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How Do You Raise The Digital Problem Child?

Three Speakers, Three Topics, One Big Question at PMDA Meeting

PMDA billed its recent "Executive Forum" as a "Trio of Industry Leaders reporting on Three Compelling Topics," a departure from its old format of three speakers, one topic. Fair enough, but the three speakers, representing three diverse segments of the imaging industry, were actually examining three different (but obviously connected) facets of the one, all-encompassing topic that has occupied all our thoughts for the last decade or so—the state and future of that volatile problem child—the Digital Revolution.

Joe Miller of Spectra Merchandising International at last month's PMDA meeting. Photo by Joe Brady. Mark Cook of Kodak discussed the future of the photo industry at the PMDA meeting. Photo by Joe Brady.

Fresh from photokina, Herbert Keppler—vice president and senior advisor of Popular Photography and Imaging—sifted through the mass of goodies on display at this biennial new products bash and came up with a few possible trends their introduction might lead to. Mark Cook—director of Systems Strategy for Digital and Film Imaging Systems at Kodak—took note of recent digital developments on the way toward pointing us in the direction he believes digital will be following in the future. And Joe Miller—senior vice president, Sales and Marketing, Spectra Merchandising International—closed with a vigorous report on the future role of the camera phone and its impact on the photo industry in general.

Reaching back to 1976, Keppler noted that, with the debut of the AE-1 auto SLR, Canon forever changed the pricing and clever market penetration techniques for successful camera sales, with such ploys as the first major TV commercial campaign. "Today's manufacturers," he ventured, "in order to compete must cut costs and advertise like hell." As a first step, he cited present efforts by makers of amateur cameras to promote the feature of in-camera learning from the get-go.

The new Pentax *istDS selling under $1,000 with 18-55mm lens, he thinks, puts it in the ball park with Canon's Digital Rebel. He then added that a $699 price tag for like cameras has been rumored about as the next level in '05.

Keppler observed a new trend at the show toward rectangular, credit-card shaped digital cameras with 2-inch or greater LCD screens on a broad back with a disappearing lens on the front. Given the consumer's tendency to equate megapixels (now up to 8) with value and price, he looks for digital to continue to rise "with no end in sight." But, he cautioned, "Many industry experts feel it's possible the digital point-and-shoot market (the largest and most lucrative segment) will be saturated by late next year, which will result in the same price crush and over-production that bedeviled the 35mm point-and-shoot cameras." The most interesting models with growth potential he believes are the "ZLRs with electronic TTL viewfinders and fixed wide-angle-to-telephone zooms, such as the slim, desirable Konica-Minolta DiMAGE A200 ZLR."

Referring to a speech delivered by an executive from Fuji at a recent symposium Keppler said, "amateur print film will continue to drop except for single-use units. Color reversal film [color negative, movie print, and print release films] are still alive with no digital substitutes likely in the near future…Meanwhile, at photokina," he concluded, "among the digital toys were cheaper SLRs and all sorts of easier-to-use equipment. Now all we have to do is sell our present stock so we can take on the newer ones."

Mark Cook, a last minute substitute, came off the Kodak bench hitting the audience right off by declaring, "When considering the future we must consider the present." In other words, the needs of the present customer are the needs of the future customer: the desire to capture, share and preserve [print] pictures. The difficulties emerge in the transfer steps, for example, how do we get the picture out of the camera after it's been taken. Kodak, he pointed out, solved the capture-share dilemma with its EasyShare docking system. We know the consumer has a very strong desire to get a print and is still spending a lot of money on picture taking, particularly the woman of the household, the official keeper of memories.

Technological trends, according to Cook, indicate a move toward alleviating the sharing problem. "There are more and more services available now such as email, instant imaging, and special services like Friend Nets. But the woman of the house often thinks the picture disappears after it has been captured. Where did it go? To the guy behind the PC who doesn't let her touch the machine. We must remove this official technical officer from the equation and give her the power to create prints—away from the PC, like on a printer dock."

In 2007, Cook predicts all the pictures the average user takes can be stored at home for less than $100; two years later all images on a hard drive or other device, for less than $70.

Cook finished up presenting a video (shown also at a press conference at photokina) of the memory keeper at work and play 10 years from now, sharing photos with family and friends abetted by a voiceover Kodak system. He concluded, "Photography in the future will be like photography taking lots of pictures, sharing them, being connected through photography. But it will just be a lot easier."

After asking for a show of hands as to what electronic devices members of the audience were carrying, Miller announced that almost 100 percent had a cell phone with them. "In the future," he stated in no uncertain terms, "all cell phones will be camera phones. Everyone will thus have a camera 24/7. One of the industry's problems over the past 25 years has been getting young people interested in picture taking. Well, it's happening now because of the camera phone."

Throughout his presentation, Miller prefaced his remarks with some rather astounding statistics. "How about 84 million camera phones shipped worldwide last year (more than twice the number of digital cameras). This year's projection—174 million. That can mean as many as 29 billion photos taken. All these numbers, by the way, are growing even as we speak."

Miller predicts these hybrid cameras will offer the user 1- or 2-megapixels. "That's the sweet spot. Once the 1-megapixel barrier is broken it becomes a true digital camera. The single-use camera will be replaced by the cell phone. In 2005 (those numbers again) 3.6 to 7 billion images captured by cameraphones will be printed. All this means there's a large load of opportunity here."

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