Tim: handset pyrotechnics halt progress


Not since the space race of the 1960s have the world’s superpowers in the East and West battled to land such a technology first.

Eight million little pixels in a mobile phone camera. And Samsung looks to have triumphed over Korean rival LG by a week or so and Sony Ericsson by a month by releasing the 8 megapixel i8510 handset.

Okay, maybe landing a man on the moon was a tad more difficult, and a tad more significant in terms of the technological advancement of the human race. But Samsung has squeezed eight million of the little blighters in (although the Samsung’s i8510 certainly has space for them, and possibly a new sofa too).

But both involve a whole load of technical wizardry, and both are probably more about bragging rights than anything else. Both also raise the slightly awkward question, was it really worth it?

Aside from debating the old ‘because it’s there’ excuse that explorers and mountain climbers trot out when asked such a banal question, or even the marketing value of equipping your cameraphones with 8 megapixels, I want to know the practical benefits.

My first issue concerns the common misunderstanding that the more megapixels the better the pictures. Not true. Megapixels mean you can blow pictures up and print them out without making them go all blocky. That’s all they’re for.

A distinct advantage for all the photographers out there looking to make wall posters of their handiwork. But photographers have cameras, and very nice ones for that matter. In fact they have cameras with the special lenses, flashes and zooms that actually make a difference to picture quality.

The average customer on the other hand wants to share their photos. They rarely, if ever, print them. They want to load them to Facebook or send them in a message. For this they want a fairly small file size so it will fit in a message and/or not take £20 worth of data charges to upload it.

I don’t know if you can see where I’m going with this, but eight million is a lot of pixels, translating into fairly large files.

Samsung’s new i8510 can helpfully shrink photos for sending, which is great. But it does add another tedious procedure to the image transferral process, and well as making the point of them kind of redundant in the first place.

So all in all, this fantastic technological advance hasn’t got us far, or improved picture quality. It has made it harder to share pictures, however. That’s progress for you.