Picture messaging - it's worse than you thought

But might get better

Two years after the introduction of picture messaging in Europe, MMS is still a flop. Network operators still gain 99 per cent of their data revenue from plain old text messaging. It's not as if the original issues haven't been addressed: cost, interoperability and availability of handsets. Next year almost half of new handsets sold in the UK will feature a camera, up from around 26 per cent this year. Carriers now offer more MMS bundles and intend to bring the cost of sending a picture message down to that of an SMS. They also solved most of their interoperability issues last spring.

But the problem is really worse than it looks, says Simon East, Cognima founder and former Psion software lynchpin and Symbian technology VP. MMS users are now struck with a new problem. If camera phones are to replace traditional cameras as the main snapper, photos need to be printed and stored. And a new problem has arisen. The photos that networks deliver don't match the megapixel images that users think they're sending.

"By default many phones send 30kb images, and you have to select a large image that's around 100kb manually," he told us. For example, the Nokia 7610 takes 1152x864 sized images, but even with the 'large' setting, a 576x432 sized image is delivered. You need at least 300kb to get something that's printable."

First featured here last year with infrastructure software that allows users to repair phones without the user's intervention, Cognima has turned to the MMS crisis, and claims impressive results. Using Cognima's own Snap software, which uploads and stores pictures with a click, usage in trials rocketed. Since announcing the software last month, Bonusprint and OurPictures have signed up. The deal is pretty straightforward: for £1.99 a month, you can upload, print and share the photo you thought you took.

Doesn't this eat into the carriers' revenues, we wondered? Since MMS is almost pure profit for them, says East, pointing out that they've built the infrastructure, and are now waiting for users to come.

Five megapixel camera phones aren't too far away, he reminded us, so the industry needs to offer services like this fast. People certainly use their cameraphones right now, they just don't do anything with the images except show them to friends on the phone in the pub.

It's a reminder that when companies throw technology at a market and then forget how people actually use it, success is far from assured. All that's missing is a service that allows you to nominate a nearby print booth, then go and pick them up.

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