Companies Join Forces to
Develop Solution for Printing Digital
Images at Retail
CPXe Initiative Promises to Make Digital Photofinishing
as Easy for Consumers as Film
by Dan Havlik
After discovering that your store is only three blocks away and offers all the digital services they need and more, the customer does a couple of quick point and clicks on their computer and then heads over to pick up the prints.
Sound like it should be a lot more complicated than that?
Well, today, with all those incompatible, proprietary formats and closed architecture systems, it can be quite a bit more complicated than that. But tomorrow, thanks to a new initiative launched jointly by some of the biggest names in the photo industry, it may not be.
Called CPXe, for Common Picture eXchange Environment, the initiative was developed to provide more photofinishing choices for consumers seeking quality prints from their digital images. Simply put, if CPXe catches on like some of its proponents hope it does, it will make printing digital images at retail as convenient for consumers as dropping off a roll of film.
"There are many different solutions out there for printing digital images but they are all incompatible," said George Lynch, strategic technology manager, Imaging and Printing Systems for Hewlett-Packard. "What CPXe will do is unify all the solutions that do exist so the entire digital category can grow."
HP is one of several top imaging companies that have banded together to form the International Imaging Industry Association, or I3A. Other members of I3A backing CPXe include Eastman Kodak, Fujifilm, Canon USA, Agfa-Gevaert, Olympus America, Digimarc, FotoWire, LifePics, Open Graphics and Pixology.
The basic concept behind CPXe is to create a simple way to link photofinishing service providers, specifically photo specialty and mass market stores, to consumers, via the web. Under CPXe, consumers would be able to easily transmit and print digital images between various digital cameras, PCs, desktop software, Internet services, photo kiosks, digital minilabs and photofinishers, regardless of the type of digital camera, PC or operating system they use. CPXe would also allow consumers to upload, download and order prints of digital images at any retail location with any type of photofinishing equipment used by the retailer.
One of the keys to CPXe is the creation of a comprehensive online directory of retailers and photo specialty shops that provide digital photofinishing services. Using this directory, consumers would be able to quickly find a nearby retailer to print their images by searching by zip code or type of service desired. Camera manufacturers stand to gain because CPXe is designed around Web Services standards such as Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI), Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and XML, making it easy and inexpensive to connect to.
"CPXe will link digital camera owners to the traditional photofinishers and minilabs they are familiar with for printing pictures," said Lisa Walker, executive director of I3A. "In addition, CPXe creates new revenue streams for retailers, photofinishers and other companies involved in digital output."
While CPXe standards are slated to be completed by the end of 2002, the framework will not be implemented until early next year. In the meantime, Kodak has launched its own precursor to CPXe through the newest version of its EasyShare software. The new software will allow consumers who use an EasyShare digital camera to print images from their home computers at such mass-market photo retailers as CVS Pharmacy, Rite-Aid, Ritz Camera and Target.
Mark Cook, director of product management for Kodak's digital imaging unit, called the revamped EasyShare software a "first step" toward the eventual implementation of CPXe.
"It demonstrates our commitment to CPXe and our commitment to consumer choice, in that we're not limiting the options of what the digital camera user can do, what they can print and where they can print it," Cook told PTN.
"And from the retailer's perspective, it gives them the opportunity to generate new business from the digital camera user."
After images are captured with an EasyShare digital camera, the software enables the consumer to link to a list of retail photofinishing service providers. Once an order is placed through the software, the picture files are transmitted from the computer over the Internet to a local retailer for printing. The retailer can then either ship the prints to the consumer's home or offer in-store pick up.
Cook added that while the EasyShare directory list currently contains mostly mass-market retailers, a wide range of other photo retailers will eventually be added.