The iPad: digital photo book killer?

More than a year ago, in another publication, I waxed lyrical about Digital Foci’s digital photo album.

I feel kind of stupid about that now. A bit like you would feel if you championed the convenience of lava for cave warming in the week preceding the invention of fire. At the time, however, I really did think it was a pretty hot product.

If you’re not familiar with it, imagine a digital photo frame. Yes, the kind you bought two years ago thinking that nana would love it. She did, of course. For as long as it took to make you feel good about buying it. Bless her.

Foci’s digital photo album is like a frame but with a leatherette cover that protects the 20cm 800x600 pixel (yes, you read that right) LCD screen, thus adding some durability to portability, and controls on the front for managing the contents. It has CF, SD and USB slots on the side, a reasonable battery life, a speaker, and supports JPEG, RAW and video files. Actually, it’s a champ at handling RAW files, screening them up quickly off a memory card. This was its greatest appeal for me. Pity that the internal memory was limited to 4GB.

I mention this device now because I recently received a stream of emails from Digital Foci. September was Photokina month, so I received quite a lot of this kind of email. Foci’s publicist was spruiking all of the company’s products, among them a handy but kludgy 500GB portable hard drive. However, it was the digital photo book that caught my attention because since trying one I’ve had time with an iPad.

It should come as no surprise to you to read that if I had to make a choice between the two, the iPad would win hands down. So I asked the publicist how Digital Foci believed its digital photo album had any relevance in a market in which the iPad holds court, with a rush of suitors hot on its heels.

“Unlike the iPad, Photo Book is a dedicated photo device for viewing your pictures and is simple to use, so it serves a different purpose,” began the response. “vs iPod, Photo Book’s screen size is larger and there are specific photo related features:  Photo Book lets consumers organise their photos into different album collections and choose a specific album to view.  The Photo Album View displays each folder as a separate photo album, showing its folder name and a preview image of the first photo in the album. Photos can be organised into different albums by event, which makes it easy to select a particular album to view. The Photo Thumbnail View lets you browse through the thumbnails of the photos in a selected photo album. In addition to running a full screen photo slideshow with adjustable time intervals, you also have the option of running the slideshow with a realistic page-turning effect.  It is just like you were flipping through an actual photo album. You can also add music to play in the background along with your slideshow.

“Another big thing is the RAW image support. Finally, Photo Book is easy to pass around among a group of people; you don't always want to pass your phone around necessarily. For photographers that want to package their portrait or wedding shoots with a digital album, Photo Book would also be a much better/cheaper choice than an iPad.”

I’m not so sure about that. She was right on a few counts. You don’t always want to pass your phone around. The RAW file handling is better. It is a lot cheaper at about half the price of the basic iPad.

One thing she missed, though. At least on Foci’s photo book you can see the file names, so if I use it on site to display an image to a prospective buyer, I can easily cross-reference the file on display with the file later on. But even this benefit can’t outweigh the package of features the iPad offers.

Imagine bringing Foci’s photo book to a party where all the cool kids have iPads. It’s the stuff nerd nightmares are made of. Yet Digital Foci, apparently, still finds enough demand to keep making them. Or, at least, enough confidence in their product to be showing it off at Photokina.

I think their confidence may be misplaced. I could be wrong. Perhaps there is a market for the digital photo book. What do you think?

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