Get the Picture?

Picture phones are undoubtedly one of the hottest items of 2003. The ability to capture a picture and send it via e-mail adds a whole new dimension of functionality to cellular phones, and new opportunities for small businesses that equate time with money.
Posted December 17, 2003

Patricia Fusco

According to In-Stat/MDR, shipments of camera phones are heating up. The high-tech market research firm reports that in 2002, worldwide camera phones shipments totaled about 18.2 million units, and in the first three months of 2003 shipments total 7.8 million units.

Boston, Mass.-based market research firm Strategy Analytics concurs — camera phones are one of the fastest-growing segments of the overall mobile phone market, and the pace is expected to accelerate throughout the next two years.

EM Data Service, another leading market research firm, estimates that in 2003, over 40 percent of mobile phones will have color screens, with that percentage soaring to 70 percent by 2006.

Paint a Picture
Typically technology-shy small businesses are part of the picture phone uptake trend in the U.S. More and more small businesses are using camera phones in new and exciting ways to save their businesses time and money.

Maintenance Systems, a Chicago-based painting company, arms each of its painting crews with a Sanyo 5300 cellular phone and "Picture Mail" — a service that enables business owners to capture, store and send images from any location.

Once a crew completes a painting job, they snap a picture of the final product and e-mail it to the hiring company for billing. Randy Sevcik, Maintenance Systems owner, is ecstatic with the results since he no longer has to take a camera to each work site and snail mail pictures to his customers.

The camera phones also save time mid-project. Now if the crew has a question, they can take a picture, send it to the client, call to discuss exactly how something is to be done, and finish the project as directed. Sevcik said the camera phones paid for themselves in just three weeks of use.

Portrait or Landscape?
Heroman Plant Services is a regional interior landscape company based in Baton Rouge, La. The company provides custom designs, installation and horticultural maintenance services for a variety of commercial clients.

Heroman's field representatives use Sanyo 8100 cellular phones to gain expert second opinions from supervising horticulturists. Heroman technicians take pictures of sick, damaged or newly installed plants and e-mail them to the corporate office, as well as to owner Pat Heroman's laptop, via a PCS Vision Card. After examining the photos, treatment recommendations or design changes can be made on the spot.

Prior to using camera phones, sample leaves of a problem plant had to be trimmed and sent to the corporate office for examination. Or a supervisor had to be dispatched to the site to look at a struggling plant. Consequently, a design move could take up to a week to complete. Now, Heroman saves time and money on shipping, labor and replacement of plants, all while solving their client's greenery issues in record time.

Picture This
CS Bechtold Designs, an Ohio-based kitchen and bath design company, uses camera phones to prove its case to vendors when incorrect shipments arrive at a customer's worksite.

Christi Bechtold, CS Bechtold Designs owner, recently visited a job site and found a cabinet had been mistakenly finished on the wrong side. Bechtold immediately called the factory, which denied such a mistake was possible. Then she remembered her camera phone. Bechtold took a picture of the cabinet and e-mailed it to the supplier. Five minutes later a truck was on its way to exchange the wrong cabinet for the right fixture.

The Big Picture
Each of these small businesses happens to subscribe to Sprint's PCS Free and Clear services for business. Unlimited Picture Mail is included with Sprints PCS Free and Clear services for small business when they subscribe to a plan that costs more than $100 a month. For all other plans, such as individual services, the first two months of Unlimited Picture Mail services are free. After two months, however, there is a $15 per-month charge for e-mailing pictures through a cellular phone.

T-Mobile, AT&T Wireless, Cingular and other wireless phone service providers offer comparable programs. And picture phone vendors — including Sharp, Toshiba, Nokia, Sony, Ericsson, Sanyo, and Samsung — are making these portable devices in all shapes and sizes with prices ranging from free (after rebate and contracting for a long-term service plan) to $350.

As with most new technologies, camera phones for any type of business use come with a couple of caveats. First, make sure picture phones are used for business purposes only. There are privacy issues popping up as quickly as you can "say cheese." Professional businesses tools should be used professionally — only as authorized by an acceptable use policy. Second, read the fine print of any cellular service plan. Some "unlimited" picture phone plans charge by the kilobyte, which could rack up unforeseen charges in the future.

The picture is that more and more small businesses are using camera phones to improve their daily operations. It is a relatively inexpensive way to capture and send images while on the go. It's also a relatively inexpensive way to accelerate your client-billing schedule — a benefit that few small businesses can afford to ignore.

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