I’ve long asserted that the charge around Kodak’s “blowing” the digital transition has been far exaggerated. It’s one thing if you’re a financial analyst grumpy about replacing film revenue. But in terns of the digital still camera market, Kodak has done about as well as could be expected. It’s a consistent market share leader, and it has carried forward its everyman legacy. Meanwhile, Konica, Minolta and Pentax’s camera lines were all absorbed by other companies, and Olympus has been struggling.
In any case, I’d never argue that Kodak or any company should rest on its laurels or not seek to expand its market base. But how? The thin thing has been done, we don’t need more megapixels, and DSLRs will be hard-pressed to move past the enthusiast base of their analog predecessors.
In that vein comes this amusing internal video that starts off with the speaker calmly presenting Kodak’s historically warm, sedate pitch, transitioning into a Howard Beale-like diatribe and ending with him exploding into a Howard Dean-like whoop. Kodak skewers itself for Advantix (disc film would have been an uglier scar to mock) and developing the first digital camera for Apple. (There’s some obvious editing after Apple is mentioned; this may have excised a derogatory comment as the video later refers to Newtons.)
The video also rattles off a slew of technologies in Kodak’s labs ranging from GPS-enabled photography, photos that organize themselves to tell a story, automatic lighting, “metaknowledge”, facial and terrain (e.g., grass) recognition, exposure and red-eye elimination (( assume prevention as opposed to today’s post-processing), As the video admonishes, “people want the latest digital things — more power, more features, wireless contraptions…”
Surely some do, but they don’t represent Kodak’s best market target and certainly not its customer base today.Automatic fixing of lighting and composition so that the snapshot taker isn’t chopping off tops of heads left and right? ? Good. GPS metadata? Probably beyond the capability to present effectively and simply enough where it’s worth it. Photos that self-organize themselves into albums are good; photos that try to create stories? Leave that to the people who pressed the shutter button.
Kodak’s best path to reclaiming the photography mantle is not to pile on gee-whiz technology that “make biometrics look like a Happy Meal toy” but to implement them transparently and judiciously within or beyond the ease of use paradigm that has taken it this far in the digital photography market. It wins if it can intelligently deploy these techniques to create a photography experience that gets consumers to look beyond the raw picture quality advantages that competitors traditionally claim. That’s how companies change the game.