MmO2 to sell Sharp camera phones

Sharp, the company which first embedded a digital still camera into a mobile phone, is to start supplying camera phones to mmO2...

Sharp, the company which first embedded a digital still camera into a mobile phone, is to start supplying camera phones to mmO2 from the third quarter of this year.

The company, based in Japan, has received orders from mmO2 to supply camera-embedded GPRS mobile phones with colour LCDs in the third quarter, Masaaki Takeda, a Sharp spokesman, said.

The spokesman would not disclose how many handsets Sharp will supply and to which country.

In Japan Sharp is the pioneer of camera-embedded handsets that have proved popular ever since the company released a handset for carrier J-Phone in November 2000. Sales of camera phones reached 4 million in March this year and are currently increasing at a rate of around 1 million units every three months, according to J-Phone.

"Many overseas carriers see an embedded camera as one of the killer applications for mobile phones and as we were the first maker to put a camera into a mobile phone, they are interested in our products," Takeda said.

The handset allows users to take low-quality digital still images and directly send them to other phones and computers through the telephone's built-in e-mail system.

Many mobile phone makers are now manufacturing camera-embedded phones, and J-Phone has 12 camera phones from eight different vendors, including NEC, Sanyo Electric, Matsushita Electric Industrial, Toshiba, Mitsubishi Electric, Nokia and Kenwood.

J-Phone's success with the picture mail service caught its competitors off-guard and left them scrambling to launch their own camera phone services. The largest carrier, NTT DoCoMo, and the second largest carrier, KDDI, followed in the second quarter this year. KDDI's mobile unit, Au, released its first camera phone from Casio Computer in April and NTT DoCoMo started a similar service in June and currently has a line-up of three phones from Sharp, Fujitsu and Mitsubishi Electric.

Now J-Phone is looking beyond the picture mail system and, in March this year, started a service that allows five-second video clips to be sent via mobile e-mail.

With embedded camera handsets, Sharp is hoping to increase its market share of the overseas mobile phone market by selling handsets that boast features such as colour LCDs and embedded cameras, Takeda said. The company, which is also one of Japan's leading LCD makers, started supplying colour LCD mobile phones in the US through Verizon Communications in May.

Read more on Operating systems software