Taking a photo with your phone has become so commonplace that it's hard to remember how weird the idea seemed when camera phones first came out. Fortunately, we have old videos to remind us. Here's the Daily Show's Ed Helms ridiculing the idea in 2004:
To be fair to Helms, skepticism about camera phones wasn't as ridiculous in 2004 as it seems today. That's because camera phones circa 2004 were terrible.
Imaging chips weren't very sophisticated, and phone manufacturers tended to use the cheapest hardware they could find. So camera phone images were vastly inferior to the photos you could take with dedicated cameras.
Also, phone camera software — both the software on the phone and software to get images off your phone and onto your PC or the internet — left a lot to be desired. So it's not surprising that the camera feature on these early phones didn't get much use.
But most people didn't anticipate how quickly this technology would improve, and how useful it could be once it did. People also didn't appreciate how the ubiquity, portability, and connectedness of camera phones would allow people to use their camera phones in ways that wouldn't have been practical with traditional cameras.
A lack of imagination about new technologies — especially disruptive technologies that start out worse than what's already on the market — is surprisingly common. Many people who had experience with beefy mainframe computers dismissed the personal computer as a toy in the 1970s. Heck, I dismissed the iPad as an under-powered PC when it came out. In retrospect, those judgments were obviously wrong. Cheap, portable technologies often tend out to be a lot more useful than people anticipate.