Mobile Imaging: A Photo Merchandise Prediction

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Aug 24, 2011

The future of photo publishing and merchandise looks bright. This year, InfoTrends conducted a number of in-depth studies that leads us to believe that the photo merchandise market will experience a bump in the number of consumers making photo merchandise purchases in the coming years. Part of this growth is going to come from the convergence of smartphone camera adoption, advancements in camera phone imaging, and the development of photo creation apps for the mobile phone.

In 2010, according to the U.S. Census, there were over 73.2 million people that fit into the age demographic of 18-34 years old (22% of the U.S. population). The  2011 InfoTrends U.S. Mobile Imaging End-User Survey highlights that close to 40% of this age demographic has a smartphone, in addition the 2010 InfoTrends U.S. Photo Merchandise End Customer Survey highlights that this age demographic is the largest segment of photo merchandise purchasers (with over 50% having made a photo merchandise purchase in the last 12 months). This combination of a high propensity to purchase photo merchandise combined with a high propensity to own a smartphone creates an atmosphere ready for an upsurge in consumers leveraging their mobile images to create and purchase photo merchandise.

InfoTrends 2011: U.S. Mobile Imaging End-User Survey
InfoTrends 2010: U.S. Photo Merchandise End Customer Survey

In addition to smartphone owners also being majority photo merchandise purchasers, InfoTrends data shows that over 40% of people with a camera phone AND a digital still camera, use the camera phone as their primary camera. For users that own both devices who capture most of their images using their digital camera, better image quality and higher resolution would convince more users to make the phone their primary camera.

Peering into the near future, better mobile image quality is becoming a reality. In recent news, we are seeing how Apple’s, new iOS 5 could help position the iPhone as a consumer’s primary camera.   As smartphone imaging technology continues to advance, the weighting factors separating smartphone vs digital cameras as primary capture device will continue to decrease, with smartphones gaining ground not only in quality but also in convenience (carry one image device vs two), image sharing, and creative capabilities.

When looking at the growth in image sharing and creation apps we see photo apps like Instagram which allows users to apply creative filters to their photos and then upload them to an Instagram account or share them on a social media network. In 7 months, Instagram has garnered 4.25 million users who are uploading 10 photos every second. We’re also seeing companies like Blurb providing users with tools to build books from their creatively enhanced mobile images.


InfoTrends Opinion

In numerous conversations with colleagues in the industry, one of the arguments against growth in merchandise created from a smartphone images, is that images captured using a smartphone are inherently inferior in quality (even with advancements in mobile imaging) resulting in a reluctance of consumers wishing to print them.

My counter argument is that as an industry of imaging experts we’re focusing too much on maintaining the standards associated with traditional “photo quality”. That in order for an image to be of high quality, it has to have similar properties of a 4×6 or 5×7 print captured with a decent point and shoot camera. My belief is that consumers are less concerned with image quality than with the overall quality of a product that they’ve purchased.

If we look at quality being derived from the following formula:

Expectation of Quality = Emotional Value / Price Paid for Product

I think what we’d quickly find is that expected quality, from a mobile imaging perspective, should not lie in striving for tradition ideals of photo perfection, but in accepting the current limitations of mobile imaging and developing tools for individuals to create and share visual stories. With this mindset, quality can be created by leveraging creative imaging applications to produce visually engaging, well manufactured, and attractively packaged products.

To this extent, I think that the marketers need to be heavily promoting creative ways to enhance mobile captured images.  The ability for mobile imagers to apply and layer creative filters on top of one another converts an image that may have low capture qualities into one that has high personal investment. This process of curating ones images and investing the time to creatively interact with an image moves the image from one of simple visual information to one of combined visual expression with personal relevance. It’s my belief that this combination will drive consumers to make purchases and preserve the enhanced images they’ve taken the time to create.

InfoTrends forecasts that about 70% of the U.S. population will own a smart phone by 2015. If app developers, photo merchandise retailers, and photo merchandise manufactures continue to collaborate as they have, I predict that the next 3 years will deliver significant opportunities to photo merchandise players who have developed a mobile imaging strategy.

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