Like an elite Swiss army knife, the iPhone is now a multi-category killer

As the smartphone takes over from cameras in the point-and-shoot market, Satnav, games consoles and even credit cards could soon be extinct

As early as last summer, the iPhone laid claim to having become the world's most popular camera, when it transpired that more of the photos on picture sharing site Flickr were taken on one of Apple's devices than on any single "proper" camera.

Because the camera does not lie, we now have hard data to illustrate this trend. Sales of mass market, budget digital cameras are in freefall. In the UK, they were down 30% by value on the previous year from January to November 2011, according to the latest figures from research firm GfK.

That month, famed photographer Annie Liebovitz, whose images have graced countless Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair covers, was asked which camera she recommended to Friends. In an interview on America's NBC News, Liebovitz declared the iPhone the "snapshot camera of today".

Why did that moniker come to be applied to a machine designed for making calls and surfing the web? Convenience has played its part. With a smartphone in the back pocket, there is no longer any need to remember to charge the digital camera and then make room for it in a handbag.

It is bound to be the phone, not the camcorder, that is nearest to hand at that surprise moment when a baby sits up or takes their first steps.

And cameraphones increasingly deserve the name. Gone are the pixelated, blurred approximations of visual reality, at least from high end models.

When launching the latest iPhone, Apple made almost as much of its camera quality as its processing power. The 4S has a resolution equal (at eight megapixels) to the mid range snapshot cameras of a couple of years ago. It takes crisper, more colour-balanced images than the Panasonic I paid £100 for in 2009.

And as Liebovitz pointed out, "it's the wallet with the family pictures in it". Phones now have enough memory to be miniature albums. A recent visit by a once-close cousin began with a ritual exchange of phone camera rolls. Within minutes images had filled the blank space left by years of absence.

The urge to see and share instantly is irresistible. How else could a camera that took photos as poorly as the Polaroid have become a household name?

It is all too easy to forget images inside the memory card of a digital camera without ever printing them. The phone is both a lightbox on which to instantly view, and a means of disseminating snapshots through email or sharing sites.

Having begun life as a substandard Swiss army knife of a gadget, capable of tackling any number of tasks badly, the smartphone is evolving into a multi-category killer.

With Google and Nokia now offering free navigation on mobiles, the paper map and the satnav are not must-haves. Any number of Angry Birds and Super Mario apps mean portable games consoles could soon be extinct. Responding to email or checking the web on the move no longer requires a laptop.

If Google and the UK mobile phone networks have their way, this will be the year the phone begins to replace credit cards. Just remember to bring your charger.


Juliette Garside

The GuardianTramp

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