Photo Uploads Go Real-Time
Available on Windows Mobile-based smartphones from Alltel, including the Palm Inc. Treo 700wx, which the Little Rock, Ark.-based carrier launched last week, Sharpcast Photos allows users to view and manage their photo albums from mobile devices, from their PCs, and remotely over Web connections. Unlike applications from other carriers, such as Sprint's Picture Mail, the Sharpcast service allows automated, instant synchronization of photo collections between desktops, handsets, and the Web.
Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) says it was the first carrier to offer subscribers a photo-management service, Sprint Picture Mail, which was launched in August 2002. Picture Mail is backed by third-party provider VeriSign Inc. (Nasdaq: VRSN). Looking for high-margin data services to make up for declines in average voice-revenue-per-user (ARPU), the major carriers are engaged in a sort of digital image arms race to satisfy increasingly photo-happy consumers and business customers.
Linda Barrabee, an analyst with The Yankee Group, said in a media conference call yesterday that consumers are willing to pay for richer services and applications, but right now there's a "disconnect" between what subscribers will pay and what they actually get.
"Carriers have to do more to deliver more value," Barrabee added.
Attempting to deliver more, Sprint on Monday said it is launching a "Twelve Days of Power Shopping" promotion [Ed. Note: Great name!] in which 4" by 6" prints are just 10 cents, and standard shipping on gift items (T-shirts, mugs, etc.) from the Sprint "Picture Store," launched in August 2005, is free until the end of the year. In a support-our-troops nods, Sprint will also enable Sprint Picture Mail subscribers to post photos and video for servicemen and -women serving overseas.
Verizon Wireless offers a photo-sharing service called "Pix Place," launched in July 2003, where customers can store and manage photos from their PCs or their mobile phones. Sending photo messages costs 25 cents apiece. In partnership with Web-photo company Snapfish, which is now owned by Hewlett Packard, Cingular Wireless offers a similar service called My Photo Album. Cingular spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment on the carrier's photo-services options.
The first deal that Sharpcast -- which was founded in 2004 -- has signed with a wireless carrier, the Alltel service is much richer and more powerful than conventional mobile-phone imaging products, says Mark Dixon, Sharpcast's director of products.
"Because what we're doing is plugged into a real-time synchronization platform, it's much more seamless," Dixon explains. "When you take a photo it's immediately available everywhere -- once you add it to an album it's immediately pushed out to everywhere you need it to be."
As the carriers roll out high-speed 3G networks, the power of these types of applications will grow rapidly, especially for enterprises, says Eric Martin, Alltel's staff manager for enterprise devices and email solutions.
"Once you have the ability to start adding GPS and location-based services as an overlay [to photo services], you can imagine how useful these are going to be," Martin remarks. "If you're a realtor, and you're shooting photos with a location-capable device, you don’t have to worry about sorting and labeling your images -- you take a pic and it just shoots up to the server, here's the location, here's the house, it shaves all kinds of time off your workday. All these services are going to converge and add more value."
In the nearer term, Mom and Dad can make sure that their Christmas-morning photos will be instantly available to Grandma and Grandpa -- even if they're on Fiji.
— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung