In Search of Kiosks
PTN Hits the Road to Check Out
the Latest Digital Photo Kiosks
by Dan Havlik & Diane Berkenfeld
While the wave of print-to-print kiosks appears to be ebbing slightly, photo kiosks for digital camera users are clearly on the rise. According to a recent InfoTrends report, nearly half of all the kiosks shipped this year will be designed exclusively for digital camera users. This is in dramatic contrast to last year when only 16 percent of photo kiosk shipments were digital camera exclusive.
All of which begs a number of questions about the so-called digital kiosk explosion. Who, if anyone, is actually buying these things? And who, if anyone, is actually using them?
To get to the bottom of it all, PTN loaded up the official photo-mobile with digital cameras and memory cards, and set off in search of kiosks. What we discovered after trying out five of the leading machines on the market is that while many in the photo industry may already be quite comfortable with these devices, the general public still has some catching up to do.
(Editor's Note: Because our test was more behavioral than
qualitative, we have
chosen to withhold the names of kiosks used in this survey.)
Imagemaker Photo printed at
B&H Photo Photo printed at
Kiosk #1 — Imagemaker
Our first stop was the Imagemaker 1-Hour Photo Lab on West 34th Street in Manhattan, which specializes in digital imaging, one hour 35mm and APS service and passport photos. It didn't take long to have our first kiosk sighting. The machine was placed invitingly next to the front window as we entered the store. A svelte animated female superhero on the kiosk's interface beckoned us to try the machine out. How could we refuse? Noticing our interest, Imagemaker's proprietor, Gene Kim asked us what kind of media card we had brought. We pulled a SmartMedia card out of our bag and handed it to him. While we could have easily figured out the interface, we decided to let Gene walk us through the prompts since he seemed fairly enthusiastic about his kiosk. "The first time someone comes in, I help them out. When they come back though, they know exactly what to do and can do it by themselves" he informed us.
Gene popped the card into the SmartMedia slot (the machine accepts a variety of media from Zips to floppies, to CompactFlash and Memory Stick, along with several others) and a few seconds later our images began to appear on the screen. There were 15 shots in all, taken with a Fuji digicam at a Revolutionary War reenactment in Hubbardton, VT over the July 4th holidays. Using the touch screen, we selected 11 of the images for printing including several that appeared a little dark. Gene guided us to the editing button on the screen and we worked on the images, adjusting brightness and contrast until they were just the way we wanted them. The kiosk allows for 4x6s or 3 1/2x5s on either glossy or matte paper, but sadly, not 5x7s or 8x10s as we were hoping. Since both sizes were the same price —$.99 cents a print for less than 20 and $.50 for 20 or more —we chose 4x6 glossies. The kiosk also allowed for printing the images as either black & white or sepia, but we decided to stick to color. We pushed the button to complete the order and waitedand waitedand waited.
Because the kiosk was hooked up to a minilab and there were several orders going through in front of us, it would take a little time for our order to be processed. While we waited, we chatted with Gene about his experiences with his kiosk so far. Since purchasing it last fall, he said he's seen an increase in his digital printing business as more and more customers get used to the machine. He estimated that he sells about 1,000 prints a week from customers using the kiosk. "And every month it increases a little bit more as more and more people get used to using it," he noted.
Along with being hooked up to a minilab, Gene has networked the kiosk to a computer so he can retouch the images in Photoshop. A special transport program and server then send the retouched images back to the minilab for printing. Most free-standing kiosks with self-contained printers can't offer such customization.
We were so busy talking with Gene we had forgotten about our order, which still had not gone through. Rather than try to find where it went awry during its trip from the kiosk to the minilab, Gene suggested we start from the beginning and send it through again. This time it would work quickly, he promised. He was right. About three minutes after using the kiosk a second time (this time on our own), the minilab began printing our images. Success! We bid farewell to Gene, his wife and the family dog, which scurried underfoot, and headed out to our next location.
Kiosk #2 — B&H Photo
Just a block from Imagemaker on Ninth Avenue is B&H Photo, perhaps New York City's largest photo retailer. We had seen a small tabletop kiosk at B&H during one of our previous trips to the store and were anxious to try it out. B&H is a busy place with customers and sales staff moving hurriedly through aisles of professional and consumer gear in a store the size of a football field. We didn't expect the same sort of one-on-one treatment we had received at Imagemaker so it wasn't surprising that when we sidled up to the kiosk and pulled out our SM Card, there was no helping hand to guide us through the process. (Not that we needed one.) In contrast to the kiosk at the other store, this one was much smaller and more non-descript. (And also, much less expensive.) If not for the cardboard point of service displays on the monitor describing what it did, it could have easily been mistaken for an oversized laptop computer (minus the keyboard). The kiosk terminal was placed on the countertop of B&H Photo's processing department and hooked to a small dye-sub printer, which was busy printing over a hundred images from a customer who had just returned from a trip to Thailand. "I think it's okay to go ahead and use the kiosk, but I don't think you can put the order through until all my images are printed out," he told us. Sure enough, after we uploaded our Revolutionary War images to the kiosk, a sales clerk stepped in to tell us we would have to wait to print them until the Thai traveler was done. Although we hadn't heard about this "one-at-a-time" printing setup for kiosks, having it happen twice in one day was a little disappointing. So after adjusting the brightness and contrast as we had done before, we waited to print our images. And we waited. And waited. And waited.
After the final image of an open-air market in Bangkok came through the printer, we got the thumbs up from the sales clerk to press the print button on our order. A few minutes later the first of our prints began coming out of the printer. While there was no one in line behind us, customer after customer approached the counter to drop off rolls of film for processing, making it clear that while inroads have been in the print-at-retail market for digital images, traditional processing is still king at B&H.
We paid $6.99 for our 11 prints —$.59 per print for over ten, $.75 for less than ten —said goodbye to B&H, and headed out to Long Island in search of more kiosks.