By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Digital imaging will become a mass-market phenomenon only when vendors look beyond the devices themselves and the reigning "PC-centric" mindset to a broader horizon of home networks and imaging services. And when this occurs, consumer electronics retailers are poised to reap the most benefit because they can offer consumers the complimentary universe of products.
This was the word from IDC's Imaging Convergence Forum, held here. Speaking principally to vendors, IDC analysts admonished them to think broadly about the potential of digital imaging, beyond merely selling cameras.
Kodak's CEO Dan Carp, said that digital cameras and related devices will represent a $186 billion market as one part of the overall "infoimaging" universe (Kodak's term for devices, infrastructure and services that result from the convergence of information technology and digital imaging). Increasingly, alliances with top competitors will be crucial for success, Carp said, pointing to his company's joint venture with Hewlett-Packard and participation in the industry-wide CPXe initiative to spur digital printing at retail.
"People buy benefits, not technology, and they don't give a hoot about megapixels," Carp said.
In a session titled "Life Beyond Cameras and Scanners: How to Win in the Post Device Era" IDC research manager Chris Chute offered up a prediction that made attendant vendors blanch: consumers will eventually become "device agnostic" when digital camera shopping. Instead, they will focus more on the services that accompany the product.
"Right now the market is device driven and PC-centric but to move it beyond the gadget user vendors have to facilitate wider applications: sharing, printing, storing and distribution," Chute said.
Examining the various competing vendor profiles in the digital camera space Chute indicated that the market could favor CE firms, like Sony, and the CE channel because of the increasing convergence of functions (i.e. PDA and cell phones with cameras) and the breadth of product offered.
"These companies and [resellers] can offer the wider universe of products that can interact with the camera," Chute said.
Printing, now on the wane among digital camera users, will rebound when mass market users pick up digital, Chute said. This in turn will lead retailers and vendors to develop a "one-time-use" model for digital cameras, similar to film, allowing a retailer to keep customers in its processing loop and still offer new technology.
The scanner category will get a new lease on life as well, Chute said. There will be a "scanning renaissance" when new digital camera customers get the itch to digitize their old photo albums and shoe boxes filled with prints.
Taking a longer view, IDC's director, consumer devices and services, Danielle Levitas, said that a natural next step for digital imaging is toward integration into home networks, particularly a TV-centered model where users view images on high definition sets and store their image albums on PVRs and set-top boxes.
"PCs have a household install base of 60 percent, but TVs are at 100 percent," Levitas said. "DVD players are also a logical platform for digital imaging, many vendors, like Apex and Vialta, have already taken this step and built-in the ability to read JPEG image files into their devices."
Sony's GM of digital imaging products division, Greg Young said that in the future the majority of digital images taken will not even be taken by stand alone digital cameras, but by devices like cell phones and PDAs that have small embedded cameras.
"The definition of what photography is will broaden," Young said.
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