CES 2009: Optimism Peeks Through Amid a Changing Market

CES 2009: Optimism Peeks Through Amid a Changing Market

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Once you began learning how to dodge the depressing conversations concerning the economy and how badly it was going to affect this year’s show, the 2009 CES presented no shortage of interesting and innovative product introductions (it never does).

Though early reports were putting attendance figures at around 110,000, which would represent a significant drop (about 20%) from last year’s show, other than the complaining cabbies, we don’t think the dip in the number of attendees came as a shock to anyone on the show floor.

While we can’t say that any one product grabbed us by the throat this year, what we found most interesting was this idea that the imaging industry (and CE industry as a whole) is apparently out to change what they feel has been the, “passive relationship we have had with these products” into a much more dynamic, two-way experience. (Wonder what they could do with the institution of marriage given the chance?)

The continued merging of the TV and the Internet made big news and people’s pictures continued to play a major role in this evolution. Said one observer, “Getting images out of cyber-neverland and in front of people is a big deal and should help lead to turning those images into tangible products.” Time will tell on that front as the “living room imaging” concept has had its starts and stops thus far.

The continued invasion of the CE industry into the social networking world made a lot of noise as well as several manufacturers, HP and Kodak among them, announced partnerships that touched this area.
HP’s iPrint Photo is a free downloadable application available on the Apple App store that gives iPhone and iPod touch customers, “the ability to easily print photos anytime, anywhere.”

HP claims that their new HP iPrint Photo, “is the first photo printing application of its kind and allows for quick and easy wireless printing of 4 x 6-inch photos from an iPhone or iPod touch to most HP inkjet printers connected to a local Wi-Fi network.”

The idea here is to get those millions of photos that are being captured on iPhones or iPods and immediately uploaded to sites like Facebook and MySpace printed instead of being shared by electronic means only.
Kodak has gone through yet another social media doorway with their Zx1 Digital Video Camera, an HD-capable model that includes video editing software that allows users to easily upload their vids to YouTube. Canon also added a unique “snap-video” mode in their new HD camcorder models that allows the shooter to capture a series of 4-second video clips that is tailor-made for the social media world.

Point, Shoot & Cool Off

Amid a wave of new point-and-shoot intros, we were most impressed with the ones that can handle the waves…as in the ones at the beach. Olympus upped the ante in this space with their new WP offerings, including the Stylus 550WP (3x optical zoom, 10MP), the first in the series with a $199 price point. Pentax held steady with the impressive Ocean Blue W60 (5x optical, 10MP), still among the cooler looking cams in this category.

Canon has entered this space with the intro of an underwater Elph and Vivitar, having undergone a retooling since being acquired by Sakar, introduced a $129 8MP underwater model, the V8400P that features 8.1 MP res with a 8x digital zoom – good up to 30 ft. Can the rest of the crew be far behind?

A Bridge Too Far?
Remember when everyone was yelling about how the “super-zoom” category was dead as new affordable DSLRs began dotting the landscape. Well, somebody forgot to tell camera manufacturers as Kodak and Olympus, among others, released new models in this still very vibrant category.

The Kodak model is the Z980, featuring a 24X zoom, detachable vertical grip and two shutter buttons to accommodate the dual shooting angles. The new

Olympus digicam intro’d in this category is the SP 590 UZ which features a 26x optical zoom and 12MP resolution along with some neat in-camera editing tricks. Add to this Samsung’s new HZ10W which sports a 10x optical zoom and 10 MP res and adds 720p video at 30 fps, along with the fact Sony and Panasonic have plans in place for future models in this category and it’s clear to see super zooms, or bridge cameras as they are often referred to as, show no signs of going the way of say, the APS format.

“There is obviously a large segment of the camera buying public that still isn’t interested in dealing with the learning curve involved with a DSLR,” explained Olympus’ digital product manager, Sally Smith Clemens. “They want to be able to pick up a camera with a powerful zoom that anyone in the family can use and just go shoot.”

Price Sensitive
The price free-fall in the digicam space made news at the show as well and the decline in selling prices is expected to continue throughout 2009. IDC has observed that the average selling price for point-and-shoot digital cameras was $281 in 2006 and  plummeted to $146 for 2008. While margins are getting tight for dealers, most of the research groups are at least predicting continued unit sales growth, albeit minor, for 2009.

Toward this end it was quite shocking to see Sony come to the show with a 10MP, 4x optical zoom model with an MSRP of just $129, the S950. Throw in face detection, digital stabilization, ISO 3200 and a 2.7-inch LCD and that’s a lot of camera for just a bit over $100 from a company like Sony.

And, in an effort not to “bury the lead” with regard to Sony, the company also introduced a Wi-Fi enabled digicam (the 10MP G3) that includes the ability to upload images and video directly to the Web through any public hot spot using its built-in Web browser. Wireless digicams are nothing new but the general feeling is consumers are far more ready for this wave than they were when this tech was first introduced.  

Staying on cameras for a second more, it was also great to see Polaroid remind us that they are alive and kicking. The company debuted the Polaroid PoGo Instant Digital Camera which starts shipping in March. The 5-megapixel camera, which is capable of cranking out 2×3-inch, sticky-back prints, will sell for $199. Retailers can also offer 10-packs of the photo paper (which can be used with the PoGo printer too) with an MSRP of $4.99 (30-packs are $12.99). The prints take about 60-seconds to come out of the camera which uses Polaroid’s Zink (zero ink) 2×3-inch paper. The LCD simply pops up, and you insert a deck of 10 sheets and you’re ready to go.

Digital Frames: The Plot Thickens
Still way too many companies are displaying product in this category but the amazing evolution in this market continues. From a new player dubbed Isabella Products (named after the CEO’s 4-year old daughter) comes the Vizit frame that features a two-way touch screen and the ability to send and receive images over a mobile network. The frame’s super-thin design is helped by the fact the workings are housed in a stand the frame sits on and can be detached from.

LiteOn debuted its new Macer frame out of its Skyla division, a model that combines a digital display with an RJ11 jack for connecting a cordless phone.

The idea here is now users can pair up phone numbers with digital images so those images are displayed for incoming calls. The company also had their earlier released Memoir frame that features a built-in scanner on display as well.

Foci has taken the category off the shelf and onto the coffee table with their digital photobook, an easy-to-use digital display that is housed in a leather album for the purpose of being placed on a coffee table for viewing. A super simple GUI makes this one a real winner…quite attractive as well considering where it is expected to be placed in a home.

Wireless capability along with the availability of Internet content now dominates this category despite the fact sales of models with these features remain quite low (5-6 percent in 2008). “Ease-of-use is still a factor with wireless and most consumers are still not quite there yet with this technology,” began retail analyst Lauren Sosik. “But the way this category is continuing to develop and evolve I think this category has a really bright future with end users and will begin to become more of a must-have item.”

The growth rates being predicted in this space have been tempered a bit for 2009 due to the current economic conditions but several groups are still claiming this category might do over 70 million units worldwide by 2011. We’ll be taking a much closer look at this category later in the year.

No, that certainly wasn’t all there was to see at CES 2009, we’ve just run out of room. We’ll have more info in future issues as well as continued coverage at both www.picturebusinessmag.com and our weekly online newsletter, Digital Clique.

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