Picture-Mail Will Rival Email, Says Kodak

Is the age of film going the way of cave paintings and Beta Max? Maybe not yet, but even the venerable Eastman Kodak Company is focusing more and more on digital technologies to keep its position as king of the picture mountain.

“We have all heard the pundits predict that the Internet will be the engine that drives the new economy,” Daniel A. Carp, president and chief executive officer of Kodak, said Thursday. “But I would assert that the Internet is an engine that is fueled by pictures. And it will be pictures — on the Internet, on your cell phone, and on magazines and billboards and bus stops — that will be propelling the new global economy. Because no matter where you are on earth, pictures remain the only true universal language.”

Carp predicted that as more communications devices emerge with the ability to capture and send images, “picture-mail” will be as much a part of daily communication as voicemail and e-mail.

Carp speech was made at the Photokina 2000 trade show in Cologne, Germany and comes on the same day that portal giant Yahoo! rolled out its film and digital pictures product offerings. The company Thursday said Yahoo! Photos has expanded its offering to include mail-in film development. Users will receive prints and negatives but will also have free online photo access to the pictures. Yahoo! Photos’ introductory offer includes free film development and a set of glossy prints on the first roll of film. Subsequent orders of film processing start at $7 for a 24-exposure roll and 25 cents for a 4″ by 6″ digital reprint.

“Yahoo! Photos is about making it easy for people to share their photos with family and friends whether they use a digital or traditional film camera,” said Mark Hull, senior producer, Yahoo! Photos. “We’re pleased to expand our offerings and reinforce that Yahoo! Photos is a great place for people to go on the Internet for all their online and offline photo needs.”

Meanwhile, Kodak is processing hard-copy prints of digital photos. Earlier this month, the company and its partner, Weave Innovations announced plans to start selling the Kodak Smart Picture Frame next month. It is a 6.4-inch, active-matrix liquid crystal display in a cherry-wood frame. It has a built-in modem that dials up Weave’s StoryBox Network and downloads pictures the owner has sent to the frame. Users can order hard-copy prints of the photos from Kodak directly from the frame. It can hold up to 36 pictures.

Another company, Ceiva Logic, began shipping its Internet picture frame — which can hold 10 photos — last January.

While Kodak is not ready to relinquish its lucrative film and traditional camera lines — it is the world’s largest producer of film and traditional cameras, as well as digital cameras and inkjet media — it is working on a number of technologies that will make digital photos more attractive.

One such technology, the Organic Light-Emitting Diode or OLED, is a patented method of displaying images on a thin sheet of glass. It has applications for a number of consumer electronics, from digital cameras to mobile phones, and Kodak said an OLED screen is brighter and sharper than conventional LCDs and can also be viewed from any angle.

The company is also working on a technology called RF wireless, which enables wireless transmission of pictures from cameras to computers. This eliminates the need for wire or cable connections.

Also, Kodak is working on digital watermarking technologies that make it possible for image owners to verify unauthorized use of their pictures. Kodak said the watermark is designed to survive all normal processing steps so that it can be cropped, compressed and scanned without losing any of the hidden data that creates the watermark.

But the

final push to digital — as far as cameras go — may not come from Kodak at all. Earlier this month, Santa Clara, Calif-based startup Foveon Inc. announced that it had set a new image standard — 16.8 million pixels — for sensors constructed using a production process known as CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor). For comparison’s sake, standard consumer digital cameras have image resolution of 1.2 million to 3 million pixels — far short of the quality of the best film cameras. Very high-quality professional digital cameras, which use charge-couple devices (CCD) rather than CMOS chips, can capture 6 million pixels, or six megapixels.

Not to be left in the dust, Kodak last month announced it was working on a 16 megapixel CCD chip. But cost may be the determining factor. The image sensor chips are often the most expensive element in digital cameras and CMOS chips are less expensive to produce because they are more widely used and more manufacturing facilities are capable of turning them out.

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