Baby’s arrival inspires birth of cellphone camera — and societal evolution

A decade ago — 10 lousy years ago — the cellphone camera was invented.

This is almost impossible to comprehend. The cellphone camera is now almost as much a part of daily life as toothpaste. On an increasingly regular basis, the technology alters world events, as when that Iraqi guard used his cellphone cam to record the hanging of Saddam Hussein. Imagine if cell-cams were around when Marie Antoinette went to the guillotine.

Motorola CEO Ed Zander told me that his company, which makes cellphone cams, sells more cameras than any camera maker. Gartner Group says that 460 million cellphones with cameras were sold in 2006. By 2010, the number sold per year will pass 1 billion. These things are moving the way McDonald’s moves hamburgers.

Star Trek always gets kudos for getting the future right, but those beam-me-up-Scotty communicators were pitifully camera-less.

The whole cellphone cam movement started, oddly enough, with one of the great, colorful characters from the flowering of personal computing in the 1980s: Philippe Kahn.

Back in those days, he was a large, contentious, French-accented jazz flautist who started software company Borland. After turning Borland into one of the major early successes in PCs, Kahn was pushed out in 1995 in a dispute about the company’s direction. He then launched cellphone software company Starfish, which played a role in his invention of the cellphone camera in 1997.

A number of companies were messing around with the idea. Putting a camera in a cellphone was becoming nearly as obvious as realizing butter should go on toast. But to make the concept work, somebody had to come up with the knife, so to speak. Kahn gets credit for doing that for the cell-cam.

Kahn’s story of the origin of the cell-cam is kind of cute. It started when his wife, Sonia Lee, roared at him while spending 18 hours in labor. “I’d gone to the Lamaze classes,” Kahn, now 54, tells me. “And the second time I said, ‘Breathe!’ Sonia said, ‘Shut up!’ So I said, ‘OK, I’ll sit at this desk and find something to do.’ ”

He had come to the hospital outfitted, as usual, with his laptop, cellphone and digital camera. He thought about how clumsy it was to have to take a digital photo, download it to his laptop, post it to a website, then e-mail his friends to tell them where to look — all of which was pretty new at the time. He wanted to snap a picture, hit a button and have it automatically load to the Web.

As his wife’s labor went on, Kahn started fiddling with his hardware and writing code to glue it together. “I had time to make a couple trips to RadioShack to get soldering wire,” Kahn says. “I just stayed in the room and made that thing work.”

By the time he was holding his newborn daughter, Kahn could use his jury-rigged contraption to take a digital photo and wirelessly post it for his friends and family.

Motorola was in the process of buying Starfish, and Kahn says he first showed his invention to his new boss. But Motorola was just getting a new CEO (Chris Galvin) and embarking on one of the most ill-fated projects in global corporate history (the Iridium satellite phone system). Motorola passed on the cellphone camera.

“Motorola was in turmoil at the time,” Kahn explains.

Kahn formed a new company, LightSurf, to build and market PictureMail — a back-end system that would let a cellphone take a photo and send it somewhere. The first version came out in Japan in 1999, helping spur the Japanese to make the earliest cell-cams. Motorola and Nokia ended up being late to the cell-cam game.

Cellphone cams evolved quickly. Most these days can take video as well as still photos. Kahn says he had some idea, even in 1997, that cell-cams would make a big impression.

“It wasn’t far from the Rodney King tapes,” he says, referring to the citizen-shot video of King being beaten by Los Angeles police officers. “It was clear that a little bit of videotaping had a massive impact on American culture. If you put that in the hands of a lot of people, and there are no barriers to sharing, it’s going to have a huge impact.”

We’re always watching

For the first time, hundreds of millions of people are carrying an image recording device all the time. It means somebody in a comedy club audience can see Michael Richards blow his wig and immediately capture it and post it on YouTube. The ubiquitous cell-cam seems particularly handy when some actress shows up having forgotten her underwear.

The always-there devices mean we get first-hand images of disasters, terrorist attacks and crimes. In his state-of-the-city address this month, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a program that will let citizens snap cell-cam photos of crimes and send them to 911. Hopefully, not many people will make use of PhotoShop software to etch a rival’s license plate number on a photo of an illegally parked car.

In 1984, George Orwell thought we’d be forced to behave because government cameras were always watching us. Instead, we’ll have to behave because every person is a spycam operator.

Cell-cam photos are the new autograph. See a celebrity, snap a picture and post it. The gadgets are recording innumerable tiny events that used to go into the ether — first baby steps, first kisses, first sales commissions. My 13-year-old son’s cellphone is filled with photos of fish he and his friends have caught in a nearby creek, most of them the size of a sausage link.

Kahn, who is working on a still-secret new company called Fullpower, altered society with his soldered-together contrivance. And the scary thing is, the infiltration of cell-cams is only beginning.

E-mail kmaney@usatoday.com
Original Article | Kevin Maney’s Blog

The Camera Phone

The gadget that perverts, vigilantes, and celebrity stalkers can all agree on.

Michael Agger – Slate

Ten years ago, Philippe Kahn was walking around a hospital with a cell phone and a digital camera. His dadly mission: to share pictures of his newborn baby girl. With an assist from Radio Shack, he linked the two devices together and e-mailed photos to family and friends around the world. The day marked a twin birth of sorts: the cell phone camera and daughter Sophie.

Kahn regards his invention with paternal pride: “I built it to document the birth of my daughter. For us, it has always been a positive thing.” So he was taken aback recently when, with the Saddam-hanging video circling the globe, an interviewer compared him to the inventor of the Kalashnikov. First there was Prince Harry’s Nazi costume, then the shaming of Kate Moss, then the Michael Richards racist explosion, but, for some, Saddam’s hanging marks the low point for Kahn’s creation. A camera on a phone has only aided the perverted, the nosy, the violent, and the bored.

That’s not exactly fair, but it’s not exactly wrong, either. As Kahn told Wired in 2000: “With this kind of device, you’re going to see the best and the worst of things.” The best would include photo caller-ID, amateur sports highlights, and the quick citizen snaps taken in the wake of the London bombings. Yet, despite the fun and occasional worthiness, the cell phone camera has launched a thousand jackasses. One representative example: Sportscaster Sean Salisbury was suspended by ESPN last month, reportedly for showing female co-workers cell phone photos of his “equipment.”

When video technology was added to phones (with little fanfare), the madness went up a notch. English youths devised a pleasant game called “happy slapping,” which involves assaulting random strangers while your mates record the whole thing. The happy slapping craze spread throughout Europe last year, leading to outraged op-eds and calls to ban cell phones from schools. While the phenomenon is marked by more than a touch of media hysteria, you can certainly find disturbing videos on YouTube. (The French, naturally, replied with “Streetkissing.”) There have also been news reports of graphic videos showing beatings and accidents, such as an unfortunate boy in Birmingham, United Kingdom, who impaled himself on his bicycle. Teenagers have employed cell phone cameras for old-fashioned humiliation, too: The parking lot fight is now captured on video and shared. To be an adult is to be grateful to have escaped the digital hazing of high school.

In glorious retrospect, it seems like a terrifically bad idea to give the world a spy camera that looks and functions like a cell phone. Peeping Toms quickly realized the potential for upskirt pics and shower-room souvenirs. Chicago tried to block cell phones from gyms, and a California legislator has proposed a law requiring the cell phone to make a shutter snapping sound or flash a light when a picture is taken. We have trained ourselves to be wary when a cell phone is pointed at us, but the device’s relative inconspicuousness still creates problems. In Saudi Arabia, women have been taking pictures of other women unveiled at weddings and e-mailing them to matchmakers, a practice that has caused uproar in a culture in which any sort of image can be cause for loss of honor.

The cell phone camera, constant companion, has also been championed as an anti-crime device. There have been several Rodney King moments, with bystanders pulling out their cameras to record sketchy police activity. One woman took a shot of a flasher on a New York subway, a photo that ended up on the cover of the New York Post the next day. There is also a mini-boom in sites to catch people who park like idiotsstare too long, and mistreat your kids. Think of this as the positive side of living in 1984.

The more difficult question, the one that lurks outside the media glare, is how the cell phone camera is altering our private lives. In the perceptive book Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia, Nancy Martha West writes how Kodak, with the introduction of the personal camera, taught Americans to both conceive of their lives in terms of fondly remembered events and to edit out unpleasant memories. In Victorian America, for example, arranging to take a photo of a dead relative was not uncommon—a part of the grieving process. Under the reign of Kodak and its advertising, we became family historians of happiness. Now that digital cameras have taken over, the old photo album is giving way to the personal Flickr page, bringing with it a different set of assumptions of what to present (a whole lot more photos, for starters) and whom to share it with.

The ubiquity of the cell phone camera means that every moment in our lives is photographable. One consequence of this is an altered perception of the gravity of our day-to-day routines. We are now more aware of ourselves as observers of “history.” When a van catches fire in front of our house, we and our neighbors are now out on the lawn recording. We e-mail this to our friends, who testify to the enormity of the event, and then we all await the next sensation. This impulse can be positive, but it also fuels the increasingly destructive American habit of oversharing. The snapshot speaks with a small voice: I’m alive and I saw this. The cell phone camera picture or video is a shout from the rooftop: Check out this crazy thing that happened to me.

Picture sharing has also made us more aggressive in situations in which we feel insecure, such as in the presence of celebrities. Susan Sontag described the essentially hostile nature of taking pictures as a form of “soft” murder. In the age of cell phones, this scalp-hunting sensibility is achieving full flower. Let’s say you’re in Asbury Park and you see Bruce Springsteen with his kids. The old impulse would have been to ask the Boss if you could take your picture with him. The new impulse is to snap the shot with a cell phone camera and sell it to a site likeScoopt. No wonder famous people don’t want to hang out with us.

So, before we move on to the next racist comedian or cocaine-snorting supermodel, let’s put the Saddam video in context. It is a weird echo of the Zapruder film, another piece of amateur footage that caught the death of a leader. The differences are stark, of course. Zapruder captured Kennedy while standing openly in the Dallas sunlight. The official who videoed Saddam did so furtively, pointing his camera to the ground at times. But they both testify to the power of first-person witnessing, and how a digital copy of that witnessing can upend neat narratives and certainties. We’ll see the best of things, we’ll see the worst of things, we’ll see everything.

The Browser would like to thank the excellent Web site picturephoning.com.

michael.agger@gmail.com.
Original Article

NPR

This whole weekend, NPR (National Public radio) runs a big piece on the camera phone and its impact on society. I have to say that all business partners, friends and family members have had a great impact in shaping the camera phone. Click here to listen

Nanotechnology and micro machines

Nanotechnology and micro machines

The shrinking image sensors have allowed us to ship 1 billion camera phones in 2007. Now the same is happening with all sorts of other sensors. The key is MEMS technology, our ability to make mechanical and electromagnetic devices ever smaller. A digital compass the size of a needle-pin. Five gyroscopes that can be fitted in the form-factor of a dime. All this represents major technology breakthroughs. There is major innovation in building the hardware and now the software that makes it all work.

We are less than a decade away from the medical lab the size of a sugar cube.

We are less than a decade away from a truly non-invasive blood glucose and heart monitor.

We are close to the the next revolution in managing our world.

 

Happy Holidays

2006 has been a great year of Building technology.

Inventing.

Innovating.

Continuing to bring together the greatest core team.

Inventing the future is hard work. There is no feeling like that one. It’s like magic when you start seeing the technology really working.

2006 is winding down while even more excitement is building into 2007.

Happy Holidays.

 

Always-On Technology

As the second disastrous hurricane makes landfall, Rita after Katrina, I can’t help but to think how always-on technology in particular wireless applied to life sciences could have helped hundreds of thousand of Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Texas residents. There is an immense sense of purpose in innovating and inventing a future that will radically improve everyone’s lives. This is now especially true when we see the magnitude of some of the natural disasters that so many are facing. Ultimately there is no better satisfaction than to be working on solutions that will improve and help everyone’s lives. It’s clear that our Fullpower team has now an even greater sense of purpose.

Repeat Business Success and Vision

1. Founding Fullpower and making LightSurf a Success:
We started Fullpower at the beginning of 2003 while LightSurf was doubling its size year to year. Fullpower is today where LightSurf was in 2002/2003: An industry-defining vision of huge potential. We are keeping our focus confidential, as we have learned over the years: Quietly develop the breakthrough technology, build success, and then talk about it. That’s a little different than what most companies do these days. Let me just say that Fullpower will be my fourth successful technology company, our potential is huge, and I am very excited about it.

2. Launching Fullpower after making LightSurf a success
LightSurf is a great vision because effectively we invented Camera-phones in 1997. When we founded the company before anyone, anywhere had seen them. Now they are everywhere in the world, and LightSurf has key patents, inventions, customers, and a great business. Right before our IPO, we were acquired by a great company Verisign, and I think that this will help accelerate the vision and the technology for LightSurf. It’s also yet a case where “another child leaves the nest after 7 years of hard work,” but it is nice because this is a “happy child”.

3. Founding LightSurf after making Starfish a success:
There are always emotional attachments to the team-members, the technology, the customers in any business. But when there is a successful outcome like with Borland (where the company continues independently) or Starfish (where the company is successfully acquired), it is like having children that grow up and successfully leave the family home to start their own families. It’s a “happy transition”.

4. Founding Starfish after leaving Borland:
I left Borland, then a US public company, because of a profound disagreement with the board of Directors. It was 1994 and I could see the wireless and the Internet as “the next big market opportunity.” The Board did not want to have anything to do with it. As a CEO, you must have board support. I didn’t have it—so I left abruptly to build outside of Borland what I wanted to build “inside of Borland.” We founded Starfish software and pioneered synchronization and integrations of wireless devices. This was a great business opportunity because we were innovating in a high-growth market and after 12 years—where every day I was competing with Bill Gates and Microsoft—Microsoft was not present in that market. Starfish became a great success and Motorola acquired our company in 1998 just as we were about to do an IPO.

5. What I learned at Borland:
Great company, great success. We were the only viable competitor to Microsoft. I am proud that I “built the company to last.” Borland is still around a successful public company with a leadership for professional software development tools. Note that none of the companies that were famous at the time are still around: Lotus, Software Publishing, Visicorp, Wordperfect, Netscape etc… They are all essentially gone. The challenge that I had at Borland was competition with Microsoft, which is much clearer to everyone today after one look at the faith of companies such as Netscape. All this said, Borland is the company that was my training ground for 12 years, and I learned so much. We built the company on innovation and had to compete with the toughest company in the world, Microsoft. That was the best business school in the world for a Mathematician who at the time knew nothing about business!

 

What do people want most from mobile content right now?

I was recently interviewed for Ericsson’s On Magazine by Xeni Jardin. The focus is mobile content:

What do people want most from mobile content right now?

There are two types of content — personally created content such as PictureMail or VideoMail, and commercial content. PictureMail and VideoMail are booming right now with providers such as Sprint in North America and DoCoMo in Japan. Brandname content is always hot — the very latest or most classical hits for ringtones, the most trusted sources of information for news and sports. And naturally, people want content that will display optimally on their handsets. These forms of content connect you to the world, but people also want content that makes a handset cooler, more personal and more about them — ringtones or wallpapers, for example.

What are some of the more unexpected sources?

Not unlike the Web-based desktop world, everything from the worst to the best is out there. It’s incredibly cool to be able to receive pictures of the NASA Saturn probe right on my handset. And I love the little VideoMail my 7-year-old daughter Sophie sent me from her piano lesson. It just made my day to hear her play the first measures of Debussy’s Children’s Corner. I was so proud, I shared it with everyone in my business meetings that day. We all had a big smile, and the business at hand suddenly seemed that much easier to accomplish. Sometimes, mobile content can capture bits of everyday life in such a way that they become unusual, special and emotionally powerful.

 

Does adding images significantly change the nature of text or verbal communication?

Bob Goldstein recently asked me whether I thought adding images significantly changes the nature of text or verbal communication, and if so, how? His perceptive question prompted a very interesting dialogue on how our business and personal lives benefit from these wonderful new communication advances. I’ve decided to make this the first entry and introduction to my new blog, technically speaking, because it captures the excitement and possibilities of the emerging visual communications ecosystem, which I personally am thrilled to be part of. This blog is where I’ll keep you posted on my ideas and observations as it all unfolds.

BG: How is the role of the phone as a communication and information device changing with the addition of visual and expanded text capabilities?
Philippe Kahn: A picture is worth a thousand words…now with full motion, VideoMail may be worth a million words when it comes to communicating. Once you try it, you have to have it!

BG: What examples can you cite of businesses successfully using cameraphones to improve their business processes?
Philippe Kahn: I see it every day; simple day-to-day communications are much improved with the ability to blend images and full motion clips with voice clips. In some ways this is a simpler and more effective way to use e-mail or voicemail when on the go and wanting a personal touch to communications, or having to express complex concepts where visuals may make a big difference.

BG: What kinds of images are being captured – are they “disposable” or worth storing and integrating into an enterprise’s information infrastructure?
Philippe Kahn: It’s important to emphasize pictures, sound and video. So it is about multimedia. That is why MMS is so important. Like any form of user created content, some of it has no future relevance and some of it does. That one that has should be saved and archived.

BG: What kind of visual information is being sent to the mobile devices? Is the data sent primarily phone to phone or from nodes on the network?
Philippe Kahn: It is both. That’s because some users are in their cubicles and others are on the go, using their handsets.

BG: What trends do you see in the adoption patterns of cameraphones in the business environment? Is adoption driven from the bottom up, with individual knowledge workers taking the initiative and innovating on their own, or from the top down, where a corporate decision-maker has a vision for innovation?
Philippe Kahn: It’s a bit like the personal computer in the early days: driven by users and later embraced by IT.

BG: How has the expansion of the mobile device capability beyond voice to text and images changed your role in relation to business clients? Are you now more of an extension of corporate information networks?
Philippe Kahn: Our business is MMS solutions and services so the richer the media the more significant our relationship.

BG: How do you see video playing in the business market?
Philippe Kahn: Video is huge. That’s because in 15 seconds you can say and show a lot, yet it is very easy to put together and share with a very large group. Once you start using it, you understand how effective video is as a communications tool.

BG: How will mobile devices evolve?
Philippe Kahn: Convergence is happening and your handset will only get better at capturing, displaying and sharing information and managing all your messaging needs on the go.

BG: What about specialty devices for specific applications and markets?
Philippe Kahn: There will always be devices that are appropriate for certain markets like insurance, real-estate, land surveillance, law enforcement. That’s also true for personal computers and PDAs. However the general-purpose multimedia handsets are going to get better, better and better.

BG: How about in terms of enhanced capabilities?
Philippe Kahn: As convergence devices, you’ll have ones that can “see in the dark”, that are ruggedized, that can hear the almost inaudible, that can scan documents or act as pocket fax machines. The possibilities are infinite.

BG: And in terms of DRM and privacy issues?
Philippe Kahn: DRM is no different here than it is with MP3 players or personal computers. Good security and DRM is essential in providing a full healthy ecosystem, that allows for business success at all levels in the food chain.

BG: What about storage on devices and on servers, and quality of display?
Philippe Kahn: Multimedia by nature consumes storage space and powerful applications have a rich server side. So the future is for smart and synergistic device to network symbiotic partnerships for useful applications. All components of these converged devices are improving rapidly. That includes device and sound as well as the camera portion and all other components. The dynamism here is very important, as the cost of upgrading a device is minimal, unlike for example, with personal computers.

BG: Final thoughts on the effect of broadband access?
Philippe Kahn: Because the powerful applications are multimedia-based and involve a cooperative handset/server relationship, the better the wireless bandwidth, the better the solutions. It also goes to show that the improvements will continue in the decades to come.

These are just some of the issues that we have been working on at LightSurf recently. Come back and see what we’re up to as I will be posting new blog entries here on a regular basis.

The interview excerpts are from the upcoming book, GOING VISUAL, by Alexis Gerard and Bob Goldstein, to be published by John Wiley in February, 2005.

 

Small Camera, Big Vision

Not many Internet entrepreneurs can say their latest invention was inspired by childbirth. But Philippe Kahn, a veteran software executive whose reputation for big statements dates back to the founding days of the software industry, has often found inspiration in unusual places.

This particular lightning bolt struck three-and-a-half years ago on the day Kahn’s wife gave birth to their daughter Sophie in a Santa Cruz, Calif., hospital. On that day Kahn arrived at the maternity ward with his cell phone, a digital camera, and a laptop, hoping to instantly send out photos of the baby. The birth went smoothly, but nothing else did.

“I spent 48 hours at the maternity,” Kahn wrote recently in an e-mail from Miami, where he was spending a week racing one of his five sailboats. “People thought that I was the most exemplary father. But the reality was that I was programming a system together on my laptop to make the cell phone and the camera work together.”

After two full days of work Kahn finally was able to send his “ephotos” from the maternity ward to friends and relatives around the country and in France, where he was born. A week later, Kahn and wife Sonia Lee decided to turn his idea into “an end-to-end solution for instant wireless digital photography.” Within months after shepherding Sophie into the world, the couple gave birth to LightSurf Technologies Inc.

“If you think about traditional photography, it’s about memories,” Kahn says today. “Our baby birth pictures, our graduation, marriage, birthday, business event pictures–they are all in frames in our homes, in our wallets, and handbags.” With wireless digital photography, he says, people can now make their memories instantly available to everybody else. Move over Hallmark.

Last month the company started rolling out the various pieces of Kahn’s vision, a strategy that targets the entire food chain of wireless digital photography, down to the acceleration technology that permits memory-hungry photos to be squeezed into the cellular network.

The most visible of LightSurf’s products is a miniature digital camera no bigger than a sugar cube that can attach to an ultra-small cellular phone. Kahn says the camera can be integrated into all sorts of wireless devices including cell phones, Palm Pilots, and laptops, as well as personal computers and, eventually, cars. Someday, he claims, the technology will send digital video clips over cellular networks as well.

So far, LightSurf’s camera works only with certain Motorola cell phones, and only on the Pacific Bell network. Plus, the price is a hefty $500. But Kahn, ever the salesman, is confident other partners will come, attracted by the infrastructure LightSurf has created to support the sharing of digital images over cellular networks. Kodak, for one, has already signed on. For the past eight months, Kodak customers have been able to take their film to be processed and at the same time have their photos digitized and stored on the Internet using LightSurf technology.

LightSurf is Kahn’s third company and, by many accounts, his most promising. A Credit Suisse First Boston analyst recently described the technology as “potentially disruptive,” which on the Internet is apparently a good thing. Kahn’s first company, Borland International, was virtually eaten alive by Microsoft, and Kahn was ousted from the board of directors in 1995. But that was not until after he’d built Borland into the third-largest software seller in the world in the late 1980s and earned himself a reputation as having a keen eye for good programming. He became a frequent sight at software-industry social events, where he became known for hosting a party in a toga or entertaining crowds by playing the saxophone.

But it was his next venture that would make him the fortune to start LightSurf, in which Kahn and Lee are the only investors. Shortly after being disgraced by the Borland board, Kahn founded Starfish Software, which supplied programs for synchronizing data among handheld devices, PCs, and the Internet. In 1998 Starfish was acquired by Motorola for $253 million; Kahn remains its CEO.

These days Kahn is realistic about the prospects for growing new companies in the post-Internet Gold Rush, but says he’s confident that firms that focus on technological innovation, rather than simply selling things on the Web, have the best chances. “I think that in the last few years many have thought, for example, that catalog shopping on the Web and technology innovation are equivalent,” he says. “I think that reality has settled in.”

For a guy who could afford to spend the rest of life on the ocean, Kahn, now 49, remains undaunted by that new reality. “Retirement sounds pretty boring to me. I think that I could have retired at 35, at 40, at 45,” he says. “But how can you beat the adrenaline that comes from technology innovation and creating a new solid company from scratch?”