Cell phone cameras getting boost from HP

Phone pictures aren't known for being great, but if Hewlett-Packard is right, they won't suck quite as much in the future. Photos: HP clarifies cell phone pics

Hewlett-Packard and contract manufacturer Flextronics have struck a deal that's likely to improve the quality of your cell phone photos.

Flextronics has licensed digital imaging technology from HP and will begin to incorporate the technology into cell phones that hit the market in 2007. HP currently includes the same technology in its own digital cameras. The upshot is that the 3-megapixel shots taken with these tiny camera phones will be largely equivalent to the shots taken by digital still cameras. Flextronics makes phones for Motorola, Kyocera and Sony Ericsson, among others.

HP imaging technology

"There will be a number of cameras that will ship with this technology," said Joe Beyers, vice president of HP's IP licensing group. "This is core technology within the image capture process itself."

Camera phones are an emerging threat to the still-growing digital camera market. Companies such as Micron Technology are regularly improving the quality of the image sensors inside cameras while camera/component makers like Samsung are continually trying to improve things like video performance and megapixel resolution.

The HP technology essentially takes the light captured by the imager and refines it, so it can be printed, or looks better when posted to a Web site. Now, people take pictures with their cell phone cameras, but don't save them for posterity because the quality isn't great, according to Beyers.

The two companies will also work to get carriers to adopt additional photo applications that HP has devised for its still cameras. The slimming function, which makes people in photographs looks slimmer, is one candidate for this. These applications are run after the image is processed, so it's more appropriate to license them to the carriers, rather than the camera maker.

Flextronics will pay HP for its technology, but, potentially, the added feature may not add anything to the eventual price of a cell phone, added Boris Teksler, senior director in HP's intellectual property licensing group.

The HP-Flextronics alliance is part of HP's effort to more actively license its intellectual property. Like IBM, HP is seeking out ways to gain more revenue from the inventions it in its labs. The licensing effort also helps offset a rising costs associated with intellectual property lawsuits that are affecting many.

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