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Presto puts digital photos in the hands of your grandma

There's a new company getting a lot of press and attention at the D4 conference: Presto. This startup is developing a system that will let you email your pictures directly to printers you install in the homes of people you love who aren't computer savvy, like your parents or grandparents. The pitch, from CEO Joe Beninato, is that sending pictures in emails to people who are barely computer literate often results in an unsatisfactory experience -- the pictures aren't opened.

The Presto answer is technology that above all promises to be easy to use: HP will market special Presto-equipped printers that connect to the Web via built-in, old-fashioned modems. No broadband connection required. To send a photo to the printer, you (the dutiful child or grandchild) just emails it to a special address. Each printer will only receive pictures form authorized (whitelisted) addresses, so they won't end up being spam printers.

There is a certain appeal to this device. It'd make for a decent gift, especially if the giver of it actually did send a nice photo along once in a while.

But I think the concept is a big gamble. Using dedicated hardware to compensate for an email usability problem strikes me as overkill. Assuming the end users in question have computers and are minimally competent with email, an alternate solution to the problem could be, simply, sending clearly-formatted email messages that have a big "click here to view picture" buttons on them (and also "click here to order a print" buttons). I have taken to using Tabblo to send my parents and in-laws pictures. It's been working fine, and I haven't had to buy any new hardware.

See also Ceiva, the digital photo frame. And live from D4, Dan Farber's report on the Bill Gates kickoff interview.