Kiosks And Digital
Everything Rule In Orlando
By Jerry Lansky
If any member of the minilab community came to Orlando with any doubts as to what the common denominator of our industry is, let me be the last to say that the word is: DIGITAL. Sure, we've heard digital this and digital that for years, but it's coming together as we saw a plethora of new digital cameras, new digital minilabs and other digitally based devices, especially kiosks, coming into very sharp focus.The largest PMA square footage-wise took up only 40% of the immense Orlando convention center.
I visited booths, attended press conferences and one-on-one sessions and have been exposed to folks who are no longer talking about digital as a future trend, but today's real world. Minilab owners who are already committed to digital are enthusiastic; those who are not are concerned. All are still tackling with the problem of consumer awareness of digital services - or lack of it.
They told me the Orlando convention center is the size of 13 football fields and that the show floor has five miles of aisles. Personally, I think these figures are conservative as my old legs may attest. Nevertheless, there are lots of little stories to be found along the way and in small meeting rooms:
A Late Digital Entry From Fuji
Fuji's major product announcement for the show was the introduction of the Frontier 390, the last and fastest of the laser digital family of Frontiers, following the 350 and 370. However, about two weeks before the show was to open, a decision was made at Japan headquarters to show another new Frontier, the 330. The last minute entry surprised even the U.S. folks.
Especially interesting is the fact that Fuji likes to show products that are ready to ship in the near term. The Frontier 330 will probably not be available until the end of the year. While it was on display, it was not plugged in. As the model number would imply, the 330 will be the smallest member of the Frontier family: in production rate, at about 570, 4R/hr; in size, with a 13 sq. ft. footprint; and in price. No official mention of what the price tag will read, but I understand that it could be about $120,000 though some Fuji folks I spoke with hope it can be brought in for $100,000.
The system will be equipped with pretty much the full package of Frontier software but will handle only paper up to 8-inch width compared to the 10-inch maximum of the 350. Unlike its bigger siblings, the 330 will be an all-in-one with the monitor, scanner and printer processor in one unit.
I wonder if Fuji rushed the 330 because of this next item.
A New Digital Minilab Entry
There appears to be a new player in the minilab business. Or, should I say, a return of a very old player. The company's name? KIS-Photo Me International.
If it sounds like you may have heard the name KIS before, it tells me how long you've been in the minilab business. Without getting into detail, let it suffice to say that in the very early 1980's KIS sold a pile of what they called "minilabs' in this country and a lot of people got hurt. That was then. This is now. The French company claims to be a major minilab player in Europe with 2,000 units installed in France, 1,000 in Spain and 600 in England.
Get ready for the "Digital Kis System Minilab, the 100% Digital Minilab." That's what the firm is calling its new product. And it looks to be for real. Like the other digital systems we've seen from the major suppliers, the system is designed to take input from either 35mm or APS film or a variety of digital sources and can output to print, floppy, zip or CD-ROM. It can print in calendar format, add text to prints, zoom and crop, retouch and more through a touch screen monitor.
Does it work? All I can say is that Kodak was sufficiently impressed with the machine to purchase "several hundred" which they will add to their line of minilabs as System 88.
Fred Lewis, Kodak's Worldwide Product Line Manager, has been in the business for 20 years and is well aware of the KIS history. We did "absolute religious testing" of the system, he said. "It is probably one of my favorite machines to work on." That's quite a testimonial. (And KIS will need it.) "We became interested in it because it has a small footprint, simple user interface and modest volume." That's 500, 4x6 prints/hr. At some point the KIS unit will incorporate the Kodak Digital Minilab System (DLS) software, he said.
Fred said Kodak is already marketing the System 88 in Asia, China and Australia and is looking at other regions. How about the U.S., Fred? "We're not ruling it out."
Marketing of the Digital KIS System (DKS) in the U.S. is already underway. Ludovic Antony, responsible for the introduction here, said he has already contacted a number of potential customers and has gotten a good reception. He understands the hill he has to climb with the KIS name but feels this can be overcome.
By the way, the DKS is being priced at $99,000. That's a price that could erase a few bad memories.