Think Inside the Box

The Computer Remains at the Center of DI Universe

By Mike Antoniak

March’s PMA spotlight may fall on cameras and lenses, kiosks and prints, but there’s a key digital imaging component relegated to more of a background role: the computer.

This magical box of processing power lay at the very core of the digital transition, guiding its progress while empowering its many manifestations. In fact, one could step back and ask, were it not for the computer would digital imaging be such a pervasive technology? Or even make sense for the masses? Early renditions of digital cameras were successfully marketed as computer peripherals; today a digital imaging system is as much computer as it is camera and accessories. Looking ahead, there seems to be no coming tool or technology which holds real prospects of dislodging the computer from its place at the very core of digital imaging, on every front.

In fact it is the gateway to digital imaging, the threshold over which all must cross to get full enjoyment from today’s imaging options For all the latest cameras may dazzle and impress, their primary function is to chronicle and capture life’s moments as pictures destined for the computer. A photo holds little value until viewed, and the overwhelming majority of pictures taken with digital cameras are exhibited, viewed and shared over computer monitors. For many images their sole existence is as a quick glance on screen.

There’s no profit from photos without printing. Rare is the photographer, however, who moves images directly from camera to print. The computer is where photographers of all stripes review their work, separating the keepers from the missed shots. It’s where most tweak their images with editing software to improve their shots. Whether they print at home or rely on retail services, the computer is almost always a stop along the way.

Computer as Print Hub

The computer, and broadband Internet connection, are also proving to be an important component for feeding the print business. They help extend the reach of retail services right into the home or office, making the customer’s computer the front end of a web-based digital printing workflow. A small but growing share of digital photographers have already demonstrated a preference for this option, preparing and submitting a print order from a favorite chair, or wherever they can connect to the Web.

People want permanence for their photos. Most realize or are aware by now it makes most sense to print the photos they hope to preserve. Nevertheless, the computer remains the primary repository for digital memories. Ingrained habits are hard to break; the majority so far favor the hard drive, or optical disk, as their preferred archiving solution.

When it comes enjoying their photos, the computer has no rival. People the world over have learned to shoot and send their images to friends and family near to share photo moments and memories. Even computer users who have not yet stepped up from film to digital photography, have collections of the digital pictures sent them. Photos get emailed, posted to image sharing sites like Flickr, showcased in personal websites and blogs.

Digital photos serve as desktop wallpaper and screen savers, get incorporated into digital slideshows and, as consumers explore the video record features of their still cameras, they are capturing short clips destined for sharing worldwide over the computer, via sites like YouTube. Digital photos serve as one of the key sources of content, elevating the computer into the hub of new digital home entertainment systems, empowered by the latest versions of Apple’s OSX and Microsoft’s Windows Vista operating systems.

The E-Commerce Equation

But the computer’s sweeping importance to the digital imaging market doesn’t start and end with photography. It is also an integral tool of the purchasing process, whatever today’s shoppers want to buy. Many retailers have successfully broadened their customer base and created new revenue streams by casting a wider sales net with an electronic storefront over the Internet. Some have tapped eBay as an outlet for sell-through of overstocked and outdated merchandise that would have languished on shelves.

The computer has also given consumers a tool of unparalleled power for educating themselves about products and pricing before they ever step into a store. And they are exercising that option, with boundless enthusiasm. A consumer survey last year found as much as 77 percent of consumer electronics products purchased, including digital cameras, are influenced by product and pricing research conducted on the Web, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

Imaging retailers may not be in the computer business, but clearly the computer is now essential to many of the products you sell, the services you provide and the retail business you operate. It’s a guiding force in the imaging market, shaping its future, influencing new product development and recasting the retail landscape.

Workflow Options

As far as cameras go, it’s a given that photos and video clips captured are destined for sharing or storing on a computer. Anything which simplifies the process of moving images from camera to computer become important features. Expect shoppers will be more interested in wireless transfer of images from camera to computer or print stations. Which products and technologies can best meet their demands?.

Movie editing software and Web-based sharing of video clips play to the appeal of the improved video record capabilities of some of latest cameras. The brief, higher res video clips they capture are just what’s needed for sending a brief home movie via email, or sharing over a website like YouTube. Cameras that include a video mode with optical zoom will find a market, as consumers explore the convenience of carrying one device for all their imaging needs.

Photo prints may be the best archiving solution, but accept that most consumers will continue to store their photos in some digital form. They need solutions which simplify the process, for automatic back-up of images in a system that makes it easy to organize, file and retrieve photos. There’s after-market opportunities in card readers and hard drives, DVD burners and online archiving— anything which gives digital photographers peace of mind that their digital originals will always be available to them on their computers.

Since consumers are window-shopping and buying online in greater numbers than ever before, its prime time to compare your electronic storefront with the state of the art. Are there e-commerce solutions which can help optimize your website for search engine placement? What’s out there to help you do a better job selling online, to facilitate print order submission and or manage the Web face of a retail business.

Look to vendors for the sales aids which can be incorporated into any website to make it a resource of valuable information. By now, they should be able to provide you with the digital equivalent of a sell sheet and product brochure for posting online. Motivated shoppers want more from your website than the names of products in stock and a terse description. Effective online presentation should include at least a front and back image of a camera, for instance, a brief overview and link to more detailed specs and features for those who require it.

The computer is now as much a part of the digital imaging experience as the camera. It may not claim a spotlight here, but the computer should be in front of mind as you evaluate all the options on display, for your store and all it serves.

Think inside that box as one of the keys to future imaging opportunities.


Imaging retailers may not be in the computer business, but clearly the computer is now essential to many of the products you sell, the services you provide and the retail business you operate. It’s a guiding force in the imaging market, shaping its future, influencing new product development and recasting the retail landscape.