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Mobile photo albums, the rage!
Aparna Krishnakumar in New Delhi
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August 10, 2005

In July 2004, the Swaminathans in Mumbai were elated to hear that they had become grandparents. Since their daughter was settled in the United States, they were expecting a month-long wait before they could see the baby's pictures.

To their pleasant surprise, their daughter sent them an e-mail link to Yahoo Photos which enabled them to see the baby within two days. Since then, the proud grandparents have been watching the baby grow through the e-link.

Like the Swaminathans' daughter in the US, 19-year-old Tushar Shah in India has also created his own private album on Airtel's Web site. Shah, an aspiring mobile photographer, clicks away with his 6670 Nokia phone and sends his pictures to the album.

With the increasing penetration of digital cameras and camera phones, mobile operators and Web site owners are beginning to take note of the growing phenomenon -- that of storing photographs online.

Says Pearl Uppal, sales director, Yahoo India: "We have 15 million users who access the Yahoo Photos site every month and e-photos is fast emerging as the fastest way to access, view and share pictures around the world." A Yahoo study shows that one million Yahoo India users use Yahoo Photos every month.

Quick to cash in on the need to store pictures, Airtel launched its service -- My Album -- for its subscribers in May this year. It enables customers to create their personal photo albums online, thereby offering them the facility to access and download Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) pictures with ease and share them with anyone, anywhere in the world.

Airtel's service provides storage facility for more than 35,000 images. It is a free service for all its customers across the country.

Jayant Khosla, chief executive officer of the Mumbai Circle of Bharti Tele Ventures (that owns the Airtel brand), believes that the market is set to explode. And he may not be exaggerating.

Sample some numbers. According to IDC India, a market research and consultancy firm, the Indian digital still camera market experienced a 114 per cent growth in unit terms during 2004. By 2007, the digital camera market in the country is expected to touch 900,000 units.

In value terms, it's a 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) market currently but slated to grow to Rs 600 crore (Rs 6 billion) in two years. Digital camera's advantage is that it doesn't require a film. It stores images on a memory chip and the pictures can be edited and transferred electronically.

Complementing the digital camera growth is the growing number of camera phones. Phone manufacturers like Nokia, Samsung and LG have been flooding the market with new models. Airtel's Khosla believes that the future belongs to "M(obile) Photos, especially with prices of camera phones falling below Rs 10,000.

Mobile operators say that the increasing popularity of digital photographs is driving the growth of online photo portals.

Says Yahoo's Uppal: "Since digital and mobile cameras allow users to click as many pictures as they want without worrying about rolls, users might not want to print all the frames. At such times, having them online is a better option." And the value of online storage has been recognised globally as well.

Last year, search engine giant Google acquired Picasa -- a digital photo management company. Picasa enables easy management and sharing of digital photographs. The pictures can also be edited. Camera manufacturer Kodak also has Easy Share Gallery while a host of independent Web sites are offering users space to store their pictures.

For the time being, majority of the online photo storage facilities are free. According to Uppal, this is because people are still not using the Net in great numbers for storing pictures.

The idea now is to make online photo albums as popular as a messenger, a search engine or a shopping Web site among Internet users.

The free service, however, has attracted a host of product manufacturers keen to advertise on the site. It doesn't take rocket science to understand that users of online photos are potential buyers of products like digital cameras, printers and the works. Small wonder then that Yahoo Photos, has also got advertisers such as Canon, Kodak and Hewlett Packard.

For mobile operator like Airtel, it is another application that enhances the brand's value as a 360-degree service provider. And the services are just getting better. The photo Web sites try to make the experience rewarding.

They offer features like spicing up your albums with background pictures and captions. There's also insurance against misuse of pictures because all photo Web sites offer the option to set the privacy filters. This means that unless you invite someone to view your pictures, they cannot do so on their own.

Come August and Yahoo India will unveil its new service -- Yahoo Photomail. One problem that is associated with any photo attachments is that the mail tends to get bulky and hence results in slow delivery. Yahoo Photomail eliminates just that. On Yahoo Photomail all one has to do is to drag the picture that creates thumbnails of them. The mails aren't bulky anymore.

It may be a while before online photo albums become the norm in India, as we are still used to the hard copies of pictures (other issues being low PC penetration), but at least there's an alternative to the grim-faced salesman at the photo studio. So just click, upload and share.

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