Just now, after supposedly reaching a settlement with the Japanese over U.S. car parts and car exports, the U.S. government is helping Kodak
pursue Japan with claims of unfair trade practices in the selling of film.
More quietly, a less-than-household-name in the film business here in the United States is tackling our market with a product offering that would compete with Kodak's much-publicized electronic imaging system. And what Kodak is trying to sell is a good deal more expensive in design, concept and required equipment.
The No. 2 player in the film market in Japan, Konica, is entering the U.S. market with Konica PC PictureShow. This is an imaging utility that displays photos on your computer. They can be viewed all at once in a Picture Index, or in an automatic PC PictureShow, one after another. They can be rotated for viewing in the correct orientation, zoomed to fit the screen or removed from the sequence entirely.
The entire PC PictureShow is contained on a diskette returned with a roll of film (Kodak or other, not just Konica's product) processed by Konica, together with your pictures. Each diskette has its own built-in software utility, and can be played on your own PC, either IBM-compatible or MAC.
Konica's diskette allows you to convert and export the pictures into the standard bitmap image format for transmission on over-the-line services such as the Internet. You can move through the pictures backwards and forwards, add text notes, and copy pictures to the clipboard, allowing you to print them out with a standard color laser printer.
The cost for a diskette is about $4, or less, for up to 24 pictures, in addition to normal photo-development charges. On the other hand, the cost of processing something under the Kodak electronic imaging technique is, we believe, much more, and it has to be played on a special player that costs in the neighborhood of $500 or more.
The new PC PictureShow wouldn't exactly replace that, but the possibilities are endless. And what a boon for self-advertising this development might be for companies seeking to reach other firms with an unusual PR approach. Not to mention the consumers who want to share their trips and family pictures with friends and relatives.
Kodak would seem to have every right to be concerned with unfair tactics, which they claim are being used to control access to the Japanese markets. But while Kodak works that out with the help of our government, the Japanese would seem to be quietly but busily undermining the millions of dollars of investment in electronic imaging Kodak has been working on for years.
And since it is necessary to have Konica's U.S. laboratories develop your films in order to get your pictures back on the diskettes, if PC PictureShow catches on, what additional loss in developing business, paper or chemicals will our U.S. giant, Kodak, sustain?
Robert McMath is a new-product consultant and director of the New Products Showcase & Learning Center in Ithaca, N.Y.