Imaging group clicks on Net photos

Eastman Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, Fujifilm and others announce an open standard and network intended to simplify ordering photo prints.

David Becker Staff Writer, CNET News.com
David Becker
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David Becker
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A coalition supported by some of the biggest companies in digital imaging announced Monday an open standard and network intended to simplify ordering photo prints.

The International Imaging Industry Association (I3A)--a nonprofit trade group supported by Eastman Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, Fujifilm and others--is developing the Common Picture Exchange Environment (CPXe), a new standard for distributing photos over the Internet.

The I3A will maintain a directory of retail photofinishers that support the standard and will supervise the network that will allow online photo services, retail photofinishers and other services supporting CPXe standard to exchange images with each other.

In one of the most common scenarios, consumers would send images from their PC to an online storage service, order prints and pick them up at a neighborhood photofinishing shop. This process is more similar to the film-based system that consumers are familiar with than that of current digital alternatives such as ordering photos online and waiting for them to arrive in the mail, or using a print kiosk at a photo store, said Lisa Walker, executive director of the I3A.

"What we're trying to do is enable any Web site, any user, any camera to communicate with each other seamlessly," Walker said.

"We've got this really massive photofinishing infrastructure sitting at retail that really isn't being leveraged by digital imaging," she said. "One of the keys to changing that is to realize that consumers really don't like to change their behavior. They have a comfort level with the way photofinishing works now. We really have to meet or exceed the convenience the film model offers today."

Walker said the network to support exchange of CPXe data would be ready by the end of this year, with the first companies to support the service likely offering services in early 2003. I3A will maintain the infrastructure using fees collected from participating companies.

Mark Cook, director of product management for Kodak's digital imaging division, said that while the initial focus will be on connecting consumer PCs with photofinishers, new applications are likely to emerge as support for CPXe proliferates.

"Once you standardize these interfaces, there are other scenarios you can imagine happening," he said.

Cook envisions photo kiosks at tourist attractions such as Walt Disney World, where consumers could order prints from a hometown camera shop as soon as they filled up their camera's memory card.

Chris Chute, digital imaging analyst for research firm IDC, said that while the I3A's goals are on target, implementation may not be easy.

"This is the kind of effort that needs to happen across the industry to make the consumer digital imaging experience as seamless as film is now," he said. "But there are a number of challenges ahead as far as who manages this infrastructure and how much is that infrastructure going to cost.

"If not everyone signs on, it's going to be hard to get the critical mass to make it work," he said.

Sufficient broadband penetration, both for consumers and the photofinishing retailers, also will be an obstacle when dealing with large image files, Chute said. "From an infrastructure point of view, there's a real issue as far as what kind of pipeline you're going to have to support this," he said.

Ramon Garrido, director of digital imaging programs for Hewlett-Packard, said he expects CPXe to generate widespread support in the imaging industry.

"The thing were focused on is propelling the growth of digital imaging by reaching a mainstream consumer," he said. "Once the market grows, we can all get in there and compete with our individual products, but we need to build that market."

CPXe will be based on established Web services standards such as XML and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), making it one of the first major efforts of the much-hyped Web services push aimed at consumers.

"The technology part isn't really all that complicated--were using a lot of existing standards," Walker said. "The challenge of putting the business model together has been more of a concern for us."