Say "cheese!" When one of Randy Sevcik's painting crews finishes a late-night job at Banana Republic or Wal-Mart, they snap pictures of their work on camera-phones and send the proof immediately off to the hiring company for billing. Sevcik, the founder, president and CEO of Chicago-based Maintenance Systems Inc., bought eight Sanyo 5300 camera-phones and signed on with Sprint PCS in January.
Sevcik may be a trailblazer using this new technology, but he won't be alone for long. Cliff Raskind, director of research firm Strategy Analytics' Global Wireless Practice, sees a solid future ahead for camera-phone use in growing businesses. "From an entrepreneurial standpoint, the great thing about this is that it can be used without extensive integration," he says.
"I gave my guys 15 minutes of training, sent them out on the road for a three-week trip and had no problems," says Sevcik, 34. The greatest drawback right now (other than perennial complaints about small screens) is the fairly low quality of the images. In Japan, where these devices are already extremely popular, there has been a race to release a phone capable of producing images of 1-megapixel quality. In the meantime, U.S. entrepreneurs in industries such as architecture, construction or insurance will be the first to find business uses for camera-phones. In particular, the ability to send pictures directly to e-mail is a handy feature.
Sevcik finds the image quality perfectly fine for his business's needs and more than adequate to replace the digital cameras his employees used to use. Most of all, he likes the efficiency, convenience and cost savings from no longer having to ship photos overnight. "With what we saved in shipping fees and the amount we're able to communicate with our guys, [the camera-phones] pretty much paid for themselves in the first three weeks," he says.
Forecasts are upbeat. Research firm Future Image expects cellphone cameras to outsell digital and film cameras worldwide this year. Camera-phones may become hot business accessories over the next few years as entrepreneurs and their employees discover new and creative uses for them.