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Chapter 2: The Importance of Convergence



Chapter 2: The Importance of Convergence

By Don Sutherland

February 2001

Ricoh has been in the forefront of Internetcams since the first consumer tides began to rise in 1996. Their RDC-1 could make a direct connection to a modem, and upload the contents of its memory card wherever directed. Today, their latest product, officially introduced at the recent photokina, is the Ricoh i700, which takes a few steps further toward the ultimate Internetcam. It is more than just a plain old camera that takes digital pictures.
Plain old cameras that take digital pictures boast an advantage of compactness, which everyone seems to appreciate. In Ricoh's current product line, the RDC-7 is an example, a full-featured camera of extensive versatility (3x zoom), all tucked into a package that fits the pocket.
The i700, by contrast, needs to be larger because it's something besides all the things the RDC-7 is. It's a full-featured digital camera, but it's also a versatile Internet terminal. Its LCD viewfinder is a touchscreen as well, upon which you can write (or type) any notations.
Ricoh states that the i700 can be operated remotely, from your Web browser. It can be used to send faxes and e-mail, with pictures and audio as required. Since all these operations are conducted from the touchscreen, the LCD must be larger than the viewing-only versions, if you're to have adequate workspace. This requires the camera's size to increase accordingly.
So does the presence of dual card slots, for CompactFlash and larger PCMCIA cards, both in their Type II configurations. Why would anyone include a PCMCIA drive in a modern digicam, when the gigabyte of the Microdrive (in CF Type II format) would seem sufficient for a day's shooting? The answer is, more than memory comes in PCMCIA formats. There are also such things as modems.

Live! from Deutschland!
At a press reception Ricoh gave during photokina, I asked if it would be possible for me to send a photograph taken then and there inside the Koln Messe in Germany, with my handwritten notations, to my e-mail address on AOL? They hadn't planned on such a demonstration, but after a few moments' deliberation, they said sure, we can do that.
And we did. The photo was waiting in my emailbox when I got home. That was nearly a week later, of course. In actuality, the photo had probably been waiting within seconds after pressing the "send" button.
The picture size was very small, barely a thumbnail, to keep transmission time down. That seems to be the main bottleneck between the digicam and its destiny as Internetcam. Yet the implications are clear, and the technical prospects are encouraging.
One of the implications is, the Internet transforms from a network accessed by computers, to a network accessed by multimedia recording machines. The Internet is still largely text-based, though increasingly the Web has become graphics and photography-based.
Soon, if all goes well, it will be a conduit, not just a destination, for pictures for all purposes. Why shouldn't the art director see test shots of an advertising or editorial shoot, in his office, ten thousand miles away, so quickly after the photographer shoots 'em that the procedure proceeds nearly in real time?
There's nothing unprecedented about it. In one form or another, it's been going on for decades — maybe even a century or more. What has not gone on is the process as a mass, popular activity. But why shouldn't vacationers or wedding-goers post photos to their on-line albums immediately, for everyone who's interested to see?
Sure, citizens have never done this before. There was a time when they'd never done cell phones before either. But nowadays, counties and townships all over the map are writing laws against their use while driving. From dazzling new appliance to public nuisance — that's a lot of distance to cover, in the short time the cell phone's taken.
The mindset that accepts the cell phone as a commonplace appliance has already opened to the thought of a cell-compatible camera. It didn't completely catch-on with the Ricoh RDC-1 in 1996, but at $1800, its price wasn't exactly popular. Nikon's Coolpix 300, essentially a PDA with a camera, also came and went quickly — but also, it was uncharacteristically flimsy for a firm that specializes in making hockey pucks.

Burgeoning connectivity
In the few years since, both PDAs and digicams have improved in simplicity and versatility, and come down in price. Kodak offers a PDAcam for use with your assistant, while other PDAs arrive increasingly with cameras built-in. If the art director and the vacationer can upload pictures directly from his camera, shouldn't the businessman be able, too?

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