Magazine Article


HP Unveils Two Photosmarts: Express Station Kiosk, Studio

Hewlett Packard Photosmart Express Station Kiosk

By the way, there is a setup of equipment that does this stuff. And it costs about $50,000. For that you get one consumer order station ($10,000 each if you want more than one); an order management system including a 19-inch LCD; an HP duplex color laser printer to output greeting cards, 5x7 mini-albums, or larger albums of 8.5x11 or 12x12. Four separate drawers in the printer cabinet hold cut sheet paper in a variety of finishes for each product.

There were other components to the setup: an HP roll-fed, inkjet wide-format printer for posters up to 24x36; a Rimage 3601, high speed CD burner with label printer; and devices for hard and soft cover binding. These are all optional, but, in my opinion, necessary to do the business justice.

John said that as digital cameras take a greater number of images, especially as media costs come down, our challenge is, “How can we make digital camera usage easier to tell stories? We feel as though we hit the nail on the head with a system that can handle a large number of images with ease.”

He added, “We see the Studio as offering the retailer very attractive margins and an early break even.” It allows a lab owner to not have to depend on competitive 4x6 prices of below 15-cents, but rather provides him less price sensitive products.

HP has so far seen fit to trade-trial the Studio in eight locations of three mass merchant retailers: Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, and Longs Drug. They have been in the field since July. Only after PMA will they be installing one at a photo specialist site, Rush Hour Photo, Corvallis, WA., only a few steps away from the HP office. Easy for the suits to pop in and see what’s going on and a convenient distance to bring potential buyers to see the equipment in action.

My feeling is that the Studio could generate more excitement from the independent who will very quickly grasp onto the concept and has on staff the trained personnel able to deal with the Studio’s unique products and how to pitch them to consumers. In a mass location, consumers will have to absorb the ideas pretty much on their own.

It could be just the product that the specialist has been looking for to make up for lost film rolls and a way to separate himself from his mass competition.

HP, an electronics giant, seems to have come into the photo industry through the back door. They are quickly identified by the consumer as a maker of computers and home printers and have been eminently successful at both. They also serve the business community with a host of electronic solutions.

The introduction of the digital age of photography has opened the door for many in the electronics industry to seize an opportunity to expand their operational base. Imagine digital cameras from the likes of Dell, Epson, and Gateway.

HP, however, saw digital not as a one product fling, but as an entire business sector. Their popular home-office inkjet printers soon morphed into printers designed for the digital shooter who wanted to print at home, since there were few other options in the early days. Then came a digital camera line. The HP acquisition Snapfish raised a few eyebrows but sent the distinct message that HP was serious about being a player in the photo industry. The latest introduction of retail solutions with the Photosmart products is yet another indication of their determination.

As digital supplants silver halide, it would appear that maybe HP, a newcomer with no baggage, sees itself as the natural successor to Kodak, a company that took time acknowledging digital, and has struggled with the re-direction to digital that was expected to be evolutionary but turned into a tsunami.

HP did have a foray into the photo industry when it partnered with Kodak to develop what would have been the first inkjet minilab. They announced the joint venture at PMA in February, 2000, and named the company Phogenix. (HP’s Cronkrite was part of that start-up team.) By February, ‘02, they showed off their new system and it went into field beta test with good results. A lot of folks were waiting for it. Then, even more amazingly, they shut down the program in May, ‘03 even after production had begun.

The ‘true’ story of what really happened to derail a program that looked as though it had legs, may never be known. Some said it was ‘political’, suggesting a conflict between partners, others felt it was a shift in marketing direction. Whatever, it cost both firms millions of dollars to close the Phogenix doors.

Then again, maybe HP felt it didn’t want to share what they may have seen as a golden opportunity to become a major participant in the nascent digital photo business.

Their new products are their latest statement to the photo industry they’re in the fray for the long haul.