Kodak's mobile man is Eric Lent, director of kiosk and mobile imaging. Eric sees the mobile market as "the most quickly accelerating technology in the industry's history." (Unlike APS and disk, about which similar accolades were probably made in their time, this prognostication could be right on.)
All of Kodak's G3 platform kiosks, from the full size Picture Maker to the small table top units, will have Bluetooth and infrared capability, according to Eric. G3's in the field will be able to retrofit existing units and, according to Eric, these kits are available now. The price is about $300.
Lisa Gansky, GM of digital imaging services, revealed that Kodak has signed a deal with Verizon, the nation's largest cell phone provider with 32 million U.S. customers. Verizon wireless customers who have a Get It Now capable camera phone will be able to download the Kodak Mobile Service (www.kodakmobile.com) application to their phone. This program, launched by Kodak in November, offers camera phone users anytime, anywhere access to their photos.
Lisa said that consumers will be able to walk up to a Kodak G3 kiosk and print the cell phones images on-site or upload the images to the consumer's PC.
Kodak kicked off programs in late 2003 with Cingular and AT&T Wireless for different mobile services giving them a strong position with programs with three of the four major cell phone firms in the U.S. Some carriers charge a $3-5 monthly fee for the mobile photo services.
CVS/Pharmacy, a strong Kodak supporter, has jumped on the camera phone opportunity in a big way announcing that they will be so equipped at more than 3,000 stores in early 2004 with Kodak's Picture Maker G3 kiosk. My guess is that most of the large retailers will be able to deal with camera phones by the end of the year. Independent specialty operators will have to keep pace.
For once, it looks as though the on-site industry will be a chapter ahead of the class-instead of behind.
Pixel Magic is another camera phone player here in Las Vegas and is incorporating the Bluetooth and infrared features in its two models of iStation, 150 and 250. George Briggs, CEO, is very bullish on camera phones. He reports that the cell phone giant, Nokia, is selling more camera phones than all the digital cameras being sold. Big numbers, folks.
"I think this will be a very huge market for us," George said.
Other players: Noritsu will be incorporating the technology into its CT-2 kiosk, according to Joe Leach, though it's not available yet; Sony has camera phone technology "now in development" for the PictureStation, according to Dave Johnson; Joe Leo, Olympus, said, "My position is it's a little early."; Todd Tereshko, Konica Minolta, indicated its minilab line was not yet ready for the camera phone.
The quality of the finished print from a low-res camera phone could be an issue. Kodak's Eric Lent feels that an image with a resolution of less than a meg would not produce an acceptable 4x6 print. He said that 2-up or even 4-up would be better on a 4x6 sheet. What would prevent a consumer, not knowing any better, from ordering a 5x7 print from a Picture Maker? Eric said the monitor would flash a message indicating that such an order would not result in a good print.
Low Quality Still An Obstacle
The quality equation could be a downer for early adopters. In use currently are camera phones with about 1/3-1/2-megapixel resolution. I'm told this is about the quality of the VGA monitors we used on our home PCs many years ago. However, I understand that camera phones with up to two meg resolution are already being sold in Japan and that they will be offered in the U.S. market by the end of the year. At that point camera phones may well be equipped with a removable flash media card to supply the memory needed to store these larger res images.
Sony Ericsson, a joint venture combining the digital photo expertise of Sony with the cell phone know-how of Ericsson, just introduced a 1.3 MB camera phone with 32 megs of built-in memory for the Europe-Asia market. No doubt this phone, model K700, will be on our shores in the near future.
One interesting sidebar to the camera phone story is what its impact might be to single-use cameras. With 35mm camera and film sales declining, the single-use has been an industry bright spot for years with double digit growth each year-though it was about 7% last year. In 2003 about 211 million were sold here. These numbers have certainly helped prop up the processing business.
But the single-use has generally been cast in the roll of filling the gap for a camera left at home or to take advantage of some non-predictable picture event. Once the camera phone becomes ubiquitous, might this take the edge off the single-use and reverse its fortunes? A strong possibility that adds to the travails of the downtrodden film business.