The camera phone has changed the way society has captured events, turning smartphone owners into citizen journalists, giving rise to photo-based social media apps and creating new products like the selfie stick.
Yet vanity is gradually adding up to dollars and cents, with more businesses begin to cater to consumers through their smartphone's camera lens.
MasterCard recently announced it will start experimenting with a new program of approving online purchases with a facial scan rather than a password. PayPal is also offering a similar concept through its mobile app and recently, Apple filed a patent allowing facial recognition technology to unlock your iPhone (a practice that Samsung has as well).
These trends are emerging as recent data suggest many consumers—including the hotly coveted millennial age group—have a clear affinity for using pictures rather than keyboards.
A new survey of more than 1,000 millennials found that 96 percent consider their camera crucial to their smartphone and nearly 50 percent even said their smartphone was "practically useless" without a camera. The survey, conducted by Mitek and Zogby Analytics, found that 68 percent of respondents said they would rather snap a picture than have to type something. That may be causing causing businesses to rethink how their younger consumers interact with products and services.
James DeBello, Mitek's president & CEO, said companies are finding it important to engage with millennials on their own terms. One example DeBello cited is being able to sign up for a gym membership by taking a photo of a driver's license, instead of having to type out information.
"The camera phone is how they want to be doing transactions and there can be revenue opportunities," he told CNBC. "The camera is the new addiction and it's a gateway to commerce."
The substitution of passwords with selfies is an idea whose time appears to have come, some observers say.
"Millennials love their cameras," said Cathy Boyle, mobile analyst at eMarketer. She attributes the growth in commerce opportunities to the rise in the cameras used n social media.
Even Twitter, a predominantly text-based product, has been building out more photo-based applications recently. "The applications for the camera phone are still being realized and have a long way to go," she said.
Many believe the biggest growth for camera phone usage may be in banking. Some 54 percent of millennials in the Mitek and Zogby survey said they've deposited a check with Mobile Deposit—up 20 percent from just a year prior. Meanwhile, 40 percent said they would like to see more mobile use in banking.
Teddy Citrin, an investor at venture capital firm Greycroft Partners, said the camera's potential is becoming a predominant factor in determining some of the companies in which the firm invests.
"The creative utilization of cameras has become a focal point for many new apps we see and for larger companies evolving their product," he said.
He thinks that over the next few years, technology that harnesses camera phones will lead to an increase in doctors diagnosing and providing counsel from afar, instant appraisal of goods, and other facial recognition applications.
Security and selfies could be one way the banking sector could evolve; however, how secure it is still remains to be seen. For now, the sheer vanity the cell camera offers is its most practical application. The survey found 38 percent of the millennials take a least one selfie per day, while 10 percent taking more than 10 per day.
Citrin thinks there are many untapped applications that remain to be seen.
"Applications that power the camera will become incrementally smarter and more important," he said. "Facial recognition, credit card reading, and augmented reality are just the start."