Japan's top cellphone operator, NTT DoCoMo Inc, said on Tuesday it would launch the world's first camera phones with a resolution of more than a million pixels in the latest of its recent wave of new product offerings.
DoCoMo plans to launch six new handsets in the next three months. While all six models come with a built-in camera, three of them, made by Fujitsu Ltd, Sharp Corp and Sony Ericsson are high-resolution megapixel camera phones.
The model from Sony Ericsson, a 50-50 joint venture between Sony Corp and Sweden's Ericsson, will be equipped with a digital camera of 1.3 million pixels, the highest among the three megapixel models.
The new handsets, with resolution four times sharper than existing models and suitable for making standard-sized prints, are expected to put cellphones in competition with entry-model digital cameras.
"With 1.3 megapixels, this phone is as good as low-end digital cameras," Takeshi Natsuno, managing director for DoCoMo's hugely popular i-mode mobile Internet service, told a news conference.
The other three models are made by NEC Corp, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co Ltd and Mitsubishi Electric Corp.
Launched in late 2000 by rival J-Phone Co Ltd, a Japanese unit of Britain's Vodafone Group Plc, camera phones became Japan's hottest telecoms trend since the rise of the mobile Internet, breathing life into a saturated mobile phone market.
The 505i series of handsets will become DoCoMo's topline model, supplanting the year-old 504i series.
Natsuno declined to give an exact sales target or expected retail prices, but said one series of handsets usually sells 10 million units at DoCoMo.
A DoCoMo source said last week the megapixel models would initially sell for more than 30,000 yen ($250.3).
DoCoMo, Japan's largest company by market capitalisation, has been making a splash in Japan's mobile phone market in recent months with a steady stream of new handsets and services.
The company last month unveiled the world's first wristwatch-style cellphones operating on personal handyphone system (PHS) networks.
It also said on Monday it would soon launch a trial service that would allow subscribers to make payments at stores using their cellphone handsets.
DoCoMo said the new handset from Fujitsu comes with a user authentication system that identifies the owner by fingerprint.
The handset has a small sensor patch on it and only the registered person can activate the phone, protecting personal data stored on the handset.
DoCoMo's shares closed up 2.08 per cent at 245,000 yen, outperforming the Nikkei average, which fell 1.44 per cent.