When was the last time you saw a cell phone that only made calls? These days, such devices can send text messages, play music, offer Web browsing, provide directions via global positioning systems (GPS), and take pictures. The camera function has become especially popular over the last few years, as new technology has improved picture quality and allowed users to share photos over the mobile network. In April 2009, 66 percent of cell phone consumers used their cell phones to take pictures; just a year later, in May 2010, this figure rose to 76 percent. The percentage is even higher for users aged 18 to 29, 93 percent of whom take photos with their mobile phones [source: Pew]. Despite this increasing popularity, cell phone cameras are typically less advanced than dedicated digital cameras, so it's important that you purchase a quality device and familiarize yourself with its functions.
Camera phones have been around for more than a decade, though early models lacked the resolution and storage capacity of today's devices. Interestingly, software entrepreneur Philippe Kahn developed the first prototype at a hospital in 1997, while his wife was in labor. Armed with his laptop, digital camera and cell phone, Kahn was able to jury-rig the devices together and send a picture of the new baby to his friends and family's e-mail accounts [source: Maney]. Just two years later, in 1999, camera phones hit the market in Japan, and in 2002, they were introduced in the United States [source: CTIA]. The popularity of these devices was evident in 2010, when the iPhone 3G became the most popular camera on the photo-sharing Web site Flickr [source: Hadhazy].
Camera phones utilize the same technology as stand-alone digital cameras, but have yet to match their traditional counterparts in functionality and image quality. Less sensitive sensors, lower quality lenses and a lack of customizable options mean that serious photographers still have to tote around a second camera in order to capture more professional photographs. Still, camera phones are a very simple and convenient way to capture unexpected moments from your everyday life and share them with your friends. The following sections offer tips for choosing the best camera phone and suggest techniques for making better pictures.