TUPdate: Enough Pixels for More Than Quick Pix: Cell Phone Pioneers Disrupting Digital Imaging

A uniquely vital market segment has been taking their camera shutter fingers for a walk, using their cell phone digital cameras more than their traditional digital cameras. It used to be that those of us who had a camera on our cell phone were ahead of the game – the tech-savvy breed of consumer. These days, if your phone hasn’t got a camera, you might as well be Paleolithic. Our new MetaFacts Digital Imaging Lifecycle research survey has identified a web-savvy group that is finding their cell phone cameras to be good enough and convenient enough to be their primary camera. To the extent this segment is a bellwether group, it could spell a major shift in the way Americans take pictures.


Why is this important?

Every company involved in digital imaging is affected when consumers migrate from one type of camera to another. Printer & ink manufacturers and PC & software makers are impacted when cellcam photographers find it easier to share their photos via cell networks than print them. Similarly, photo-sharing websites not conveniently linked to cellcams run the risk of missing out on the newest-captured images.

First let’s look at these “cellcammers,” or those people who most often use a cellcam over a standard digital camera.  Nearly three-quarters of cellcammers also own (and use) a digital camera, but for most of their picture taking, they choose to use their cells instead. We discovered this in our survey of 2,000 active digital imagers in the MetaFacts Digital Imaging Lifecycle study, a Focus Edition of the MetaFacts Technology User Profile service.

Does this foreshadow an irreversible move away from the trusty, full-featured digital camera?  Not quite yet.  It is true that cellcam use is on the rise, but cellcammers and digicammers are not mutually exclusive groups.  Out of those surveyed, 68% of primarily digital camera users report using a cellcam as well.  The border between these categories is relatively fluid, and the tipping point seems to hinge on convenience over quality.  Digicammers are more likely to process or edit their images than cellcammers, who tend to leave more photos as-is; 48% of cellcammers used basic retouching in the last year, compared with 68% of digicammers.  This implies more of a desire for image quality in digicammers than cellcammers.

It begs the question, however, that as the quality gap narrows between digital cameras and cell phone cameras, will everyday photographers simply leave their digital cameras at home more often? Will this be similar to the way cellphones replaced many wristwatches as timepieces, as we reported in the 2004 Edition of Technology User Profile?

Cellcams have passed the critical half-way mark. Now over half (55%) of active digital imagers ever use their cellcam to take pictures. The cellcam-exclusive group is still at the leading edge, currently numbering 6% of active digital imagers.

The line between digicammers and cellcammers does become blurred in the issue of convenience.  Both groups report a desire for ease of use in their cameras; 72% of digicammers and 71% of cellcammers say they like cameras that are simple and easy to use.  This similarity shows that both groups could potentially gravitate to the same camera, whether attached to a phone or not, as long as it were straightforward and easy.  However, that ideal camera would also have to produce relatively high-quality images, as significant numbers in both groups report that even their favored camera does not have as many pixels as they might like (64% of cellcammers and 42% of digicammers say this).

More cellcammers use disposable/single-use cameras than their digicam-philic counterparts, with 41% of cellcammers having used a disposable camera in the past year, compared to 23% of digicammers.  This may be another result of the noted gap in image quality between cellcams and standard (including digital) cameras.  Cellcammers gravitate toward the convenience of the cell phone camera, but when faced with a situation calling for better image quality, many of these consumers run to the nearest drug store or camera shop for a quick disposable boxcam-fix.

While both groups report a desire for more pixels, it is predominantly cellcammers who note their cameras are lacking in this respect, and this seems to result from a (possibly outdated) sense of novelty in cellcam production.  Many cell handset manufacturers appear to add cameras as an afterthought, making the technology inferior to that of a full camera, from a lag in color balance to substandard lighting, and also barely integrated with the cell phone’s software.

Even with the sense of novelty prevailing among most cellular handset cameras, consumers will make the final determination if there is a wholesale shift away from single-function digital cameras. With convenience and adequate quality as their banners, web-savvy cellcammers are likely to sway everyday photographers using their blogs, Facebook posts, and spontaneously taken yet artistic contributions.

Background & Methodology

The information in this TUPdate is drawn from Technology User Profile (TUP), a survey-based study conducted by MetaFacts. Factual, decision-making information like this is only found in one place, Technology User Profile (TUP) from MetaFacts. The Technology User Profile market research information service is based on extensive primary research selected and balanced to represent the complete spectrum of technology users and non-users, including knowledge workers, salespeople, factory workers, retirees, the self-employed and the unemployed. Drawn from thousands of surveys per year, TUP is the longest-running, comprehensive total market technology study available. TUPdates are brief summaries of information contained in the Technology User Profile.

Usage Guidelines

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To Obtain More Information
To obtain the analysis and supporting survey results for this TUPdate, visit the MetaFacts TUP Online Store to order the TUPdate package. To acquire the complete Digital Imaging Lifecycle Report, visit the MetaFacts TUP Online Store.