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Future fuzzy for Adobe camera software

The company announces a new version of its image-editing software, but analysts are concerned Adobe's strategy might be a bit out of focus.

Software publisher Adobe Systems on Monday announced a new version of Photoshop Elements, but analysts warn the image-editing software may not be simple or cheap enough for the average digital camera user.

Photoshop Elements 2.0 is scheduled to ship in the third quarter of 2002 for $99. Like the first generation of the program, Elements offers a stripped-down version of Photoshop, Adobe's market-leading professional image editing package.

Elements strips out professional tools such as Web publishing applications and presents streamlined versions of the Photoshop features that are likely to be most useful to hobbyist photographers, said Adobe Product manager Mark Dahm.

"We're taking the core of the Photoshop engine and redesigning some of the features to make them easier to use and make the core functions more accessible," he said. "Plus, we've added some functions Photoshop doesn't have."

New features in Versions 2.0 include:
• An enhanced file browser that makes it easier to find and rename images,
• A QuickFix tool that does one-click color correction and other basic image enhancement.
• An e-mail feature that automatically resizes and reformats images for sending by e-mail.
• One-click capture of still images from videos.
• Tools for combing multiple images into a single slide-show file, based on Adobe's PDF document format.

Elements won't have the Healing Brush, a retouching tools that was one of the most impressive additions to the current version of Photoshop.

"We've focused on those features that are the digital camera pain points and made it easy for the user to get results," Dahm said. "The faster you can get them to do something successfully, the better they feel about the product."

While Elements is likely to appeal to many hobbyist photographers, the vast majority of digital camera owners won't be interested, analysts said.

Of the 17 million households expected to have digital cameras by the end of the year, only 1 million to 2 million will fall into the "prosumer," or serious hobbyist, category likely to consider such software, said Andrew Johnson of research firm Gartner.

"The rest of the market is happy with what comes with the camera or the operating system," he said. "As easy as they try to make Elements...it's still a lot more than most people want."

Chris Chute, an analyst for research firm IDC, agreed. "It's very, very simple stuff the average user wants from photo software," he said. "Something like the ability to remove red eye--that's an advanced feature for this type of consumer."

While a substantial portion of sales for the first version of Elements came from copies of the software bundled with high-end cameras, that market is becoming tougher, Chute added.

"A lot of (camera) vendors are developing their own bundled software," he said, noting recent moves in that direction by Sony and Olympus. "It helps them cut costs, it helps build their brand, and people still get the software functions they want."