Switched On: High-resolution photos want to be free

Nikon D2H

Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a weekly column about the future of technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:

It's happened to all of us. You're having a pleasant lunch with your gal pal klatch and in walks Steven Tyler – in slow-motion, no less. Instantly, your inner drunk Wrigley Field fan chasing a foul ball kicks in. After you've trashed the restaurant, all of your Aerosmith-lovin' supermodel lunchmates want a copy of those pictures. And being a tech-savvy stalker, you want to send them the high-resolution originals so that they can crop them or print them at large poster sizes for their own shrines.

But now what do you do? The first thing is you probably have to remember to send them all the photos later, because there isn't a way to do it now. E-mail might work if it's a photo or two, but if the rest of Aerosmith had also been there, you might have to either pick and choose a few or send them at reduced resolution. There are also the big three photo sharing services, but there your friends will also be restricted to viewing a reduced size photo or have to pay to download the original resolution if that's even offered. There are also photo sites where you can offer high-resolution originals, but they often require a subscription.

One of the best ways to share photos today is Hello, a nicely-designed free companion program to Picasa that hasn�t been discussed much in light of the Google acquisition. An instant-messaging-like program, Hello lets you simply and conveniently shares high-resolution originals if you check the proper checkbox. Hello also offers notification of new photos. However, as Windows software, it must be downloaded and won�t work with other platforms. Also, Hello is a point-to-point product that employs a �push� metaphor; what you�d really like is a simple and universal way for your friends to receive your new photos of �70s rock stars automatically. (By the way, they can�t spell �RSS.�). DEMO conference debutante imeem embraces the spirit of this kind of photo sharing, but it is still in limited testing.

One company that offers a limited version of sharing in the field today is Kodak, the old film stalwart that is often derided even though it has managed the digital transition about as well as could be imagined. Virtually all Kodak digital cameras have a few token megabytes of flash memory. In addition to helping consumers avoid the �last shot� dilemma of Polly Perkins in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, you can copy a few pictures from other people�s flash card to your camera. However, this will of course work only if they use the same flash card format that your camera supports. Kodak�s forthcoming EasyShare Picture Viewer, a battery-powered digital photo wallet, might have been an interesting way to do this, but alas it cannot download images directly from digital cameras and is limited to 1024 X 768 photos.

With Kodak and others starting to support Wi-Fi, perhaps more ad hoc picture sharing can take place at the point of capture. However, that will only be part of the solution. The big three photo Web sites have had a business incentive to keep high-resolution photos out of the hands of consumers. Why don�t those with a vested interest in home printing, such as Canon, Epson, or HP, counter this by offering a free consumer software program or Web site that allows simple, automatic sharing of high-resolution among groups of consumers. Unlike music, the �pass-along� value of photos quickly reaches the law of diminishing returns, but a larger pool of high-quality digital images benefits any company in the output business.

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis at NPD Techworld, a division of market research and analysis provider The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On, however, are his own. Feedback is welcome at