T-Mobile Cameo: cool device, unconvincing business model

cameo.jpgT-Mobile beat AT&T’s newly formed emerging devices business to the punch today with the debut of its first digital frame, Cameo. The frame comes equipped with its own cellular modem to receive photos direct from any mobile handset, which also means it get its own phone number, email address and expensive service plan.

The 7-inch by 480-pixel display retails for $100, plus a monthly charge of $10. It can instantly receive and display photos from any mobile handset via MMS or email, but you must be an existing T-Mobile customer to buy one. The reviews are mostly positive thus far, but the price tag will likely determine if consumers are willing to add yet another subscription service to their wireless plans – especially considering that if you switch carriers, your Cameo will be short lived.

Other instant-gratification digital frames on the market work over a Wi-Fi network, receiving pictures via email, but T-Mobile is the first to embed its frame with an actual cellular modem. The Cameo owner accepts the first photo and then has the option for additional photos from that person to be displayed instantly as a slideshow or rotation of the full album. Photos are automatically rotated and resized, and the frame can stand vertically, horizontally or hang from the wall. The frame uses technology developed by Parrot and also has a USB connection and micro-SD card slot to transfer photos elsewhere.

It was a smart move by T-Mobile to get in on the connected-device trend as its data revenue growth lags behind its competitors, and the wireless industry in general reaches saturation. But the fourth-largest carrier missed an important opportunity to add an innovative business model to match an innovative product. The Cameo needs a low-enough price point or compelling enough payment plan to encourage people to buy it and use it, something that won’t total $220 in only one year. Cramming it onto the existing service plan could push T-Mobile subscribers past the tipping point of what they’ll spend on wireless.

Granted, most digital frames are not cheap, but we’re talking cell phone quality pictures here. While most cell phones today have a camera embedded, that doesn’t mean the quality of pictures is anything to write home about (or send home in this case). What could be more compelling is an Internet-enabled digital camera, so high-quality pictures can make their way to a frame or computer or cell phones. But then, it too would need an innovative business model, would have to seamlessly deliver broadband connectivity, get wireless service to the device, integrate an application with it, make photo-sharing easy and transfer the photo to other CE devices…Okay, all things considered, the Cameo is a pretty good start in a connected-device movement.

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