History of the smartphone camera: How an accessory became the USP of every mobile phone

The origin of a camera on a smartphone seems to have been with the intention of just providing an additional feature in the phone
History of the smartphone camera: How an accessory became the USP of every mobile phone
History of the smartphone camera: How an accessory became the USP of every mobile phone
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You are at some picturesque spot, you get your smartphones out and click a few photos of the breath-taking sight and then maybe edit the pictures and share them with your friends on Instagram or Facebook or on WhatsApp. Well, you might ask, what’s the big deal? Nothing; except that it prompts one to ask where did it all start from? How exactly and how far has the technology travelled, to reach here? Many among the current generation of smartphone buyers may not even be aware of it,  but there has been a paradigm shift in the way people click and share images using their phones, over the years.   

The origins of fitting a camera on a smartphone appear to be with the intention of just providing an additional feature in the phone and not with any serious purpose. The compact ‘aim and click cameras’ were still in vogue and the presence of the cameras on the feature phones, before the advent of the smartphones, was not considered a threat to the compact cameras then. For the record, the first set of smartphones to hit the stores were the iPhone and a product from HTC, the T-Mobile G1. These two phones sported cameras, which were 2MP and 3.5MP, respectively. Obviously, there was no concept of a front camera then. The fact that the reviews, being penned on these phones, didn’t refer to the camera or its capabilities back then, is proof enough of the importance attached to the imaging section in a smartphone.

The selfie camera joins the game

Smartphones fitted with a front camera that made a real impact were made available in 2010, though a front facing camera was already seen seven years earlier, on Sony Ericsson’s Z1010. Again, the real significance of having better and larger cameras on smartphones gained currency only when internet connectivity and social media sites expanded, exponentially, around the world. This also indirectly explains the simultaneous focus phone manufacturers gave to front cameras and development of editing apps. Till then, the front cameras were quite smaller when compared to the main rear cameras.

Newer features, more options

It was not enough to just bump up the mega pixel rating of the cameras, whether front or rear. Some of the features and adjustments provided in the conventional cameras had also to be integrated to make the user experience worthwhile. So, the phone makers started vying with each other in adding these features. The flash or LED flash, to be precise, got added; today it is considered a standard spec. Then the autofocus feature and bringing in wide angle lenses made their appearance. Experts attribute these rapid technological changes in the front camera setups over the last three or four generations of smartphones to the overall improvements in the data speeds available, including the advent of 4G in markets like India. With popular messaging apps like WhatsApp introducing video calling the front camera has come to play a crucial role in the smartphones.

Dual camera setup

While the top phone companies like Samsung and HTC have steadily enhanced the specifications of the front cameras to almost that of the rear sensors, others like Oppo have gone a step ahead and launched their flagships with dual front cameras of 16MP and 8MP. The way it is made to work is the second camera comes with a wide-angle lens that enables group selfies. It is in the rear camera that the dual sensor arrangement is becoming more common and the Oppo3 could be an exception.

Improvements in camera specs

While the race is on to ramp up the basic specifications of cameras in smartphones, like having cameras with higher megapixels, there has been a constant attempt at enhancing the other parameters that can make the clicking of pictures and obtaining professional quality output. On the camera resolution front, the iPhones and Samsung’s flagships have gone up to 12 and 16MP, while there are smartphones that have boasted of cameras of 21MP (Sony Xperia Z1) and 41MP even (Nokia Lumia 1020)!

But it is in areas, like video recording in 4K and in having the optical image stabilization as an added feature that smartphones have moved on to the next level.

Indian user has experienced it all

The Indian smartphone market is quite evolved and all smartphone majors like Samsung, Apple, LG and HTC make it a point to launch their flagships in India. The importance of the selfie camera cannot be over-emphasized than by pointing out the entire advertisement campaign of the Gionee flagship being woven around the ‘Selfiestan’ theme!

Where is this technology headed from here? If the initial years were seen as the mobile phone camera slowly pushing out the compact cameras, the trends now may reach the level of giving a good fight to the DSLRs. It might still be some time away, but you never know for sure. That is the power of technology.   

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