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Yahoo attracted by depth of camera phone field

Portal giant shoots for growing number of phone users with new feature that allows pictures to be posted to Yahoo Photos.

Yahoo now lets people upload pictures to its photo-sharing site from camera phones, the latest example of a service that's trying to capitalize on interoperability problems that limit picture swapping between phones.

The new Yahoo Photos feature, free to any registered Yahoo user, is available to subscribers of Sprint Communications, AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile USA, Cingular Wireless and Verizon Wireless, according to Yahoo.

A Yahoo spokeswoman said the addition of the feature was part of Yahoo's "renewed commitment in the mobile space."

To use the service, phone owners must provide their handset's make and model, plus the name of their service provider. Registered users then get an exclusive e-mail address to use when sending photos from their phone to their Yahoo Photo online account.

With the new feature, Yahoo Photos joins moblog sites such as TextAmerica in trying to entice phone users who've discovered that they can only send photos to phones that use the same service provider, thus limiting the pictures' audience. The interoperability gap stems from the fact that wireless service providers each built slightly different versions of photo and video-messaging services instead of waiting for an industrywide standard.

U.S. cell phone service providers vow to solve the interoperability problems by the end of the summer.

Yahoo also unveiled on Thursday a $2.99-a-month feature, providing camera phones access to pictures stored at Yahoo Photos, plus features previously available only over a wired Internet connection. The application is available from Sprint and AT&T Wireless, and requires a phone capable of using Java software.

The download is an example of another Yahoo mobile strategy: to improve the experience people have in using Yahoo software on a cell phone's small screen and with a phone's limited processing power, the Yahoo spokeswoman said.

Yahoo has been trying to tap the growing number of camera phone users and convert them into Yahoo users. The company lets Sprint and AT&T Wireless subscribers view and download pictures from Yahoo Photos. Yahoo also has deals with mobile providers such as Cingular and AT&T Wireless to enable PC-to-phone text messaging.

The king of the Web portals has also fiddled with different business models for its online photo site. Yahoo Photos originally launched with unlimited free photo storage for people to upload their digital camera snapshots. Bowing to pressure to boost nonadvertising revenues, Yahoo in 2002 imposed restrictions for nonpaying users to view other people's photos and then charged people for uploading more than 30MB of images. In December 2003, the company scrapped those charges and reverted back to unlimited storage.

Camera phones, which number in the tens of millions, represent just a small fraction of the about 1.5 billion cell phones now in circulation. Handset manufacturers, gambling that the surging interest in camera phones will continue, are adding the feature to a greater number of their models.

CNET's Jim Hu contributed to this report.