Making Money from Pictures - Developing photos with BREW
Making Money from Pictures - Developing photos with BREW
Dec. 29, 2003 10:28 AM
Making money is sometimes rare in this business, but dotPhoto has managed it.
For most of recorded history, if you wanted to preserve a memory, you wrote a song or painted a picture. Only in the last 100 years did society decide that our fondest moments should be captured on 4x6 inch paper and stored in our closets. Today, digital photography and wireless technologies are converging to enable the capture and distribution of images and sound anytime, anywhere, to people all over the planet.
dotPhoto.com opened in May 2000 to improve the experience of digital photography. Digital photography was in its infancy: to print a digital photo, you used an inkjet printer that was time-consuming and expensive. To share digital photos, you spent the afternoon uploading images, and the person on the other end spent the evening downloading files that were often too large to display on the screen. dotPhoto was established to eliminate the hassle of sharing photos online and to provide professional photo prints at a quality and price that people were accustomed to receiving from their local drugstore.
Through contact with our customers, it soon became clear that the main difficulty for users was uploading images. Using the Internet for photography was fundamentally more complicated than the film experience of snapping photos and picking up your developed pictures. At our 2001 annual shareholder meeting, we demonstrated a wireless camera prototype that snapped a digital photo and sent the image directly to our servers. Unfortunately, no one was investing in new technologies at that time, but in early 2002, we visited Verizon Wireless who encouraged us to write for QUALCOMM's new BREW system.
dotPhoto launched Pictavision in October 2002 to enable digital photographers to have a "limitless photo wallet" by using their cellphones as the photo album. Viewing photos with Pictavision is similar to viewing photos online: users log in, identify albums, and choose photos to download by caption. When you want to show pictures of your children or your weekend, you've got a device in your pocket that will display it.
Technically, Pictavision is a product made simple by design. While we were encouraged to add features to the product, we felt it was important to get out a product that worked consistently and easily. Pictavision's BREW code is under 50K, which allows it to fit into the typical 1.5MB working space of phones - space often jammed with games and other programs. This also leaves room for more local photos: Pictavision users can download 50 to 100 photos to the phone to browse quickly and without waiting for a download. It's clear that the image-browsing experience needs to be as close to flipping through a stack of prints as possible, so new versions of Pictavision cache the next image in the album while you view the first to minimize the time of subsequent downloads. New technologies will further speed up photo access as carriers implement faster networks and handset manufacturers begin to support the BREW image compression standards - most BREW handsets still support only bitmap files.
One way that Pictavision is kept simple and slim is by building as much of the software as possible into the dotPhoto Web site. For instance, a Pictavision user can access Pictavision settings in the MyAccount section online to set preferences relating to photo rotation and cropping for the aspect ratio of the phone screen. These settings are rarely accessed, would be complicated to explain on the phone, and would bloat the Pictavision software, so they are available only on the Web site.
Pictavision is a work in progress. From the original limitless photo wallet, there is now local photo storage, wallpaper support for customizing phones, and e-mail forwarding. dotPhoto's patent-pending "Click & Deliver" technology will enable camera phone users to take photos that are automatically uploaded to their online dotPhoto account and process according to predefined preferences. For example, if you like to get 36 photos at a time, dotPhoto will automatically print and mail your order when the 36th image is uploaded. Click & Deliver eliminates the step of dropping off film or standing in line at a kiosk, and makes the process of ordering prints easier than ever before.
dotPhoto is already positioned to accept photos from any camera phone. When users set their alternative e-mail address on dotPhoto.com to their camera phone's e-mail address, dotPhoto automatically places images e-mailed to email@example.com in the user's account.
The BREW model has worked well for dotPhoto because BREW is organized to work like an appliance. Applications are easy to purchase, and they tend to work as advertised - partly because of extensive testing by both QUALCOMM and the carriers. The payment model can also be generous, though the cash flow from even successful BREW applications can be difficult. Developers tend to receive about 64% of the advertised price of an application after carrier markup and QUALCOMM fees, though the payments must flow through the carriers and QUALCOMM before reaching the developer 90-120 days later. This can be mitigated with a factoring agreement.
Java, by comparison, is just now catching up as an end-to-end environment for delivering wireless solutions. As of December 14, AT&T Wireless customers can download Pictavision to view images from the Internet and also to control the camera in the Nokia 3650 camera phone. Pictavision sets a new standard in photo software for cellphones and was designed to be an easy user experience in the phone. The result is a far superior experience to the other applications against which it competes. We are certain Pictavision will experience a similar success with carriers that don't offer the BREW solution by remaining true to our vision of a simple appliance that works the way one would expect.
According to Strategic Analytics, 84% of handset sales in 2003 are upgrades: users want new color phones and new data features. Once they see color phones, users also want built-in cameras, which will fundamentally change photography. Today, very few of us carry a camera, but millions carry cellphones. In the next three years, there will be tens of millions of camera phones on the street producing billions of digital images and providing interesting opportunities in digital file management.
The wireless component of our business has also led dotPhoto to investigate other forms of wireless file distribution. The surprising popularity of ringtones was an obvious extension to use the existing online sound recording technology and file distribution capabilities to enable a site for user-created ringtones. The Blabtones service enables users to record, upload, and share ringtones at www.blabtones.com. Another service called RingTalker will convey prerecorded talking ringtones that can be attached to phone numbers to announce various incoming calls.
While developing ringtone applications, the possibility of putting an entire song on a phone was tested, and it was found that good fidelity was possible on a 500K file. The JukePhone service, produced in collaboration with BPOD, a music content company, puts a jukebox in your hand. Users will pay to download a song and listen to it as often as they like until they download the next song, which deletes the first song. Since the songs are stored within the BREW area of the phone and are not available for forwarding, JukePhone will provide a secure platform for generating additional revenue from popular songs. It is possible that cellphones will generate more revenue than CD sales when higher fidelity handsets with fast connections and song catalogs are in a hundred million pockets.
While dotPhoto began life as a digital photography service, it is now involved in the business of distributing emotional keys - images and sounds - that invoke memories for our users. The widespread distribution of cellphones and Internet devices makes it possible, but the dictum that dotPhoto follows is a magazine cover that is taped to the conference room door: "High Tech Overload: Complex Gizmos are Driving Americans Nuts. The message to manufacturers: simplicity sells."