Consumer imaging has undergone a dramatic change in the last two decades—from sophisticated film cameras with all the bells and whistles to digital point and shoots, and now the extraordinarily popular smartphone camera. Always at our side, smartphones have inspired a whole new class of shutterbugs. The challenge is how to turn billions of mobile images into revenue for photo retailers.
The latest solution is mobile photo applications—software designed to operate on the most popular handheld devices, including smartphones and tablets, providing the user with photo editing, sharing and in some cases, high-end printing capabilities. According to Hans Hartman, president of the research and analysis firm Suite 48 Analytics, the number of photo and video apps available for download on Apple iTunes and Google Play last November was 35,000. Ninety percent of those were photo applications.
While only a small percentage of these apps offer professional printing capabilities, the number is growing every day. Major kiosk companies like Fujifilm and Kodak Alaris are introducing their own mobile printing applications that connect consumers to online printing services and in-store kiosks. Back-end developers providing white-label solutions for independent retailers and online photo gift websites are eager to take advantage of this growing market.
Kodak Alaris, formerly Eastman Kodak, introduced two photo apps in 2012—My Kodak Moments and Kiosk Connect—each allowing consumers to wirelessly connect and print with Kodak Picture Kiosks through their mobile devices. Late last year, Kodak Alaris—the new company established in September when the UK Kodak Pension Plan (KPP) acquired Kodak’s former Personalized Imaging and Document Imaging businesses—unveiled the Kodak Photo Service program at the inaugural Mobile Photo Connect Conference in San Francisco. Kodak Photo Service opens up the company’s net-to-retail infrastructure to third-party imaging content developers.
“Since we went live with the program, we’ve seen a lot of interest from the developer community,” says Darren Johnson, vice president and chief growth officer, Kodak Alaris Personalized Imaging. “We have a huge printing infrastructure already, with more than 100,000 kiosks at retailers globally. The opportunity to get more of those connected and to allow consumers easy output is a very compelling one. It’s compelling for developers because they see a way of amortizing their apps, while retailers see a way of increasing foot traffic and revenue in the store environment.
“For us, it extends the reach of what Kodak Alaris can do within the connected space. In a short time, we’ve grown from about 105,000 touch points within the retail environment to approximately three million downloads of our own apps. Now that we’ve launched the Kodak Photo Service API, we’ve seen that number go up to more than 10 million potential access points,” says Johnson.
“We’re only beginning to scratch the surface of what we’ll be able to do within this space. I have no doubt that over the next five or 10 years, as the market matures, as bandwidth gets faster, as apps begin to address needs we haven’t even imagined yet, the opportunities for further growth within this space are going to be huge.” kodakalaris.com
Storefront.com and other OEM suppliers are making sure their retail imaging customers are competitively connected. Known for its NEO Suite of imaging products and services, Vancouver-based Storefront’s integrated white-label solutions include a collection of connectivity and printing solutions bridging photo retailers and consumers: NEO PhotoKiosk, NEO PhotoSite, NEO Mobile and NEO Social.
“The commercial spread of smartphones and ongoing improvements in their onboard camera technology poses a new challenge for in-store photo retailers. How do we get those images off of mobile devices and into the photo kiosk for ordering?” asks David Macdonald, COO of Storefront.com.
“Early on, customers would off-load images from their mobile phones onto computers and then burn them to compatible media, however, this method presented an obvious obstacle to commerce. The next step was to enable customers to connect their mobile devices to the kiosk by cable. While an improvement in some respects,” says Macdonald, “this solution also had its disadvantages, not the least of which was customers occasionally walking away with the cable.”
These and other challenges led to the development of photo applications capable of wirelessly transferring images from mobile devices to photo kiosks. Storefront’s new NEO PhotoKiosk v6, previewing here at the 2014 PMA@CES, provides this capability without the use of an app.
“So far as we know, Storefront.com is the first company to offer wireless app-free transfer of images from mobile devices to kiosks,” says Macdonald. “The system, which is already deployed in North America and internationally, works with both iPhone and Android devices. Initial feedback from our commercial partners has been outstanding.” storefront.com
Fujifilm North America is one of the companies implementing Storefront’s wireless transfer technology. Fujifilm Kiosk Photo Transfer allows customers to transfer images straight from their mobile devices onto any Fujifilm kiosk, without the need for a connection device or downloadable app. The software is rolling out at select Walmart locations. fujifilmusa.com
Ecce Terram, a digital imaging solutions provider with U.S. headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, offers photo-ordering solutions and social media services for digital photo labs and retail chains. Part of the company’s Photo2lab software suite, Photo2lab mobile apps are based on HTML5, a web programming standard developed for optimal rendering on smartphones and tablet computers.
Ecce Terram’s Share Your Photo Story Facebook app converts images from Facebook albums (including low-resolution files) into printed photo books, while Save Your Memories provides photo backup services for Facebook users, keeping track of recent uploads and suggesting photo product orders from the newly updated albums.
The company is demonstrating its new application, Living Album, at PMA@CES—a subscription service that automatically makes hard- or softcover books from consumers’ uploaded mobile images. For information, visit the website at living-album.com. ecce-terram.com
Lucidiom Inc., a white-label photo kiosk management and printing solutions developer headquartered in Northern Virginia, released version 3 of its popular mobile app, Pocket Pics. Consumers sync their mobile devices to a retailer’s APM kiosk or Photo Finale website using a retailer-branded Pocket Pics application, allowing them to view photos they’ve stored online, upload new images, share collections and order photo products from their account. Version 3 adds the ability for retailers to accept payment in-app and to offer mail delivery. There are currently more than 130 custom Pocket Pics apps for iPhone and iPad on the App Store. lucidiom.com
Mediaclip Inc., based in Montreal, offers white-label printing solutions based on its Photo Product Creator Suite, driven by a powerful rendering engine called the Clip Producer. Photo Product Creator serves as a bridge between providers’ e-commerce platforms and a variety of end-user modules, including Photobook, Calendar, Greeting Card, Gifting and Poster modules.
Philippe Gascon, vice president of sales and business development for Mediaclip, announced a mobile photo personalization application at the Mobile Photo Connect conference in October. “The Mediaclip app for iOS and Android phones and tablets is customizable, so licensees can use their own branding, corporate colors, unique products and external links,” says Gascon. “Consumers choose from a variety of templates to create personalized greeting cards, postcards and posters, and share their creations on social networks or via e-mail.”
Mediaclip is demonstrating its new mobile app at PMA@CES, along with the upcoming version of a mobile Photobook. mediaclip.ca
LifePics, headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, was one of the first providers to offer a mobile photo app. Introduced in 2010, the LifePics app linked iPhone users with a network of more than 10,000 retail stores in its dealer network. Today, the network has doubled its membership to 20,000 locations worldwide, and the LifePics app is available for iPhone, Android and Windows phones. The company also makes an API available to photo app developers. LifePics dealers receive more than 20% off their orders through the mobile app, driving significant revenue and traffic to their stores. lifepics.com
The number of printing labs and photo gift websites offering their own mobile photo apps is growing at an impressive rate. Features range from basic print ordering to creating high-resolution previews of personalized photo gifts. Hundreds of photo-editing apps provide free special effects filters, text and decorative backgrounds to help mobile shutterbugs create their own themed graphics, and most of these allow consumers to share their completed projects on social networks like Facebook and Instagram. As the field of mobile app developers continues to grow, companies like Kodak Alaris and Lucidiom will be linking more developers with photo kiosks and personalized gift printers.
In addition to the myriad of drugstores and retail chains, like Walmart and Walgreens, these are just a few of the photo-centric companies offering photo apps for mobile devices.
Shutterfly offers three interfaces—ThisLife, Photo Story and Shutterfly. Shutterfly provides access to most of the products offered on the Shutterfly website. The impressive, high-tech interface displays each item available for sale with one of the customers’ own images. A small icon appears over an image if the file is too small for quality printing. shutterfly.com
MailPix.com, the photo printing and gifting site headquartered in Huntington Beach, California, launched version 3 of its photo-printing app in mid-November last year, just in time for a site-wide Black Friday sale. Users can order prints up to 8×10 inches from photo albums on their mobile device, Facebook or Instagram for home delivery. “We believe the best photo memories are created with families at home or at family gatherings, not standing in checkout lines,” says Fred H. Lerner, cofounder and CEO. The MailPix app is provided by Lucidiom. mailpix.com
European-based companies ByPost, Leicester, England (bypost.com), and Postify Prints, Stockholm, Sweden (postify.com), give mobile customers the ability to turn their images into postcards and have them mailed anywhere in the world. Postify, now partnered with Kodak Alaris, is expanding into the U.S. market, where Kodak provides “print and pickup” stations. Postify also offers business-to-business services, printing high-volume postcard orders for companies seeking to expand their advertising reach.