It feels like camera phones have been around forever, but there was a time when the most exciting thing you could do on a phone was play Snake or or switch out the standard antenna for a flashing one. In a 20-year-old video Shakira recently posted on Instagram, of the first time she ever saw such a phone, the Hips Don’t Lie singer looks positively astounded that such a small device could take a photo – yet alone record a video.
The first commercial camera phone was unsurprisingly by a Japanese brand, called Kyocera. Launched in May 1999 it featured a 110,000-pixel front-facing camera and could store a maximum of 20 JPEG photos, which could be shared via email. In June 2002 Sony launched the Sony Ericsson T68i and Nokia launched the Nokia 7650, but you could only send photos on certain networks, they were hugely expensive and you had to pay an additional monthly fee to send picture messages.
Still, 20 years ago the idea that a phone could take pictures and video was a revelation. In the video Shakira posted (below), this new technology is described as a dangerous tool. Shakira can also be heard saying, "Thank god it isn’t available in America, can you imagine the paparazzi?"
Of course, not long after the video was made, smartphones with cameras became the norm – but it wasn't until the first iPhone was released in 2007 that this technology became the norm.
Steve Jobs completely changed the way we use smartphones; the iPhone was the first fully touchscreen phone with a front and rear camera, and was described as a ‘handheld computer’. Flash forward 15 years and smartphones such as the Google Pixel 6a, iPhone 13 Pro and, Samsung Galaxy S22 are now being made with multiple cameras, 200MP sensors and even different shooting modes such as panorama, wide angle and night photography.
It’s been 20 years since the video of Shakira’s reaction to the camera phone was taken and, in that time, we’ve seen cameras get smaller and smaller – and now they’re getting bigger again with better cameras, faster processors, new generations of broadband connections and they’re a lot less expensive than they used to be. It’s hard to imagine life without a camera in your pocket at all times, but videos such as this are an astounding reminder of how far we’ve come.