Magazine Article


HP Keeps ’Em Guessing with Plans for Kiosks

Officially, no one from HP is talking for publication—yet.
PTN photo illustration of a pair of HP kiosks in a Wal-Mart retail test.

HP’s timing couldn’t be better. As the world of the kiosk continues its move from the fringe of on-site image processing to center stage, this electronic behemoth is teasing us all by building a huge curtain around its program, allowing only a chosen few a peek here and there. For the rest of us, the curtain will open as the doors swing wide at PMA in Orlando.

In the meantime, the rumors fly and speculation reigns as to what HP, a fairly recent entry to the halls of photography and certainly a newbie to retail processing, will be unveiling at that time. Those who have signed NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements) have been drawn into the inner circle. The competition struggles to pick up a thread of information from wherever.

The motive is certainly clear: HP, already a dominant force in home printing, recognizes the shift toward retail and online printing and wants to remain in a position to supply high-margin consumables. Their acquisition of Snapfish protects one flank. Moving into the retail arena with a variety of solutions could make them a major player in the digital world.

All of a sudden, Kodak, who for years has been fighting the Fuji battle on the film front, finds itself in another firefight, this time against HP in the digital world. No rest for the weary. The midnight oil keeps burning in Rochester.

HP obviously has a number of retail initiatives in the works. I’ve heard about such products as the behind-the-counter digital “minilab” that will pump out 700 inkjet prints an hour and cost about $10,000. Then there is the free-standing kiosk, also inkjet, that would pose a challenge to the Kodak dye-sub Picture Maker. Nothing has been substantiated.

Officially, no one from HP is talking for publication—yet.

In what could be an effort to preempt the HP hoopla scheduled for Orlando, Kodak just introduced its new G4 kiosk (see Kiosk Corner, page 23). To make certain that the world knows it’s a new line, the name “Picture Maker” has been discontinued by Kodak and the G4 line of products will instead be known as the “Picture Kiosk.”

Fuji, a strong player in kiosks, recently introduced a full range of products that covers every conceivable application. Among them is a unique approach that allows a consumer to upload digital media from a retail location that feeds back to a Fujicolor wholesale lab for print fulfillment. It’s Fuji’s version of a digital drop box.

While we won’t know for certain the entire HP offering until Orlando, we do know of one test installation of a system at four Wal-Mart locations (two of which are Sam’s Club), two in Seattle and two in Arkansas. Photo department employees have to wonder about those suits that show up and ask questions about the setup—and maybe sneak a few pictures. Competitors on the prowl.

The setup consists of two identical kiosks placed side-by-side. Each has a display screen, media input slots, a CD input slot, and a receipt printer. The kiosk has a contoured front, a small customer work tray, and attractive graphic treatment.

The graphics on the kiosk, called HP Photosmart Studio, read: “Stunning Photo Keepsakes Fast,” “Distinctive Photo Albums,” “Personal Wall Calendar,” and “Customized Photo Cards.” As the copy suggests, the system is promoting specialty output items, not 4x6 prints.

The two systems are wired to an HP wide-format laser printer to produce the specialty items. Some of the products off the system are being priced at Wal-Mart’s Rogers, Arkansas, store as follows: 24x36 poster: $19.88; calendar: $19.96; 10 album pages: $14.88.

Other HP kiosk initiatives, probably on test elsewhere in the photo world, will undoubtedly involve inkjet engines and will be geared for production of popular-size prints. Expect products that will be placed behind the counter for operation by store personnel, as well as customer-operated kiosks with on-board printing.

We obtained one photo that shows the pair of Wal-Mart kiosks. Not a very clear photo, unfortunately, but, then again, neither are many of the plans that HP has in store for the industry.