Digital photography, like many nuevo cool multimedia markets, used to belong to Apple Computer Inc. But being there first does not guarantee market dominance.
Or as Tim Bajarin, president of the multimedia consulting company Creative Strategies Inc., put it, "Apple missed the boat on digital photography."
Intel Corp., with its streamlined MMX multimedia technology, has caught the multimedia wave. With the kickoff of its Visual Computing Initiative this past Monday, the Santa Clara, Calif., company signaled its intention to go after markets that Apple had considered its private preserve.
"Intel is becoming more and more active with MMX," said Robert Blumberg, vice president and general manager of Live Picture Inc., which developed much of the technology used in FlashPix, the image file format that will be used in the Intel/Eastman Kodak Co. standard. "They have the right architecture to be dominant in what were traditionally Apple markets."
However, Apple is far from conceding the point. "With their new MMX technology, Intel has raised themselves to a level of [multimedia] performance equivalent to a Power Mac," said Dan Torres, line manager for image capture products at Apple. "This has not, in any way, put them ahead."
Intel and Kodak announced on Monday that they would collaborate to make digital photography a household phrase by standardizing the storing, transmitting, editing and sending of digital images. Intel's foray into this field is based on the strength lent to its processors by the addition of MMX, extensions that speed up processing of many multimedia functions.
Nowadays, with headlines spelling out Apple's financial troubles in bold type, it would be easy to dismiss the Cupertino, Calif., company as outclassed against an opponent the size of Intel. However, some analysts still believe it will be almost impossible to dislodge Apple from its loyal markets.
Creative Strategies' Bajarin estimates that Apple still has more than half the education market, about half the Internet content creation and desktop publishing markets, and almost 80 percent of the CD-ROM content creation markets.
"If Apple starts doing some aggressive pricing strategies and product offerings, they will stand against the Intel tide," he predicted.
In the digital photography fight, while Intel may have leveled the hardware playing field, Apple still claims the lead in ease of use when connecting to peripherals. The company also offers a software API that developers need to make tomorrow's multimedia wonder app.
Apple's Mac OS supports all peripheral equipment connections through a facet of the QuickTime API called QuickTime IC (interconnect), which hides the physical connection from the applications developer.
For Intel and Kodak, the standard that is expected to be released this summer will use Intel's USB (Universal Serial Bus) as the preferred method for connecting a camera to the PC. A USB connection can download a picture in about half the time as Apple's infrared connection, but the infrared connection requires no cables.
Apple is evaluating other types of peripheral connections, including USB, while Intel is not ruling out support for additional connection
Intel and Kodak will include flash memory as part of their specification and will try to push Intel's Flash Miniature Card technology as the standard.
Apple has adopted a wait-and-see attitude. "Intel's standard is only one of three currently used in digital cameras," said Apple's Torres, who expects a shakeout to occur depending on consumer preference.
Yet, many of the technical arguments may fall on consumers' deaf ears--the battle may come down to skirmishes between each company's marketing machine. With Intel thriving off the success of its MMX branding campaign and Apple suffering from an all-time low in self-esteem, this would be one arena where Intel definitely has the advantage.
After all, Intel does not need to stage a comeback -- the status quo will do. If the company can deliver a product good enough to keep its current market share in personal computers, most would consider its multimedia efforts a success.