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HP unveils self-serve photo kiosks, in-store photo-finishing

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Hewlett-Packard Co., looking to expand further into digital photography, plans to supply retailers with kiosks and consoles where consumers can instantly print pictures and create books and calendars with their favorite photos.

The HP Photosmart Studio and HP Photosmart Express systems, announced Thursday, are the company's latest drive to capture more of the digital-imaging market. HP already offers a wide range of cameras, printers, inks and paper and bought the Snapfish online photo service last year.

``We're leveraging our photo-printing leadership in the home to drive down the cost for retailers and to bring consumers more choice than they've ever had in stores,'' said Vyomesh Joshi, executive vice president of HP's Imaging and Printing Group.

The Photosmart Studio has a console from which pictures are transferred and placed into albums, cards, calendars or posters. Projects can be created in about 10 minutes and printed _ and assembled, if necessary _ behind the counter in about an hour.

Larry Lesley, HP's senior vice president of digital photography and entertainment, said the company is helping retailers find ``new revenue streams and reasons to keep the customers coming in.''

HP Photosmart Express is a standalone kiosk where customers can print 4-inch-by-6-inch snapshots within 5 seconds. Shutterbugs also can send photos to a remote kiosk, where friends and family can pick them up by scanning the bar code included with an e-mail.

Palo Alto-based HP said the technology will appear first at select Albertsons grocery stores, Longs Drugs Stores and Bashas' Supermarkets, with wider availability later this year. Joshi hopes it'll eventually be available ``everywhere

The stations are designed to accept payments and will be much more profitable for retailers, said Rich Duncombe, HP's vice president of retail photo solutions.

``This has been designed from the ground up as a system that will operate without intervention or without the need for a store clerk to be attending the system,'' he said.

HP faces competition in the $35 billion retail photo-printing business, with rivals that include Eastman Kodak Co. and Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. Inc. Kodak alone has nearly 75,000 kiosks installed at retail businesses worldwide.

Ron Glaz, an analyst at the research firm IDC, said HP's relatively late entry into the photo-finishing business doesn't mean doors are shut. Retailers, he said, are always looking for new technologies that offer more features and lower costs.

``There's still an opportunity, but it depends on the value proposition that HP brings to the table,'' he said. ``What's better about this than the one I have from Kodak?''

HP says its systems are both more profitable and easier to manage than the competition.

The HP systems use inkjet technology that's found in home photo printers. Because it's more widely used than the dye sublimation process used by retail photo-finishing competitors, the prices of supplies should be more competitive.

HP also claims the ink tanks and the print heads that generate the pictures will last longer than the competition's machines. The systems also can be monitored over a wired or wireless network by HP and the retailer.

Prices range from $15,000 for a Photosmart Express unit to about $50,000 for Photosmart Studio, though the cost varies depending on configuration and the retailer's agreement with HP.
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