By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
While camera phone shipments have eclipsed sales of digital still cameras, the two imaging devices may not be sharing shelf space anytime soon.
According to wireless carriers and retailers, camera phones are not quite the right fit for specialty camera store distribution and, despite research to the contrary, it's an open question whether camera phones will have any impact on even the low end of the digital still camera market.
“It's not a real imaging device and until camera phones can take a digital image under a range of different photographic circumstances, we won't consider stocking them,” said Michael Woodland, owner of Allentown, Pa.-based Dan's Camera City.
Woodland also noted that competition with the carrier's own stores and the need to stock a raft of wireless accessories to make the venture profitable made the prospect of selling camera phones unappealing to specialty dealers.
“We've evaluated it — and we will continue to evaluate it — but at the moment it doesn't make sense for us,” Woodland said. To make sense, Woodland said, camera phones would need better flashes and cheaper, easier means of transferring images out of the camera.
Carriers are equally wary of moving into specialty's turf.
“We have, in the past, worked with some camera retailer as distributors. However, it did not prove to be a successful venture,” said a spokesman for Cingular Wireless.
Sprint PCS, which sold cellular phones through specialty-dealer Ritz Camera in the past, said through a spokesperson that it was “hopeful” to a see a commitment by specialty camera stores to camera phones in the future.
“Selling camera phones and even the printed output from those devices is something that makes sense on the surface for a specialty retailer like Ritz Camera,” the spokesperson said. “A commitment to the mobile phone category by specialty retailers requires management focus, merchandising support, advertising and floor expertise.”
A spokesperson for Verizon noted that the spontaneous nature of camera phone images would not satisfy camera specialty customers looking for higher-end, performance cameras.
While retail cohabitation seems iffy, there is still the specter of encroachment as camera-equipped cellphones are projected to account for 89 percent of all mobile phone handsets shipped in 2009, according to Weymouth, Mass.-based research firm InfoTrends.
A recent study from Oyster Bay, N.Y.-based research firm ABI Research predicted that “within two years, low-end camera phones will take much of the market share now held by low-end stand-alone digital cameras.”
According to principal analyst Kenneth Hyers, improvements in camera phone resolution and other metrics “will be such that people won't need low-end stand-alone digital cameras.”
A RadioShack spokesman noted that despite brisk sales of camera phones, the chain was not de-emphasizing lower-end digital still cameras.
“Most camera phones have a lower resolution than the lowest dedicated cameras anyway, and most of our customers aren't looking at their camera phones as a replacement for still cameras,” the spokesman said.
The improvement in digital still camera performance also means that the bar for “low end” is constantly shifting, to the camera phone's detriment.
If selling camera phones through camera stores is a non-starter, photo printer equipment vendors such as Kodak and Fujifilm have been promoting another means of potential profits: printing camera phone images.
That too has been a dud, at least thus far, Woodland noted. “We're a very high-tech shop. We have Wi-Fi in our print café and can make prints from Bluetooth, IR, etc., and we've had that ability for a while. Our monthly camera phone print volume is about zero prints per month. So far we're somewhere between hype and a real market.”
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