Vowing to do for digital imaging what George Eastman did for picture taking a century ago, Eastman Kodak Co. Chairman George Fisher unveiled a slew of products and business alliances Tuesday that he hopes will bring the staid photo giant into the computer age.
The much-anticipated announcement comes 18 months after Fisher was lured away from Motorola Inc. to take the top job at Kodak. The venerable company has been struggling for years with the challenge of adapting to new technology while preserving its lucrative chemical film business.
At an elaborate news conference, Fisher invoked the spirit of Eastman, the "practical scientist," and said Kodak intends to make digital imaging technology affordable and accessible to the average consumer. "Kodak is more than a film and a yellow box," he said.
Fisher sketched out a vision in which pictures would be taken on digital cameras, which capture images electronically and store them on a magnetic disc or tape, eliminating the need for film. The images could then be easily transferred to a personal computer, edited with software and then stored on Kodak's PhotoCD, a system for storing pictures on compact discs similar to those used for music. The photos might then be relayed throughout the country or the world via phone lines.
Yesterday's announcement offered the first building blocks for such a network.
Kodak introduced a digital camera priced at less than $1,000. Kodak has made cameras for Apple Computer and Logitech Systems, who marketed them under their own labels, but the latest product will offer significantly better quality.
An alliance with Microsoft is aimed at developing consumer software for photo hobbyists, which would be marketed under the Microsoft Home label and would enable anyone to easily touch up or alter pictures. The two companies will also create public kiosks that will produce PhotoCD discs and printed photographic images.
Adobe Systems said it will support PhotoCD in future versions of its PageMaker software.
Kodak will work with Sprint to develop a network for sending pictures over phone lines. It would then be possible to get pictures developed and have the photo finisher transmit them to another photo finisher across the country, which could then make prints for, say, relatives who lived in that city.
Hewlett-Packard will work with Kodak on high-resolution ink-jet printers. In another arrangement, IBM will help Kodak commercialize the distribution of pictures over the Internet and the IBM Global Network.
IBM will also use Kodak's decompression technology in its point-of-sale systems, and Citibank will use it in its credit cards. Kinko's will test-market for Kodak new color-document imaging software and CD authoring stations in more than 50 of its stores.
Kodak's forays into the ones and zeros of computer-speak have been decidedly mixed so far. PhotoCD, which is supposed to provide a bridge between traditional photography and the digital world by making it easy to transfer regular pictures to a digital format, has been a flop among consumers, though it is catching on in professional applications.
And many observers have felt that until Fisher's arrival, Kodak was still ambivalent about digital imaging, which promises to cannibalize its existing business. He said he expects Kodak's nascent digital imaging business to be profitable by 1997.