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Blabtones: Cell Phone Ring Tones and Photos
Finally, the Get Tones service offers four collections of pre-created ring tones. These are libraries of pre-defined tones that are offered as a bundled package. DotPhoto's new Blabtones service would then add the ability to create your own recordings as ring tones.
"Where you used to need a "toolbelt" of devices to get certain capabilities, you now need just one," says Jones of Verizon Wireless. "Convergence has been a key factor in driving adoption and will continue to be. It took only 17 years for the wireless phone to reach the 100 million customer mark; by comparison, it took television 54 years, the automobile 68 years and the landline phone 91 years."
DotPhoto started as a photo sharing and printing service, and has evolved to add more electronic services for sharing digital images. "We're trying to make dotPhoto the one place where you can do everything with a picture," says Paul.
You can join dotPhoto for free, upload and share your photos, and order prints for 29 cents for 3x5s, 95 cents for 5x7s, $2.95 for 8x10s, and $9.99 for 12x18 inches. You also can upgrade to a variety of prepaid plans for quantity purchases. For example, $4.99 a month includes 10 4x6 and 5 5x7 prints, and $14.99 a month includes 36 4x5s, 8 5x7s, and 2 8x10 prints.
One important difference from other services is that dotPhoto allows customers to sell their pictures, and provides the infrastructure for displaying photo albums, ordering prints, and collecting revenue.
Professionals using the dotPhoto Pro service (www.dotphotopro.com) can watermark their images, add keywords for searching, add their own branding, and set custom pricing.
"We have a lot of people who sell pictures," says Paul, "newspapers, professional photographers. We just signed a contract for 25 percent of the radio stations in the country. Every radio station has a website, and they have events and take pictures, and they have stars."
"That's a neat business," says Paul, "because essentially we get free content. We're providing a service to the many people who want to sell pictures."
This ability to create albums and sell photos then becomes a form of viral marketing for dotPhoto. "You can take that dotPhoto album system and bolt it on to any website," says Paul. "There are U.S. Navy carrier groups communicating between the carriers and the families at home. There's a high school in Rockwell Texas at YellowJackets.org. It seems like every hour of the day they're taking pictures there. More than 200,000 people have come from there." (The quantity of photos available from the Rockwell High site is amazing. The album for just the Saturday of their Prom Week last April has over 1,000 pictures posted online.)
"We're giving that feature away," says Paul. "There are over 31,000 web sites linked to dotPhoto. All these people are linking to us, and then they discover dotPhoto, and then they sell their own pictures, and then their friends come in and buy pictures."
Pricing for friends to buy individual prints starts at $1 for 3x5 prints, $1.50 for 4x6, and $7.50 for 8x10.
But while digital photography also is exploding, one big growth constraint is that it requires using a computer to take advantage of all these wonderful new possibilities. "It became clear, almost as soon as we got into the business, the problem with the model was that it was too complicated," says Paul. "You have to take your pictures from your digital camera, you have to get them onto your computer, and you have to upload them from your computer to the Internet. It was just too long a process, and too hard for an awful lot of consumers."
One solution that camera companies and services have been pursuing is simplifying the process of getting photos from the camera to the computer and then to the Web. For example, some manufacturers provided camera "docks" and associated software so you could insert your camera and automatically upload images into your digital photo album.
DotPhoto also experimented with these kinds of devices. "We demonstrated at our shareholders meeting at least two years ago a little computer with a wireless card and a camera attached," says Paul, "and showed how we could take a picture and it go directly to dotPhoto. We even tried to raise money to make such a device, of course nobody was buying that either.
"Then we realized that those devices were going to come to us, in the form of cell phones. Everybody carries a cell phone, nobody carries a camera."
DotPhoto then developed the Pictavision application to download and view photos from your online dotPhoto albums. In fact, you can access any of the albums hosted at dotPhoto that the owners have made publicly available. "It's a limitless photo wallet," says Paul. "There are over 20 million pictures on dotPhoto, and you can get them all for your phone now."
"The new vision of our company has metamorphosed from printing which we set out to do to begin with. The more you use digital pictures the less you want to print them. You'll always print a few. The way to share these things is going to be electronically."
DotPhoto calls this vision "Digital imaging in every palm."
"In about 1983 you may remember Bill Gates going around saying 'a computer on every desk,'" says Paul, "and even those of us in the business through that's a little ambitions. But certainly it happened. Here 20 years later its looking to us like digital imaging in every palm, which again seems a little ambitious to begin with. But if you think about it there are 120 million people in this country with cell phones already, and cell phones are turning over at 35 percent a year."
"It's just like the early PCs, people want the new features, they want the latest and greatest. By 2005 there will be 200 million cell phones, all with color screens, probably half at least will have cameras. That will bring digital imaging to every palm. We would certainly like to have a piece of that."
With the current Pictavision service, you first choose a photo album, and then select a photo name, and then download the individual photo. The albums and photos are listed by name to speed up the interaction by using text. The download of the final photo takes about 18 seconds. dotPhoto keeps the full-size photo on its servers for printing, and automatically generates the smaller screen-sized images to download to your phone.
Pictavision consistently has been one of the top 10 downloads of all BREW applications on the Verizon Wireless network. Pictavision's service is priced at 99 cents for a single interaction, up to 25 images in a single session, or $3.99 a month for unlimited access. It is currently available for the Motorola T720 and Sharp Z-800 phones, and soon the new Audiovox LGVX4400 and Toshiba 9500.
The next version of the Pictavision service, currently in final testing, adds the ability to save and share your photos. You can save pictures locally on your phone, install an image as the background screensaver, and share photos from your phone by E-mailing them to others. The photo is still stored on the dotPhoto server, so actually you are E-mailing an invitation to the recipient so to download and view it from there.
Pictavision's competitor at the Verizon website, Exego, already allows users to send photos from their cell phone to another cell phone. It costs $6 per month, and the photos must have been uploaded to the website of Raleigh-based Summus Inc.. The full realization of portable photography, however, comes with cell phones that include an integrated digital camera. DotPhoto hopes to introduce its "click and deliver" service this summer to not only to show pictures, but also to capture new pictures right where you are and immediately share them. In this patent pending service, once you approve your photos they will be uploaded to the dotPhoto service, and then automatically processed and shared according to your previously-defined preferences.
"When the pictures come in we can send automatic E-mails, or automatically print them" says Paul, "whatever it is you want us to do with the pictures." This service can be available even if you do not have an Internet account. You can dial an 800 number, set up an account, and have your photos automatically processed in groups. "When the 36th picture comes in," says Paul, "we process them all and send them straight to your mail box."
Blabtones grew out of another service that dotPhoto offers for web photo albums. "We allow you to voice-annotate your pictures," says Paul. "We're still the only site that allows you to do that." You can download a small application to your computer to record a voice-over for your photos, and then upload it to the dotPhoto site to play when visitors view your photos. For businesses, this "talking pictures" technology can turn a static photo album into a more dynamic marketing presentation.
Since dotPhoto already had the infrastructure to record and manage audio clips, it was a small step to allow users to record their own ring tones. The new phones not only have better sound chips to play more interesting audio clips, they also provide the ability to assign individual ring tones to specific callers. "You'll have phones that actually talk to you when they ring," says Paul, "'Come on honey, pick up! It's really me.'" Similarly, you can use distinctive ring tones to identify high-priority and less urgent callers.
Blabtones are scheduled to be available on Verizon Wireless phones that have the Get It Now service and polyphonic sound chips. At launch, it will be available on the Motorola T720 phone. Blabtones are priced like other ring tones, including the 10-tone package for $10.90.
With this ability for anybody to create ring tones, "We hope you'll have the very creative few linking up to the acquisitive many," says Paul. "There may be a couple of thousand people who take advantage of this, and make some outrageously interesting and funny, clever ring tones. The rest of us can then buy them." dotPhoto will make money from delivering the tones to subscriber's phones, Verizon will take its cut, and, for the moment, says Paul, "we'll offer prizes for the top-selling ring tones."
"It's a mechanism that has worked on the Web," says Paul, "to allow people to be creative and see what they come up with."
Having survived the dot-com debacle, dotPhoto is now expanding its services. "We've had many profitable months, and we hope to establish that as a permanent thing." However, access to new capital is still difficult. "We would like to bring in some money to solidify our electronic handling services," says Paul, "which are more profitable and the long term for the industry we think." Paul sees further consolidation coming in the on-line photo industry. "I hope we can be one of the consolidators in the industry," he says. "We can take these larger customer bases that are married to print, which is not very profitable, and overlay our services, and we'll have a good model."
"We can sell pictures and license content," says Paul. "The reselling side could become kind of an eBay of photography. Go to dotPhoto and type in China or Paris and you get a good number of pictures from any part of the world."
"This is our model," says Paul, "creating tools that link people together. You can find any kind of picture you want, you can find any ring tone that you want. We'll allow people to create this stuff and distribute it to everybody else."
dotPhoto - Pictavision
dotPhoto - BlabTones
Verizon Wireless - Get It Now
QUALCOMM / BREW
Yamaha SMAF Audio Format