Does Kodak have a future?


Once the monarch of photography, today Kodak is struggling to re-invent itself in the digital age

Today when you look at a photo graph you still think of Kodak. That’s the legacy of George Eastman, who invented the roll film and founded Eastman Kodak in 1881. Seven years after that, the new company changed the rules of the game and came out with the Kodak n°1. This was the world’s first easy-to-use camera and photography went to the masses. And throughout the twentieth century, Kodak never looked back.

Today Kodak is into computer printers, photo stations, processing services, medical imaging and radiology Picture Archival Computer Systems (PACS). However, near the turn of the century, when digital imaging beckoned, Kodak started making losses, its share price started falling and so did its brand valuation. The stem still hasn’t declined even though Kodak has made great strides in digital cameras.

The reason for that is two-fold. For one, Kodak jumped on to the digital bandwagon too late. Secondly, the future may not see standalone digicams, but convergence devices of which the camera is just a part. That’s where players like Nokia and Sony Ericsson have a huge edge.

If you’re late…

In 1997, George Fisher after his success at Motorola was called in to fix Kodak as its chairman. While the future appeared to be digital and many expected Kodak to lead the way, the giant adopted an ostrich-like approach. Comfortable with the huge margins that were still coming in from the 35mm market and not very excited about low margins in digital at the time, Kodak decided to consolidate on plastic. Sure, they announced a $500 million digital R&D budget, but they refused to make digital imaging their core business.

As the years went by and other players started reinventing themselves for the impending digital revolution, Kodak failed to see the writing on the wall. It wasn’t until sales of digital cameras started overtaking that of the 35 mm ones that Kodak decided to shift gears.

In 2004, Kodak announced that it would stop making 35 mm cameras for the developed world. After that it unleashed a slew of digital initiatives. But was it too late? (Further, analysts feel this may have had more to do with the fact that share prices were consistently falling for four years in a row, rather than a love for the digital)

Can Kodak deliver?

Kodak is on a high after annual sales show that it has grown to third place for digicams in 2004-05. Ahead are only Sony and Canon while behind are HP, Olympus, Fujifilm and Nikon, while Agfa filed for bankruptcy.

More heartening is the fact that in the latest quarter, Kodak takes first place.

Good news? Not so think investors. Top rating company S&P, which had already been telling investors to stay away from Kodak, stuck to a gloomy forecast despite the “first place” news. Why? Well for one, Kodak is still the largest supplier of camera films in the world. And these sales are in a state of decline and may one day become next to nothing. Secondly, the hottest segment today in the camera market is mobile cameras or mobicams and that is where Kodak doesn’t have a presence.

The future camera in all probability will be part of a convergence device. Nokia has taken a big push into what it calls “multimedia” devices and the alliance between Sony and Ericsson will ensure that it remains in business no matter what direction the market takes.

Another factor is the form factor. If you think of stylish and good-looking digicams in the market, then you think of Sony and Canon. While the technology behind Kodak digicams is sound, it still has a long way to go in the looks department.

Sure, it has come out with the popular EasyShare digicam range and the Ofoto option for the online user. There’s also Printer Dock Plus, that lets you print straight from the digicam. It’s also part of technology innovations like high-definition OLED that could be the preferred display for all digicams of the future.

But, big companies have survived by staying a step ahead of technology. Kodak has just about matched its steps with the digital world.

The next few years will be critical to see whether it can remain ahead of the rest.

Kodak Timeline

1881: Eastman Dry Plate Company founded
1888: Kodak n°1, first easy-to-use camera
1997: Kodak to invest $500m in digital research
2004: Digicams start outselling film cameras.
Kodak announces digital strategy and becomes number 3 digicam maker.
2005: Kodak is still the largest supplier of camera film in the world.
Mobicams become the single biggest emerging market in cameras.
Kodak is downgraded by S&P. Speculation that Kodak is ripe for a takeover.
2007: Job cuts of 25000 employees to be complete for Kodak

Elephants can dance

1964. The then IBM chief, Thomas Watson Jr. sunk a humongous $5 billion (about the turnover of IBM at that time!) and decided to junk all existing software and hardware and develop the System/360 range of mainframes. While people dismissed Watson Jr as crazy, IBM took centre stage in the IT revolution and successfully re-invented itself.1993. IBM was ailing and Lou Gerstner did the unthinkable again and decided to shift IBM’s core business to services, while consolidating in the server market. He laid the foundation of an eventual selloff of the PC division. IBM which invented the PC, sold off the PC division to Lenovo

(This article appeared in the October 2005 edition of Living Digital magazine)

WorldSpace: Not only music

This satellite radio service is also involved in disaster warning, weather alerts and in connecting up remote communities

After a longish hiatius, Worldspace is reinventing its strategy with it’s satellite based radio offerings. What is not so well known are the other community oriented services that it offers in Asia and Africa. Worldspace leverages the global reach of satellite transmission to reach its services to where terrestrial infrastructure does not exist, or where it has been destroyed or rendered inoperable.

Against the next tsunami

Regular terrestrial radio, and communications infrastructure can be knocked out during national calamities, but not so satellite radio. It doesn’t have to rely on ground stations for transmission and does so via an overhead satellite. It can be deployed during national calamities, give key traffic information to commuters and weather-related information round-the-clock.

And that is one of the things that Worldspace has focused on after the last tsunami took place.

Says Managing Director Deepak Verma, “Post the tsunami, we have been working very closely with departments like the Department of Science & Technology, the Department of Disaster Management- State of Tamil Nadu and the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) to set up a national disaster warning and management network.”

Traffic and weather alerts, 24/7

Worldspace is already giving weather information services for the India Meteorological Department (IMD). In the US, satellite radio is popular for traffic reports and weather alerts. XM and Sirius radio together have dozens of dedicated channels for this. XM also gives weather data to pilots and weather spotters. XM NavTraffic integrates with a car’s GPS system so a driver can also know the traffic flow on his map. Right now this is only available on the Acura RL, other carmakers are on to it. Of course these services became popular only after XM and Sirius convinced people to use in-car receivers. Currently WorldSpace does not have car radio sets in India.

Connecting communities

First Voice International, a division of Worldspace, works with governments, communities and NGOs to deliver key information on “pressing issues” in the poorest of regions. Says President Kirk Talbott on the official website, “First Voice can deliver to people who are living and working even in the most isolated areas of Africa and Asia the information that can improve and, in many cases, save lives.” The Asia Development channel addresses social issues in Bangladesh and the African Learning Channel spreads education and awareness in the continent.

Red Cross Radio!

No, the International Red Cross hasn’t suddenly got into the radio service, but this is an after-effect of Katrina, the hurricane that devastated New Orleans in America.

XM Satellite Radio distributed 200 receivers to Red Cross workers. That helped relief workers get instant information related to relief work, shelter locations and assistance programs. These radios were also hooked up with public address system and put in information rooms that survivors could access. XM, incidentally, had an emergency alert channel even before the Red Cross channel was launched. So while the Bush administration was slow to react to the aftermath of the devastating killer storm, XM could put their channel in place because they did not have to rely on any infrastructure on the ground. Moreover when cities and towns and ravaged by disasters, information flow to and from the disaster area is very important and that is exactly what satellite radio ensures. So that’s why Worldspace and other satellite radios aren’t just about music.

(This article appeared in Living Digital magazine in October 2005)

Will you buy pizza from your TV?

While business on the Internet hasn’t taken off as much as predicted, the key could well be your mobile and the TV

When the Internet came, everyone talked of it replacing brick and mortar business altogether. But the dotcom crash happened. The second dotcom boom (for the key Internet companies anyway) looks like it’s here to stay. Also, business related to financial services, travel services and the casino are booming on the Internet.

So how close are we to having the Internet become the preferred choice for business? The truth is that a lot of companies still don’t use the Internet because they still don’t understand it. The Internet can do things for a business which no other medium can. For example, the Internet is so targeted, that it will not let you waste your time. Since it’s focused, Internet marketing is steadily gaining in popularity. And the future could well belong to contextual marketing. A case in point is Google AdSense. The revenue generated is on a per-click basis and advertisers feel that they get value-for-money.

Beam me up Scotty!

Says Fintan Orourke, CEO of Natural Search, “The Internet itself is going to change. In five years, we will be communicating with the Internet through the TV screen. The business of e-commerce will be through voice interaction. Imagine asking for a pizza directly from the TV screen.”

He also talks highly of handheld devices, saying, “It will be something like Star Trek. The way Captain Kirk said “Beam me up Scotty,” we’ll talk to our mobile and say “Find me a flight to Goa” or some such thing. Over time, TV and mobiles will be the most popular access devices for the Internet. The iPod and all will converge into the mobile phone.”

The mobile and the TV are among the most familiar and comfortable devices the world over. People trust the mobile and TV and they may be more open to doing business on the Internet through these two.

Where the world is headed to

Internet TV or peer-to-peer (P2P) TV could be the next big thing. In the long run, it will bring down operational costs and also help in accessing all kinds of content from the TV. The BBC and CCTV of China are already experimenting with P2P TV. BBC is working on Dirac, which is an algorithm encoding and decoding video and sound.

Another person who is backing Internet TV is Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. During the keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, he said, “The set-top boxes that have been connected up to cable can take a new generation of hardware and software and be far better. There’s a generation that can go even further as we get more video on-demand capability and literally anybody can watch any show at any time, even the ads can be targeted to you.”

Gates also added that Internet TV was where the world was going and that video, data and voice would finally come together.

Going mobile and how

While P2P TV looks like a revolution waiting to happen, the mobile convergence one is already happening. Mobiles are getting more and more sophisticated, screens are getting bigger and clearer. And when the 3G era finally arrives, then surfing on your mobile will not be such a painful process. Mobile ecommerce could be the next big thing. Wherever the size of the screen is not a limiting factor, the mobile will be the preferred device for accessing the Net. With mobiles getting cheaper, access is on the rise and sales are expected to top $1 billion by 2009.

The Internet is still evolving on handheld devices. Norway-based FastSearch and Transfer (FAST) has launched mSearch, which helps mobile users search for content on the Net. Starting with just ringtones, games and images, FAST believes that mobile search will be a big business in the long run. Yahoo has also tied up with Nokia and now the search giant’s data communications and entertainment services will be available with Nokia’s Series 60 mobiles. Google isn’t far behind and is also doing research on mobile search too.

(This article appeared in Living Digital magazine in October 2005)

Hollywood’s toys for boys

Movie stars have been using a variety of tech marvels in action-packed blockbusters. But how realistic are the weapons they use?

A reality check

Clone a phone
SIM copier
Bourne Supremacy
There’s a cool scene where Matt Damon knocks down a US agent and takes his mobile in a flash. He then puts the SIM card into a GSM plugin SIM Adapter which is connected to a chip drive. The SIM configuration is downloaded into Damon’s mobile and he starts receiving calls without the US agent knowing.
Reality Meter: 5/5
These devices are in India and they may not be as fast as Damon, but your mobile card can be cloned in minutes! That means someone else can make umpteen calls and you’ll still get billed for it.

Stop a car
2 Fast 2 Furious
What’s the best way to catch a car with a daredevil driver? No you don’t have to overtake him. Just fire the Electrical System Disabler (ESD) and short circuit the car. In 2F2F, cops fire a 3-legged device from a small cannon gun which gets lodged in the body of the car, bringing the voltage down to zero and thereby stopping the car.
Reality Meter: 3/5
An electrical system gives power to, among other things, the ignition system through the car’s wiring. So theoretically it is possible to have such a device.

The impossible weapon
Light Saber
Star Wars series
The light saber is the ultimate weapon. Not only for a Jedi, but it’s the coolest weapon around. It can slice men and robots into two. It can cut through secure doors. The very sight strikes fear in the hearts of all. And it can fit neatly into your pocket.
Reality Meter: 0/5
By today’s technology, such a device would be near-impossible to make. For one, it would be very difficult to contain the length of a laser and secondly, one laser beam won’t stop another laser as they show in the fights. At best you could make a plasma saber, but to contain it in a magnetic field, it would take tonnes of energy.

A virtual me
Hologram projector
Star Wars series
Which Star Wars fan can forget R2D2′s hologram of Princess Leia in the original trilogy? In the seventies it was cool that you could save a moving image of someone and transport it elsewhere. Since then the hologram has been used in many movies.
Reality Meter: 5/5
The Mirage 3D Hologram Maker can make a hologram right in your in your home. It costs £20, check it out at Then there’s tele-immersion or live teleconferencing in the form of a hologram.

No mouse, no keyboard
Holographic database
Minority Report
Imagine doing away with the key and mouse and computer screen and replacing it all with a virtual image! Anyone who’s seen the movie will remember Tom Cruise going through a virtual database with nothing but his hands.
Reality Meter: 1/5
While we are still a long way away from such a virtual screen, many computer makers are already working on such a concept.

You don’t remember this
Memory Eraser
Men in Black series
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones at the end of every alien encounter use a pen-sized gadget that erases the memory of those around. Wiping out memory and modifying it has also been the subject of other movies like Total Recall.
Reality Meter: 0/5
While just about anything is possible in the future, right now we are nowhere near wiping out anyone’s “temporary memory” with just a flash.

I can see your underwear
Blue X-Ray Glasses
The World Is Not Enough
So many movies in the past have fantasized about X-ray goggles that can look through clothes and even James Bond couldn’t resist the temptation in the nineties, when Pierce Brosnan uses them to check out the ladies in a casino.
Reality Meter: 3/5
While X-ray technology is getting more and more sophisticated and the latest ones can see outlines inside clothes, they are still nowhere as clear as reel-life would like us to believe. Though scientists are still trying and trying…

Infecting the aliens
Apple PowerBook
Independence Day
Jeff Goldblum used his laptop to infect the alien attack fleet with a virus thereby crippling it and saving Planet Earth. An Apple PowerBook? That’s all you need to ward of aliens with awesome firepower? Cool!
Reality Meter: Unknown
While the Apple PowerBook exists, nobody has seen an alien computer to say conclusively whether it is Mac-compatible or not.

Traffic jam in the sky
Flying cars
Back to the Future series
What’s the best way to avoid traffic jams on Earth? Go upwards! However this movie portrays traffic jams even in the sky, the car population is expected to rise that much! There are also flying cars in The Fifth Element, Judge Dredd, Minority Report etc.
Reality Meter: 2/5
The Moller M400 and SkyCar are two cars that can fly, though they look more like planes. The M200X looked more like a UFO. So the only thing left to work out for a flying car is the “form factor”.

(This article appeared in Living Digital magazine in October 2005)