Like a fine wine, the digital imaging market is coming of age in the consumer market as the prices fall, niche players consolidate and the products become easier to use. Yet obstacles still stand in the path of true mass-market adoption.
Such was the consensus of the panelists at the ImageScape press conference here, hosted by the market research firm InfoTrends Research Group.
Kristy Holch, a principal at InfoTrends, issued some statistics her firm had gathered in the last year. "Digital camera penetration in U.S. households was 12 percent in 2000, and is expected to hit 18 percent by the end of 2001," she said.
"Digital cameras will outsell film cameras in the U.S. in 2003," Holch concluded.
In his opening keynote, Jeff Hopper, director of Hewlett Packard's Digital Imaging Organization, said that digital imaging will transcend the sum total of its consumer electronics parts to encompass what he called "the digital conversation."
"People will be able to reach an enormous audience and tell their story via images captured on digital cameras and spread through the Internet," said Hopper. "It will be the click heard 'round the world."
However, work still has to be done to realize this future. Hopper pointed to lingering infrastructure developments, both in the home and at the retail level, that still have to be put in place to ensure that people can have access to their images both digitally and in print form.
Broadband Internet access for the home and in-store print fulfillment (at a kiosk or behind the counter with a digital mini lab) were two major stepping stones to furthering the "digital conversation," Hopper said.
He also claimed that cost was still a barrier to entry for true mass market adoption, but sounded an optimistic note by saying that he expected 2 megapixel cameras to retail for under $100 before 2005.
The panel sounded similar themes when they took the stage. Nancy Carr, VP of Digital & Applied Imaging for Kodak, said that digital camera prices had to reach the level of point and shoot film cameras for consumers to really embrace digital.
"The market is maturing," said Carr. "We've seen the consolidation of niche players, and Kodak is investing heavily in new technologies that will increase ease of use and bring the prices down for consumers."
She pointed to her company's recent acquisition of the online service provider Ofoto as an example of Kodak's strategy to be "everything and everywhere" for the digital imaging consumer.
Lexar's VP of corporate business development Jack Peterson said that confusion over competing media formats has slowed adoption. "We need a cross-platform solution," however manufacturers continue to embrace competing flash memory designs, Peterson said.
John Blair, VP of marketing and engineering for Visioneer, stressed that technology was subordinate to making things "radically simple" for consumers. "We have a tendency to become obsessed over the technology," he said, "but we forget that for most people the picture taking experience is just point and shoot."