I was speaking to an executive at a photography association who understands not just the “traditional” photo market but also camera phones. The conversation was rather depressing because he discussed how cellular operators in the United States seem to be ignoring photo retailers and the camera phone business in general.
He noted how a few years ago the operators were gung ho about trying to recruit photo retailers to become involved in camera phone sales. Now, he says, that effort is basically dead and the operators have moved on to other applications, such as wireless music and mobile television.
So he was pondering what role photo retailers can play in the camera phone business. This is not easy because it requires more proactive marketing by photo retailers and better quality handsets.
Don’t rely on the operators
I said to him that when I consult for companies in the mobile data business (it’s my business after all) I always look at ways to generate income that don’t require participation by cellular operators.
Some content providers just don’t understand (at least at first) that they are one of hundreds or thousands of providers who are working with cellular operators and the operators typically don’t have the time or interest to spend market individual companies.
That’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s a good one to follow. Being placed on the handset’s “deck” and among the many other applications that may be searched is all too often that last step the operators take with many content providers.
So for photo retailers who want cellular operators to spend much time with them — when camera phones aren’t generating the gobs of cash the operators had originally projected — is pretty much a forelone hope. Cellular operators would much rather spend time with big-name companies that can also spend big bucks to market their own mobile content rather than just relying on the operators.
To be fair, the cellular operators have a point. Content providers that expect the operators to do all their work don’t understand what the mobile business is all about and how the carriers operate.
If photo retailers want to become players in the camera phone business they are going to have to be more proactive — without the cellular operators. They could, for example, help their customers understand how to get their photos out of their phone for printing. They could help their customers learn about camera phones that take the best photos and how to take better photos.
They could help them learn about photo accessories, ranging from photo albums to dog collars. They could distribute brochures with this information around their store. They could hold consumer-oriented camera phone seminars.
Lagging on better camera phones
Unfortunately, the U.S. cellular operators aren’t moving as fast as they could — or should — by introducing better-quality camera phones. It’s not that better phones aren’t available.
As I’ve written many, many times, VGA camera phones are awful. Camera phones with 1.3 megapixel cameras are the bare minimum that should be sold in this country — and this assumes the quality is at the upper end, rather than the lower end.
It’s when you get to two megapixel camera phone photos that many consumers are going to stop complaining about their “crappy camera phone pictures.” This assumes that those two megapixel handsets incorporate components and software that produce higher quality images.
High resolution (relatively speaking) alone doesn’t produce good photos, as I’ve also written many times.