that you start to think: maybe I'm not asking enough questions about this stuff?

As for people taking photographs with their Nokias -- that's easy, people want to share magic moments with their loved ones, right? Moments like when two stunning blonde twins in an open top sports car decide to pull over and give a middle-aged man a peck on the cheek. Yeah, as if. Click, mail that one to the family album.com.

The real reason for the rising popularity of camera phones has nothing to do with magic moments. There simply aren't enough of these for Nokia to build a business plan around them. The real reason has more to do with human frailty, and capturing it in pixels than it has to do with magic moments. Hey look, here's a picture of the bishop dressed in drag, has a lot more pulling power than auntie's holiday snaps mailed to you directly from Eastbourne. The risk is that this will to lead to more caution in an already overly cautious world.

Ultimately camera phones will be self-defeating because bad behaviour will be driven underground by them -- and that's a bit of shame. Pubs used to be places where people who ought to have known better would routinely drink too much and do something daft -- like falling over, being Kylie in the karaoke, recounting the time they dressed up as a chicken and ran around Liverpool Street station yelling 'Cluck, cluck, I'm a pleasant clucker', or insisting that everyone in the bar have a large scotch on them to celebrate their birthday. Click, click, click. Watch out -- there might be a camera-phone about.

Time will tell if this an overly gloomy assessment of the prospects for bad behaviour in camera-phone future. What is undeniable is that camera phones mark the continuing progress of the multi-function device.

Multi-function is an established pattern in technology. We've seen it with printers that can double as fax machines and scanners, PDAs that can make voice calls, digital cameras that can play MP3 tunes, and word processing software that does just about everything short of nipping out to Starbucks to buy you a coffee.

Early sales reports on camera phones are positive, suggesting that they have indeed captured the public imagination. But interesting as the camera phones are, they are not the main event. The main commercial battle to win over consumers to the multi-function idea is being fought out in the PDA market.

It comes down to this -- do you carry a PDA and a telephone, or can one device handle all of your voice and data requirements? If consumers take the one-device route -- will the successful device be more phone than PDA (a la Symbian) or more PDA than phone (a la XDA, based on Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition).

An early pioneer of the PDA market, Palm, has recently been playing its hand close to its chest -- but we now know that Palm will re-enter the market with renewed vigour next month when it launches four new models.

The Palm faithful have patiently eyed the launch of the XDA and other advanced PDAs with a growing sense of envy. They know they have to upgrade their PDA at some stage -- but where is the Palm model that combines phone and online functionality from the original Palm company, er, Palm? Now they have the answer -- with three new models in the pipeline boasting Bluetooth and 'always-on' Internet connectivity through a GPRS solution. Palm is pinning its hopes on selling PDAs to businesses -- through offering tighter integration with secure enterprise systems.

The obvious question that needs to be asked here is -- why would mobile business users need email and Web access through a PDA if they can get it through a wirelessly connected notebook?

Ultimately the choices that consumers and businesses make will provide the answer to this and other questions -- but we should not be obsessed with trying to identify the one, single form factor that beats all others. It may be that two or three new form factors can coexist. Let's enjoy the options while we have them, and who knows bad behaviour in pubs might even make a come back if not every phone is guaranteed to have a camera attached to it.

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