If the rumours I'm hearing are correct, there will be at least six mobile phones featuring eight-megapixel cameras appearing in the second half of 2008.
The relentless megapixel "arms race" shows no sign of letting up and it leaves me wondering, "Why?"
My personal experiences suggest there's still a lot of work to be done in improving the quality of camera phones with five-megapixel sensors.
The jump to eight megapixels just makes this even more challenging. Resolution (pixel count) has little to do with picture quality. Colour and tone are more important, as is the competence of the person taking the picture. A decent lens and compression software help, too. In my opinion, there are several phones with 3.2-megapixel cameras that take far better pictures than some five-megapixel models.
Admittedly, if you have more pixels you can blow the image up to a larger size — but just how many people are going to create billboards from pictures taken on their phones or crop postage-stamp size pictures out of the original image?
So perhaps it's a case of the megapixel myth — consumers want the latest and greatest, and what better way to express this than via a bigger number? We've seen in the naming of phones for years. People assume that product xyz 900 is better than the xyz 600. Harvard professor, Gerry Zaltman supports this view in his extensive research and books.
Compact digital cameras seemed to stabilise at five megapixels for some time and there's a consensus among experts that six megapixels are enough for compact camera sensors. The big difference between mobile phones and digital cameras is that the mobile phone industry has shorter life cycles, larger portfolios and a relentless requirement to differentiate.
With five-megapixel devices such as Samsung's G600 and LG's KC 550 heading toward the high end of prepaid portfolios, and Nokia pushing its five-megapixel 6220 into the mid tier, how can manufacturers differentiate their flagship camera phone products? Easy – bang in an eight megapixel imaging unit and buyers immediately assume it must be better.
Undoubtedly distributors and retailers have encouraged phone manufacturers to go in this direction. Christmas sales are always about having a fresh product on offer. As people don't seem interested in new services like mobile TV, retailers are turning to the number of megapixels (or gigabytes in the case of music phones) to stimulate upgrade sales.
At some point people will realise the futility of ever-increasing megapixels and pay more attention to the quality of the image that camera phones deliver. In the meantime, we'll probably see strong sales of eight-megapixel camera phones when they hits the shops for Christmas and 10-megapixel devices are almost certain to emerge in 2009.