Nokia surprises with 41-megapixel smart phone
BARCELONA and LONDON — Nokia Corp. caught Mobile World Congress attendees off-guard by announcing the 808 PureView, the first smartphone to feature a sensor capable of snapping images up to the extraordinary resolution of 41 megapixels.

The highest resolutions currently on offer from even the most expensive smartphones sit around the 12 megapixel mark so for Nokia to leapfrog this by such a margin was totally unexpected. Even non-professional digital cameras max at around 16 megapixels, although their sensors are considerably larger.

The sensor inside the 808 PureView is capable of using its native 41 megapixel sensor to turn out images of 38 megapixels in size at a 4:3 image ratio, or 34 megapixels at 16:9. This sort of data will seriously challenge not only the memory capacity of most data cards but buffering and write performance as well.

Consequently, users can opt to over-sample seven pixels into one to create lower-resolution images at three, five and eight megapixels which the company claimed would combine with Carl-Zeiss optics to produce pictures rich in detail and low in noise.

There was no word on when the handset will be available in North America.

The most surprising element to the 808 announcement is that the phone runs a revamped Symbian and not Windows Phone 7, although the same PureView technology will appear in future handsets on all platforms, the company indicated.

The sound technology is also worth mentioning, featuring Dolby Digital Plus chipset that can deliver 5.1 channel surround sound. Video performance is impressive, offering full H.264 HD at 1080p/30fps or 720p at the same frame rate for smaller files.

Otherwise the 808 is fairly standard for a high-end smartphone, combining 16GB of storage, 512 RAM and a single-core 1.3 GHz processor plus AMOLED screen.

Questions remain about the striking 41 megapixel sensor, not least what sort of photographic performance it can really deliver.

As important as resolution is thought to be by most consumers, other factors are also hugely important including optical capacity (the lens size, which affects the volume of light reaching the sensor) and quality, colour balance and exposure accuracy and sensitivity.

Also at the conference Nancy Gohring of IDG News reports that Mozilla has managed to avoid using any parts of Android in the development of its Boot-to-Gecko mobile Web project.

European carriers Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom said they plan to build phones based on Mozilla’s B2G, a platform that will run all apps on the phone, including basic apps like a phone dialer and SMS client, from the Web. Telefonica expects to release a low-cost phone running the technology this year; DT didn’t disclose additional details.

When Mozilla first announced the B2G project last July, it said it expected to use parts of Android to compile the platform. But it ultimately didn’t have to, said Jonathan Nightingale, senior director of Firefox engineering for Mozilla.

B2G uses some Linux code that includes drivers so that Gecko, the open-source browser platform that Firefox uses, can interact with the screen and other phone components. B2G has no licensing obligations except for using Linux and Gecko, he said.

He demonstrated B2G running on a Samsung Galaxy S II. The phone had a dialer, SMS app, video player, photo viewer, browser and other apps. B2G also includes an accelerometer, camera and tilt sensors. Mozilla is at work on an NFC app.

The look and feel of the phone is completely different to one that Telefonica is demonstrating in its booth, Nightingale said. It’s an open project so users can customize the user interface as they like.

While Mozilla’s demonstration uses the Firefox browser, theoretically another browser developer could build a similar platform. Mozilla is submitting each phone function it creates for B2G to standards bodies, he said. Anyone can take the APIs and build the apps to another browser platform, like Webkit, for instance. That kind of port “shouldn’t be hard,” he said.

To make up for connectivity issues inherent with using mobile phones, Mozilla built an API that tells a Web page when the phone goes offline, he said. “It’s one of the first APIs we put in,” he said. That lets the app start queuing up user actions to push them out the next time the phone connects. Also, many apps download to B2G and may never need to access the Internet. For instance, the dialer doesn’t require an Internet connection.

Mozilla launched the B2G project in part to make it easier for users to port applications across devices running different OSes. Since developers are increasingly shifting to HTML5 to develop apps, Mozilla realized that “the OS isn’t adding a ton of value to the end user. We thought, ‘what if we got rid of it and ran web apps on the hardware?'” Nightingale said.

(By Nancy Gohring, IDG News and John E. Dunn,

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