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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 September, 2003, 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK
Disposable digital, one for the bin?

By Maggie Shiels
San Francisco

A digital camera for under a tenner? Only if you don't mind not being able to see the shots you've taken, or delete previous pictures and don't rebel at coughing up more money for prints. Will the disposable digital end up in the ideas bin?

The greatest phenomenon of our disposable lifestyles in the last couple of years is the throwaway film camera. Popular Science Magazine claims 200 million are sold worldwide and that figure is set to rise to 220 million by the end of the year.

It was those sort of mind blowing figures that got a small San Francisco company interested in upping the ante with a digital disposable camera. And now Pure Digital Technologies can boast at being the first to get the product to market.

Pure Digital's marketing director John Lee told BBC News Online: "We looked at a couple of major trends in the consumer photography market and found the digital camera is probably the fastest growing camera segment with over 50% of new cameras sold today. It will be 100% in five years. Clearly digital is winning over film. With one exception, and that's in single use cameras."

See Maggie Shiel's album of disposable digital snaps

Their Dakota Digital Brand is now on sale for $10.99 (7) the same price as many throwaway film versions. Like the film model, the digital camera has to be returned to a participating store for processing, which costs another $10.99 for 25 four-by-six prints. An index or contact sheet and a CD-Rom of the images are included in the price.

For lovers of digital cameras, there is a lot to hate about the Dakota, says Phil Askey, editor of the Digital Photography Website.

"Basically I think it flies in the face of the advantages of digital, those are the ability to see the image you have taken, to reuse the device and storage and to have no cost per shot. You have no choice with this camera than to take it to one of their 'developing stations' to have the images dumped onto a CD and prints made."

Mr Lee says the Pure Digital recognises that the big plus of digital cameras today is the LCD screen and that come November, they'll be selling an updated model that will allow users to see their handiwork. The new version with a tiny screen will however only let you see the last picture and cost just under $20 (13).

This... or a proper digital camera?
At the moment, the Dakota allows you to dump the last image without being able to see it.

As to being unable to download images onto a PC, John Lee counters his critics by claiming the Dakota is aimed at encouraging those afraid of technology to embrace digital.

"Our focus is on really improving the experience for the mass market, who have not tried digital because they haven't come to grips with the complexities of processing images at home. Digital cameras today are expensive and hard to use, unlike the point-and-shoot cameras."

At the same time, Mr Lee says providing a CD of the images means users who are tech savvy can still share their holiday photos or party pics via e-mail.

The success of the Dakota - which the company says offers the same quality as a two-megapixel camera - will be measured by how good a photograph it takes.

Good shots are possible on a Dakota
Some critics say the prints are fuzzy and do a poor job of capturing details such as blades of grass in the background or colour gradients of a face.

In its first couple of weeks on the market, Pure Digital remains coy about sales and production figures saying only that: "The sale of the Dakota is the fastest sku within the single-use category."

The Dakota has only a limited appeal, believes Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a technology consulting company in San Jose.

"It's somewhat questionable that this is a viable product, although it does seem to fill an important gap right now for those people who are computer phobic and have stayed away from computers and digital."

And when it comes to the cost, Mr Bajarin says the ever decreasing cost of digital cameras means its a "no brainer" to buy one of those instead of the throwaway Dakota.

Indeed the latest survey by InfoTrends Research Group shows that by the end of the year digital camera sales will top the 14 million mark. And by 2008, film cameras will practically be history says InfoTrends' Michelle Slaughter.

Is the digital market ripe for a disposable?
"The shift to digital photography will be nearly complete by 2008 due to advancing consumer adoption of a wide range of consumer digital imaging solutions."

At the moment the Dakota is only available in around 100 camera shops in America. The nationwide Walgreens chain is testing it out and later this year Disney will roll out a tailored model at its theme parks.

Europe will have to wait until next year to go digitally disposable.


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