Camera phones will top 1 billion this year

About 1 billion mobile phones with cameras will be in use this year, representing voracious rate of growth, according to a new market evaluation.

The number of mobile camera phones in use will top 1 billion this year, reflecting their tremendous growth rate since they hit the market around seven years ago, according to a new market evaluation.

Sales shot up from about 3 million camera phones in 2001 to 500 million last year, according to figures released Friday from Strategy Analytics Ltd. The growth will likely start to level off now, however, said Neil Mawton, an associate director at the market research company.

Instead, people will upgrade existing camera phones, with manufacturers trying to entice them with high-end features that will dwarf what was available a few years ago, Mawton said. They will offer cameras with improved zoom capabilities, autofocus, better flashes and faster shutter speeds.

"In a way, they [mobile manufacturers] are copying the digital still camera market," Mawton said.

Changes will also come inside the phones. The industry has typically used CCD (charged coupling device) sensors for taking digital photos, but that technology is ceding ground to a cheaper technology, CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor).

CCD sensors are more expensive and less durable, but provide a higher image quality. But CMOS chips are cheaper, more durable, and have become more reliable, Mawton said. More suppliers make CMOS sensors that CCDs.

Not all phones will have cameras, as there will still be demand for phones in the $30 to $40 range, Mawton said. Phones in those price ranges will be "camera-free for a good few years," he said.

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