March 30, 2005

Most mobile phone carriers offer camera phones as one of the new features to induce people to upgrade and commit to even longer contracts. Obviously camera phones have great appeal to many people for a variety of uses. From a mobile phone, one can send these images off to email addresses and other mobile phones via the MMS feature. MMS stands for Multimedia Messaging Service, which is a fancy way of saying a way to send images, sounds, and text.

While some phones can now handle true email, almost every cameraphone has MMS capability built-in. On paper this sounds great, using MMS to send photos from your phone to the phones of your friends and family. Unfortunately this is not the case.

MMS works well within a carrier, so I can send MMS messages with photos to other T-Mobile users (like my wife :) ), hell we can even record audio clips into the phone and send them along with the photo for a fully multimedia message. It’s funny and useful. More than once I’ve shopping and sent a picture to my wife for the go ahead on a purchase. We envision our daughters doing the same thing in the future as they get older.

Imagine this conversation:
Me: Hey Zoe, what’s up?
Zoe: I’m just hanging with Emily.
Me: Oh really, where at?
Zoe: Um, err, at the library, yeah, we’re at the library.
Me: Really, sure you’re not at the mall drooling over boys?
Zoe: Dad!
Me: Well if you are at the library send me a picture of some books.
Zoe: Dad!?1!! You don’t trust me?
Me: Humor your dear old father…
Zoe: [a photo of Zoe giving the finger arrives]

In another spectacular failure of American telecom policy, almost no major wireless carrier allows MMS traffic from outside their network. The glaring example of the ‘marketplace deciding’ technology issues make the American mobile phone scene dead last in the industrial world.

Here’s how US MMS policies don’t work. My phone is on T-Mobile. I want to send a camphone picture to my brother who has a Verizon phone. If I send him an MMS message of a photo, Verizon intentionally strips the photo from the message before relaying it to him. I have the same problem sending MMS messages to every other wireless carrier.

The carriers will tell you send the MMS messages to an email address that is invariably something like [yourphonenumer]@[yourwirelesscarrier].com. I have tested this extensively and it does not work from phone to phone. The carriers think that if they erect these information blockades, they will force you to get your friends and family to switch to the same carrier. Just like their position on number portability, they are wrong. If they opened MMS capability, it would be an advantage to use them instead of other carriers that block the MMS messages.

Have no fear; help has arrived in the form of The kind people at offer a free service to serve as a middleman for cameraphone pictures. If you sign up with PixToPix and give then the vital info about your phone, you get a [yourusername] email address. When you give that email address to your friends and family, they can send MMS messages from their phones to that address and PixToPix will convert and relay them to your phone. The service even works with emailing images from a computer directly without using a phone.

I’ve tested it and it works well. If you send a MMS picture to, it will pop up on my mobile phone. Now my brother and I can exchange photos even though T-Mobile and Verizon don’t want us to. :)

The system even addresses privacy issues. If somehow people start sending photos I don’t like, I can drop my current Pixtopix address and get another. Much better than having to change your phone number.

Looking toward the future, imagine an interface with Flickr or Textamerica where you could subscribe to pool image feeds and have them sent to your phone. Or parsing the Yahoo News Top Photos RSS feed and getting a daily dump of interesting photos. Or getting a regular photo sent to you from a nannycam. The possibilities go on and on.

Give it a try, I would bet that a high percentage of loyal Cruft readers have camera phones.

The service works for most major US and Canadian wireless carriers, but if you have one of the remaining small local ones, you may be out of luck.

Posted by michael at March 30, 2005 09:30 PM