We consider the J-Phone J-SH04, which was manufactured by Sharp, to be the world's first cellular-enabled camera phone.
Other contenders for this accolade are the Kyocera VP210 and the Samsung SCH-V200. As the Kyocera device was a DECT-based PHS device rather than a cellular device we have discounted it. In the case of the Samsung phone, although it featured a camera, it was not a fully integrated experience as photos had to be downloaded via a cable which limited its functionality as a camera phone.
The J-SH04 has an impressive backstory. Sharp initially offered it to Japan's biggest mobile network operator, NTT DoCoMo but they rejected the idea of a camera phone. Sharp also offered it to the second biggest network, KDDI who also turned it down.
When Sharp approached J-Phone, the smallest operator, the engineers in the business thought it was an excellent idea, but the marketing team were less convinced given the small screen and low resolution camera.
A compromise was reached and J-Phone placed an order of 10,000 units, but only 2,000 of them were the camera variant of the product.
The market soon spoke; The camera variant of the J-SH04 sold out within two weeks while the non-camera vairant remained on the shelves. J-Phone immediately realised the popularity of having a camera integrated into a phone. It's Sha-mail picture messaging service quickly became an international reference for the potential of picture sharing.