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Imaging Vendors Push ‘Ecosystem’ Strategy

Orlando, Fla. — With digital photography firmly entrenched in the mass market and with consumers returning to retail for photo prints, the emphasis at the Photo Marketing Association’s annual trade show was on expanding, and profiting from, the burgeoning ecosystem that surrounds digital photography.

The ecosystem concept, sketched out by manufacturers, analysts and executives, encompasses everything that occurs the moment the shutter snaps, whether that shutter is on a still camera or a camera phone: how images are manipulated (in-camera or on the PC); how they are shared (wirelessly or via memory card between devices); how they’re used creatively (printed, scrap-booked, turned into slideshows); and, most importantly, how industry members can profit from this.

The most immediate solution is to push these discrete components together. Photo editing and sharing software announced at the show increasingly features the ability to connect to online photo services or retail Web sites to deliver print orders that can be picked up in-store or mailed home. The creative options in the software are also expanding to include DVD creation, hardbound photo books and a wider assortment of photo novelties.

Several new standards bodies have begun the thankless work of cobbling together coalitions to facilitate the movement of images between devices and to ensure the accessibility of digital images as file formats and computer platforms evolve.

Kiosk makers touted the ability of their Internet-connected terminals to accept orders placed remotely from a consumer’s desktop. HP and Fujifilm jointly announced immediately following the conclusion of the show that Wal-Mart’s online photo service will be managed by HP’s Snapfish. It will remain Wal-Mart branded and Fujifilm will continue to link the mass retailer’s Web site photo service with its in-store printing via Get the Picture Online.

As opposed to just driving out 4-inch by 6-inch photos, kiosks have to broaden the assortment of items on offer, to include iTunes certificates and other non-traditional output, said Chris Johnson, VP, Silverwire — a kiosk software company.

“How to monetize the ‘ecosystem’ is the next challenge” the photo industry faces, said Phil Faraci, consumer digital imaging group president, Kodak, at a media roundtable. He noted that the company trialed data mining techniques that would scan photos stored on its
EasyShare Gallery by dates and suggest calendars and greeting cards based on an automatically assorted compilation of images.

Consumers need reassurances that there images are safe and accessible on their terms not as a precondition for ordering prints, said Mark Heinrich, chief technology officer, Phanfare, a subscription-based online imaging service.

John Bay, national retail sales VP, Nokia, asserted that camera phones would play a key role in the ecosystem. “They won’t replace traditional digital still cameras — they will compliment them. It will mean that there will be cameras everywhere.”

Bay, a former Kodak executive, said the company had partnered with HP to enable Bluetooth photo printing on home inkjet printers and with Carl Zeiss for higher quality optics. It even tested distribution of its flag-ship N-series models in Ritz Camera Centers.

The dust had yet to settle on the 2006 show when chip makers hinted at what high-tech capabilities will be available in 2007 digital cameras.

For instance Texas Instruments, which supplies chips to Kodak and HP among others, announced that its DaVinci technology, formerly announced for video applications, will be sold to camera makers to enable HD recording at 720p resolution at 30 frames per second. The new processor can also provide sensitivities up to ISO 3200, red-eye reduction that can be performed by the camera the instant the picture is taken (not after the fact by the consumer) and improved “print from video” frame capture.