Field workers who require devices that can take pictures and send them wirelessly need a tough camera inside a tough PDA, but there are few of these, and the market has yet to reduce costs.
When cell phones with cameras in them hit the scene a few years ago, carriers were thrilled at the opportunity for a new revenue stream.
But corporate customers balked at the devices. They were so concerned about security issues that carriers asked the phone makers to start making two versions of their high-end handsetsone with a camera and one without.
The makers of phoneless handheld computers followed suit. PDA makers looking to serve security-conscious customers have been careful about where they integrate their cameras.
"Consistent feedback from most corporate customers indicates they dont want an integrated camera, mostly for security reasons," said Anne Camden, a spokesperson for Dell Inc., in Round Rock, Texas, which makes the Axim line of handhelds that run Microsoft Corp.s Windows Mobile operating system.
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"Well qualify a third-party-vendor camera that works in the Compact Flash or Secure Digital slot that meets the needs of the customers who may need that functionality."
But peripheral cameras cant always stand up to the strain of field workers who require devices that can take pictures and send them wirelessly: insurance adjusters at accident scenes, emergency workers, warehouse employees and retail sales representatives.
These are the customers who need a tough camera inside a tough PDA, but there are few of these, and the market has yet to reduce costs.
"Given that cameras are currently in a very low percentage of ruggedized handheld computers today, it is likely that the penetration of digital cameras into this segment will increase, but Im not expecting this to be any sort of phenomenon," said Todd Kort, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn.
Rugged computer maker Intermec Technologies Corp., of Everett, Wash., released a handheld computer-cum-camera in 2001, at a price of $1,495.
More recently, Symbol Technologies Inc., of Holtsville, N.Y., released the MC50, a "semi-rugged" device with an integrated camera. At approximately $950, the MC50 has proved to survive the Home Depot environment better than the Dell Axim did.
Still, like any customer, Home Depot is looking for better prices and memory capacity to rise; the MC50 has a 64MB data capacity.
Id like to see the prices drop and the technology related to mobile, data and wireless continue to rise," said Tom Armstrong, vice president of vendor services at Home Depot U.S.A. Inc., in Atlanta.
A version of the MC50 running Windows Mobile 5.0 is due by February, Symbol officials said.
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