It started the way it often does. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy marries girl. Boy has children with girl. Boy is a hero for having given both sets of parents grandchildren.
But hero status is fleeting. It disappears altogether when the grandparents start to complain that they never get any photos of the children.
Digital photography has been a game changer. No more rolls of film. No more expensive processing fees. No more hoping that the shot you took worked out but not knowing for sure until days later. But along with digital photography comes digital distribution of the photos and not everyone is ready for that part of the revolution.
I used to get prints made all the time. But after a while it became a hassle. Since all of my photos are on my computer and can be seen any time I like, having prints seemed sort of old-fashioned. Creating prints just so my kids’ grandparents could have them was even less appealing to me.
I decided to use the technology as my shortcut. “Here’s the deal,” I told my folks and the in-laws. “I’ll email you all of the best photos I take and you can decide which ones to print.” I soon learned that people who talk of “doing the internet” are so technologically inept that asking them to master the steps involved in downloading an email attachment and taking it to the local photomat is akin to herding cats.
Eventually technology came to my rescue, or so I thought, in the form of the digital photoframe. “Brilliant!” I declared. A device that lets the grannies see photos of their precious angels and I don’t have to get prints made and they don’t have to get prints made and everyone is happy. Everyone is getting a digital frame for Christmas! All I have to do is show them how to transfer the photos from their PCs to their frames. All I have to do is… right.
Summer has come and gone 3 times since then and yet both grannies stare at the same photos of the kids that were on the frames when they received them.
“Why?” I asked my mother. “Is it really so hard to just transfer a few photos now and then?”
I received a somewhat pitying look in response.
Every visit to my mother-in-law’s I would sit down on the couch and stare at the digital frame. Its blank screen mocked me from its position beside all of the other frames – the ones with prints in them.
Fast forward another year. I stumble across Marc’s post about a new frame from Kodak called the Pulse. It’s small, black, and unlike all the other frames on the market that can play movies, music and even act as a second monitor for your computer, the Pulse only does one thing: display digital photos.
But the Pulse has one feature that all the others lack. A feature so well thought out, so simple in its execution, it’s worth more than a dozen of the other frames. The Pulse is the first digital frame that never has to be connected to a computer and can receive new photos directly via email.
It’s as though the engineers at Kodak understood my pain and had set out to deal with it.
After you buy a Kodak Pulse, you go through a one-time set up process which connects the frame to the internet over your Wi-Fi connection. You then register the frame with Kodak’s website and you get your choice of an email address. This is the email address that you or any of your friends and family can use to send photos to your frame.
If email is like, so last decade, and you are in the habit of using Facebook for your photo sharing, no problem. The Pulse can be configured to pull photos from a Facebook account.
You never need to transfer images by swapping out memory cards or messing around with USB cables, though both of those options still exist should you wish to use them, but why on earth would you?
The Pulse’s 7″ touchscreen lets you do some very basic tasks such as deleting an image you don’t like, and changing the slideshow settings. The rest of the frame’s advanced functions are accessed via the Kodak website. From there you can see all of the photos on the frame, upload more from your PC, or delete any you don’t want. You can also sort the photos by who sent them to you – a handy way to perform bulk image management.
Two areas that I would like to see improved in a future update: Within the website management tool you can only see the uploaded photos as thumbnails – there’s no way to see the full image. Also, there is no way to change the order of images once they’re uploaded. While you can set the frame to display photos randomly or in order, without control over the order, it’s hard to create a “story” or timeline effect. I have a series of quotes from my son from the age he started speaking until now. I’ve turned them into individual images and I’d like to intersperse these with photos from the same time period. At the moment, that can’t be done, unless I delete all of the images on the frame and then re-upload them one at a time.
In a nod to energy conservation, the site gives you control over when the frame turns itself on and off, with the option of having it turn on when a new image is received.
The frame automatically checks for firmware updates and advises you when they should be installed – another example of how Kodak has evolved the digital frame into a true internet appliance.
At last, the grannies have the latest photos of the grandkids, the only person who had to touch a computer was me… and Hero status has once again been conferred on the boy.
When the digital era arrived and it became painfully clear to established photography companies that they would have to adapt or perish, many of them met the challenge head-on and not only adapted, but became the innovators and leaders. Nikon, Canon, Kodak, FujiFilm, Olympus and others who forged their reputations in the analog past are now seeing surging demand for their digital products.
Polaroid, however, ended up starting the digital age with one hand already tied behind its back. Their instant line of cameras and film were already relegated to a small and ever-shrinking market that had largely turned to a new generation of smaller and easier to use 35mm and APS format cameras. In the end, the instant business wasn’t enough to keep it afloat and the company declared bankruptcy in 2001. The brand however, was kept alive – albeit on life-support – and has traveled a bumpy road to recovery ever since.
Most Canadians’ experience with the Polaroid brand over the last 10 years has been in the form of inexpensive and oddly unrelated products such as portable DVD players, low-end digital cameras and a few small-screen-size LCD TVs. They were typically found a retailers that do not make consumer electronics their mainstay – stores like Canadian Tire, Zellers and Shoppers Drug Mart. Tech review giants like CNET barely paid any attention to these products and consumer reactions could only be described as tepid.
Then, in 2008, the company decided to finally end its relationship with the tiny but intensely loyal group of customers who still used their instant line of cameras: they officially discontinued their instant film production. Even those of us who did not own one of their instant cameras felt a pang of nostalgia at the thought that the iconic white-bordered photos would no longer be a part of our culture.
But signs of a true rebirth have been emerging at Polaroid for a few years. At the 2008 CES, Polaroid set up an elaborate booth to showcase a home media serving platform, known as Freescape that showed a great deal of promise. This was a brand new direction for the company, one that took them from the image creation business into the image (and other media) management, display and sharing business. Though not fully realized, the collection of TVs, set-top boxes and connected digital photo frames possessed a slick user interface and generous support for an array of digital file formats. Freescape never saw the light of day however, and was completely absent from Polaroid’s booth in 2009.
But the 2009 show signaled a return to the instant business for Polaroid, as they debuted a totally new digital camera with a built-in ZINK photo printer. ZINK stands for Zero-Ink, a technology that embeds the colour as crystals on the surface of the print paper, instead of relying on ink cartridges. It’s the digital equivalent of their original instant cameras.
Now, in 2010, this Polaroid for the digital age – known as the PoGo – is ready for the market and is joined by a larger format camera – the 3″x4″ Instant Camera and a dedicated 3″x4″ instant printer, all of which use the same ZINK technology. Though the idea of having a digital camera and printer in one product is intriguing, it’s possible this may be a case of too little, too late, as the market appears to have shifted from wanting instant memories on paper, to wanting instantly-shared memories on social network sites like Facebook.
And in a surprise move that seemingly reverses their earlier decision to trash the instant film business, Polaroid has announced that they will be releasing a redesigned version of their classic OneStep camera, a model they are calling the PIC 1000. Simultaneously, they are partnering with a company called The Impossible Project, to bring back their original PolaroidColor 600 Instant Film, which will work with both the original OneStep and the new PIC 1000.
However neither of these announcements seems to have made as much of an impact on the media coverage of CES as Polaroid’s revelation that they are partnering with pop sensation Lady Gaga, who will become a creative director and “inventor” of new products. It’s still very unclear exactly what Lady Gaga’s contribution will be, beyond the obvious loan of her quirky, fashion-forward image. The press release only offers us a flavour of what’s to come:
“I am so proud to announce my new partnership with Polaroid as the creative director and inventor of specialty projects,” said Lady Gaga. “The Haus of Gaga has been developing prototypes in the vein of fashion/technology/photography innovation–blending the iconic history of Polaroid and instant film with the digital era–and we are excited to collaborate on these ventures with the Polaroid brand. Lifestyle, music, art, fashion: I am so excited to extend myself behind the scenes as a designer, and to as my father puts it–finally, have a real job.”
There’s no denying that Lady Gaga has unique style all her own, and that her prodigious output of catchy dance/pop songs has created a large and enthusiastic fan base. But can this larger-than-life personality breathe new life into a company that until last year was struggling to figure out what it wanted to be in the 21st century? My guess is that rather than usher in a new line of ground-breaking products, Gaga’s influence will primarily be felt at the retail level where you will see her face er, faces, used to add a much needed dash of sexiness and style to an otherwise bland and forgettable product line up.
Interestingly, Polaroid wasn’t the only consumer electronics brand tying itseld to a music mega-star. In a statement today, LCD TV manufacturer VIZIO – a company best known for their inexpensive yet decent quality HDTVs – has announced that they too have a new creative director: Beyoncé Knowles – Carter. It’s a three-year deal which:
“… grants name and likeness rights to VIZIO for North American advertising, product packaging, web, promotions, public relations and point of sale materials. The partnership will also allow Knowles to participate in the design and performance characteristics of new products from VIZIO’s ever-expanding line of audio, visual and web-enabled products.”
While I get that fans of these stars will be much more likely to buy products that they think their idols have had a hand in designing, it has the opposite effect for me. I find myself wondering if the money spent renting star-power wouldn’t be better invested in the R&D necessary to create genuinely compelling products. But as I am so often reminded by my friends in the product management business, clever marketing that speaks to your target audience is at least, if not more important to the success of your product than actually having a great product.
What’s your take? Is Lady Gaga’s involvement with Polaroid a savvy move that, regardless of actual product design, will have a beneficial impact? Or is it desperate attempt to hitch their wagon to a rising star in the hopes that she will pull the company along with her on her upward journey?
Today I was delighted to read about Sony jumping on the Secure Digital (SD) memory card bandwagon. All I can say is: what took you so long?
I understand that 10 years ago, when the SD format broke onto the scene and made its play to replace the similarly-shaped Multimedia Card (MMC ) the flash memory landscape looked a lot different than it does today. Support for one format was non-existent. Devices were being built to make use of Compact Flash (CF), the now-defunct Smart Media card (SM), IBM Micro-drives, MMCs and of course Memory Stick.
That was then. Today, despite the expansion of the flash memory universe from a format point of view (Olympus and FujiFilm introduced the xD format in 2002), the market share of devices that use these formats has shifted to favour the SD format by a wide margin.
In our household, some of the many memory-card using gadgets are:
- Nikon dSLR
- Canon PowerShot Camera
- Sony Cybershot
- Archos media player
- Two photo printers
- Fisher-price digital camera
- Panasonic TV
All of these devices with the exception of the Sony CyberShot use SD memory. And though we didn’t necessarily choose them for this shared capability, I am constantly reminded how convenient and cost-effective it is to have a single format. Not to mention how irritated I get when I want to swap files from the Sony camera onto another device.
So I congratulate Sony on their decision to support SD. It may not be better than Memory Stick or any other format for that matter, but it’s as close to a standard as we have, and with any luck, the rest of the electronics industry will throw their support behind it as well, at least until the relentless march of innovation forces the development of a new standard.
I’m very tempted to stay on my soap-box and give my thoughts on the lack of USB-cable standard… but that’s another post, for another time.
Update: Check out Marc Saltzman’s video coverage of the new Sony Bloggie – one of the first Sony products to accept an SD card.
In a surprise announcement, FujiFilm has introduced a new digital camera known as the “FinePix REAL 3D W1” which is part of the “FinePix REAL 3D System”. It’s a 10 mega-pixel camera that for all intents and purposes looks just like any other digicam except it sports twin lenses and sensors, separated by a few centimeters on the front of the camera.
Users are able to see the scene they are shooting in 3D thanks to the LCD panel on the back of the camera which uses special 2D/3D switching technology.
The camera boasts several advanced options that gives more experienced 3D photographer greater control over the 3D effects generated by the capture process, including a mode that saves the images from each lens as separate files, allowing the user to manually edit the 3D image on a PC.
The 3D W1 has 3x optical zoom and can also operate in 2D mode for standard digital photography.
Of course, taking 3D images isn’t really satisfying unless you can view the images later in 3D too. FujiFilm’s answer to this is their “REAL 3D V1 Viewer”, an 8″ LCD photo frame that contains the same 2D/3D technology that is used on the 3D W1’s preview screen.
The 3D V1 has an adjustable “parallax control” which lets users change the degree of 3D depth on 3D images. Most impressive however, is the 3D effect is achieved without the use of special glasses, something that has long been viewed as a barrier to widespread adoption of 3D technology in the home.
The viewer is also capable of displaying regular 2D images and both 2D and 3D images are displayed at a resolution of 600×400.
Although the 3D V1 can be connected to a computer via USB and has the standard card reader options installed, there is no connectivity via Wi-Fi.
Lastly, FujiFilm is introducing the ability to print the 3D images onto a special lenticular paper, which again will allow people to view 3D printed images without the need of glasses.
No word on whether this paper will be printable at home using a traditional inkjet printer, or if it will only be available at photo labs, and no word yet on pricing for any of the REAL 3D products.
Also unclear is how consumers will be able to view the 3D videos they shoot with the 3D W1, but presumably the forthcoming wave of 3D capable HDTVs will be a part of the solution.
FujiFilm expects the full line of REAL 3D products to be availble in Canada this fall.