Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Digital Photo Frames -- Printer friend or foe?

If you don't have one, or haven't "gifted" one, then at least you've surely seen them in the ads. LCD-based digital photo display frames have been around for a number of years now, but have zoomed in popularity the last year or two, with prices sometimes below $100 or even lower.

Parks Associates is offering a free download of a "white paper" entitled "Digital Photo Frames: Picture a Good Year" and it offers a high-level view of this high-growth category. Parks Associates is based in Dallas, TX and their expertise, per their boilerplate, "includes home networks, digital entertainment, consumer electronics, broadband and Internet services, and home systems." And NOT printing...which I find refreshing, as a denizen of the printer industry for the last 20+ years. I've been to several Parks conferences (see "Photo Printing -- Web 2.0 Manna?") and I strongly believe a view from OUTSIDE our industry once and awhile at least can be a very healthy thing.

The white paper, authored by Parks' Harry Wang, confirms the digital photo frame business is hot, and gives a brief history, thumbnail sketches of the key players, and some interesting insight into the buying and usage of the frames. Seems they're purchased as gifts (or received) twice as often as for personal usage, at least in the US, and that usage satisfaction rates cluster around the middle with few in the tails of extreme satisfaction or dissatisfaction. (I think the latter point speaks to a still-immature category where the usage kinks are still being worked out.) The Parks paper goes into the benefits of photo frames, but stops short of making a connection to printing.

My view is that the printer industry, specifically those interested in the home printing of photos, should be viewing the digital photo frame with a cautionary eye. The parallel case I'm looking at is that of the overhead projector and the lucrative niche that afforded our business for some time (overhead transparency supplies particularly, but also sales of printers dedicated or predominately used for cranking out slides). Over just a few years in the late 90's, LCD digital projectors pretty much wiped out that business, as "slide decks" became virtual. So the question follows -- will a parallel to the office market take place in the home and does the development of the home digital printer frame reduce the need for prints?

HP (NYSE: HPQ) seems to indicate an interest in the frame business, or at least the functionality offered by frames, with the introduction of the HP Photosmart A826 Home Photo Center a couple of weeks ago. See Katherine Boehret's review, on All Things Digital, entitled "Printer, Digital Frame in One".

An area to watch, and in the mean time, read the white paper!