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Comdex: Panel upbeat on imaging's future

November 18, 1999
Web posted at: 10:02 a.m. EST (1502 GMT)

by Margret Johnston


LAS VEGAS (IDG) -- Consumers' love affair with taking pictures, coupled with new technologies that make sharing photos on the Internet easier, will drive a number of upcoming imaging applications and business opportunities, imaging industry officials said Tuesday.

Representatives of Eastman Kodak, Adobe Systems, Intel, Sony Electronics, PictureWorks Technology and PhotoPoint gave an upbeat assessment of the future of imaging technologies during a question-and-answer session here. They were speaking at ImageScape '99, a conference on imaging and the Internet sponsored by InfoTrends Research Group Inc. and taking place alongside the Comdex trade show.

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"New markets are occurring daily," said Donald Strickland, president and chief executive officer of PictureWorks Technologies. He cited imaging technology applications in the real estate market, which he said are "exploding" to more than one billion pictures a year.

Under an agreement reached last week, the Web site is using PictureWorks technology to make it possible for real estate agents to drag and drop photos of newly listed homes into their Web sites, Strickland said.

PictureWorks Technologies software simplifies the process so that the agents don't have to fuss with size or formating.

Declining price points and added features offered by Web hosting companies, such as the ability to take a sequence of still photos and create a slide show, will help increase demand for digital cameras and thereby push the growth of imaging, Strickland said.

Only about 3 percent of U.S. households now have a digital camera -- either their own or access to one through work -- according to InfoTrends, but there are signs the industry is gearing up for an expansion. By 2003, for example, half of the installed U.S. photo processing labs will be digital, InfoTrends data shows.

Another driver is the ability to have "shared photo experiences" on the Web, said David Rowley, president of PhotoPoint. Anyone who doubts that should look at the dedicated picture services, of which there are now about 25, and the photo storing services offered by Web portals such as Yahoo and Excite where people are posting everything from vacation photos to pictures taken at newsworthy events, Rowley said.

The opinion of the panelists differed, however, on which of these services will dominate the market.

Strickland said he believes the major portals have a huge advantage in offering those services, while Rowley sided with the dedicated picture sites. But Bruce Chizen, executive vice president of products and marketing for Adobe, said both groups will be forced to enhance their sites, probably using the offerings as dedicated services.

Lorie Wigle, general manager of Intel's Internet services group, noted that imaging is also important to a lot of special interest sites, which are not dedicated picture services per se, but use photos heavily in delivering the content of their sites.

Asked whether more video will be shared on the Web, Wigle said there are signs that consumers are moving toward that scenario based on their use of sequences of still photos over which some users lay an audio track, creating something that resembles a film.

Chizen said demand for video is growing based on the sales of two Adobe products for video editing and presentation, which have doubled annually in recent years. "People are buying them for Web output," he said.

The panelists were also asked how digital cameras can compete with disposable cameras costing as little as $5.

Michael E. Foss, general manager of online services and vice president of consumer imaging for Kodak, said digital cameras and single-use cameras are two fundamentally distinct markets and both are growing very rapidly.

Mark Viken, senior vice president of digital imaging marketing for Sony, said digital video could borrow from the single-use model. For example, future models of inexpensive digital cameras might be designed as rental units, which could be dropped off at a kiosk where the digital content could be prepared and distributed however the customer wanted, he said.

The single-use camera doesn't threaten digital photography because it's "really just an on ramp to a digital image," Chizen said. "Scan it in and you have a digital image. After that, you are more likely to move into the digital camera market."

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