Live: Pixel Event Pixel Watch Fire TV vs. Frame TV Hellraiser Review Audible Deal Prime Day Pizza Deals Best Sheets
Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?
No, thank you

Cell phones: They do voice calling too?

The cell phone is transforming into a true multimedia device, as this week's CTIA show will demonstrate. Photos: Cell phones on parade

Flash: Cameras are helping change cell phones from primarily voice devices to multimedia gadgets that not only take pictures, but also play music, surf the Internet and play television shows.

Which is why it's not much of a surprise that a major cell phone show, CTIA Wireless 2005, has keynote speakers that include Eastman Kodak CEO Daniel Carp and rapper and clothes designer Sean "P.Diddy" Combs.

Sure, cell phones do still make and receive calls, but the ones debuting at this week's show in New Orleans reflect the huge influence photography has had on the cell phone industry since the first camera phone was introduced about two years ago.


What's new:
Cell phones have gone from big bricks for yelling into in public to complex music, photo and Internet devices. Expect this week's CTIA show to continue the trend.

Bottom line:
With Kodak and other camera makers joining in, the new wave of multifunction phones is changing the cellular market forever and drawing U.S. consumers to wireless data.

More stories on cell phones

Major handset makers have made cameras all but standard fare on their cell phones, and Nokia intends to put a 1-megapixel camera in most of its phones this year. Even the least expensive of phones, the ones operators give away to entice new subscribers, now often come with embedded cameras. The hybrid devices are credited with kick-starting what had been a sleepy U.S. market for wireless data services. Even Nextel Communications, which caters to businesses, is adding camera phones to its lineup.

This year's CTIA Wireless 2005 is shaping up to be a crossroads events for the cell phone industry. Embedding cameras into cell phones has helped U.S. consumers realize that their phones can also access the Internet, whether to post camera phone photos on a public Web site, watch a specially formatted TV show, send a photo to a friend's handset, or use any number of offline printing services. With wireless data revenue doubling over the last two years as a result, operators are much more interested, and more willing, to give new data services a try.

Visual design
Photography has also had a huge impact on cell phone design. At CTIA, top U.S. cell phone operator Cingular Wireless announced it will be selling the Sony Ericsson S710. The camera has not only a 1.3-megapixel digital camera with a photo light and an 8x zoom lens but an MP3 player, too. Not to be outdone, Samsung will show off its p777, which Cingular also sells. The phone has a 1.3-megapixel camera, an MP3 player and enough memory to store one hour of video footage. It's also possible that Motorola will unveil its first iTunes music cell phone at the show, a device that will be music player first, phone second.

?We all believe (these devices) have the potential to change the way consumers experience mobile communications," Urban Gillstrom, president of Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications (USA), said in a statement. "A handset with a similar design was initially offered in Japan, and more than 50,000 handsets were sold in the first few hours it was available.?

The all-purpose gizmo
The arrival of the photo-centric phones has spawned dozens of new "multimedia" services to be introduced Monday, from leading brands such as America Online, Fuji and Yahoo. Multimedia in this case refers to cell phone services that mix digital audio and video.

Cell phones

New and improved photo services will be in generous supply at CTIA. For instance, No. 3 U.S. cell phone operator Sprint, in conjunction with film maker Fuji, announced plans to triple to 2,700 the number of locations where Sprint camera phone users can get their photos printed. New retailers signing up include Food-4-Less, Shop Rite, Long?s Discount Drugs and Ralph?s.

America Online unveiled an instant-picture feature that lets instant messaging software users send pictures from the desktop to anyone's cell phone and vice versa; it's also making its "You've Got Pictures" photo messaging service available to cell phones. IM software from AOL and Yahoo, its competitor, will both be embedded onto BlackBerry devices.

The next great cellular rage may be cell phone video. During a Monday address, George Bodenheimer, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, is expected to touch on new partnerships to supply cell phone operators with more content from Disney-owned ESPN and ABC.

Rapper Combs will be delivering a keynote, in a nod to how thoroughly the wireless industry is embracing streaming music to phones and selling ring tones. Melodeo, a provider of music download services for cell phones, will unveil what it claims is the first music service that operators can use to sell full-track song downloads to both phones and personal computers.

Sprint added a music video channel onto its cell phone TV service. The videos can be purchased for $6 a month.

For businesses and upper-tier consumers, Cingular on Monday unveiled a new $100-a-month service that provides unlimited access to a high-speed cell phone network and about 4,300 Wi-Fi hot spots nationwide. For the mainstream, it's got a new assortment of ring tones, wallpaper and other wireless baubles based on the upcoming "Star Wars: Episode III, Revenge of the Sith."

"The trend for wireless in 2005 will be complete integration of advanced multimedia features," Peter Skarzynski, senior vice president of wireless terminals, said in a statement.

How this picture developed
Kodak's presence at CTIA isn't actually all that strange when taking into account the multimedia madness that?s going on.

Needing to jump-start a cellular industry that was showing signs of slowing down two years ago, U.S. cell phone operators, led by Sprint, started selling handsets that doubled as cameras. In a stroke of either marketing genius or dumb luck, sales of the hybrid handsets soared, and related services like picture or video mail took off. Now Kodak, hard at work on a digital transition, is trying to capitalize on the picture craze.

Kodak is already in the wireless space, to some degree. It has introduced EasyShare One, which could be the world's first camera enabled with Wi-Fi, a popular wireless standard that could shuttle photos wirelessly to printers or PCs for storage or sharing with others. It's also planning to showcase its Kodak Mobile Service, through which someone can store their photos in one location on the Internet.

Carriers are also interested in partnering with Kodak, said a company spokesman, and it has already partnered with Cingular, the largest U.S. wireless operator, and T-Mobile USA. In Europe, it works with O2 and T-Mobile, among others.

"Kodak is best prepared to help customers and wireless partners meet the changing needs of the imaging market," said a Kodak spokeswoman.

Which, judging from consumer and industry interest, appears to be a good business to be in.