Kiosks and order entry stations for the digital minilab

Gary Arlen of Dealerscope Magazine said "Imagine an employee who knows your inventory perfectly…works for a flat fee…rarely takes a break. (But when he does, you have to reboot.)"

That's a great description of a Kiosk. What's a kiosk anyway? The word "kiosk" used to have one meaning in the photo industry. 20 years ago it was the little Fotomat or Fox Photo booth in the supermarket parking lot. Inside was a low-paid clerk who would take your photofinishing order for delivery in a day or two, hoping her bladder would last until the end of the shift. (note - the companies always worked out an arrangement so their staffers could use a toilet someplace in the shopping center)

Today's kiosk replaces the employee with a central processing unit that can work 168 hours a week with never a bathroom break. The kiosk adds specialized software, photo-specific peripherals, and a specialized casing.

5 years ago the kiosk was a device with a scanner and a dye sublimation printer, used mostly for print-to-print copies.

Today we use the term most often for an input station intended to take orders from digital camera memory cards. Many kiosks still send their output to a dye sub printer or a series of such printers; others send output to a digitally-enabled minilab. Some give a choice.

While the Kodak Picture Maker and all its variants are the most popular brand of kiosk, everybody else has gotten into the act. The one shown to the left was designed to bring back the image of the old Fotomat booth in the parking lot; it seems to have died in the market place.

Some kiosks have bulky furniture and are free standing, while others look more like a small computer.

No matter what the configuration, they are all designed to make it easy for customers to order photos from their digital cameras. Lucidiom calls their series of kiosk APM - Automated Picture Machines - drawing a parallel with the popular banking ATMs.

Whether big or small, most feature the same components:

  • A computer central processing unit

  • An LCD monitor, usually with a touch screen

  • Input slots for all the most popular memory cards

  • Colorful graphics to attract the customer and give him/her basic operation instructions

  • Specialized software to make it all work

Who makes turnkey kiosk solutions? Practically everybody! Go to a PMA trade show and you'll find it's about the busiest product category of all. Here are some of the players:

  • Agfa

  • Fuji

  • Kodak

  • Konica

  • Lucidiom

  • Noritsu

  • Photo Ditto

  • Pixel Magic

  • Silverwire

  • Whitech

In 2004 I surveyed photo labs and dealers and asked one simple question:

If you could have only one - either the in-store kiosk or online photofinishing - which is more important/essential to you? 

The overwhelming response was that the kiosk resulted in far more business.

Before getting a kiosk, our usual work flow consisted of a customer handing us the memory card or a CD and a hand-scrawled list of what they wanted: picture 1, 1 copy. Picture 7, 3 copies. And so forth. It wasn’t very efficient, and often the true file name of picture #1 was IMG0017.jpg. We did a lot of remakes, and we had some customers claim that we had lost or damaged their memory card. Sometimes it was true. We often had to let customers come right into the lab area and stand in front of our Konica QD-21 while we did their order.

We changed our system. We used a computer at the front counter as an input station. With a multi-card reader, we would select the images they wanted and copy them to a folder named Smith88432 if their last name was Smith and the bag number was 88432. Then we’d give them back their memory card. The tough part was recording the quantities wanted of each image, if the order wasn’t just for one of each. And the Windows viewing software didn’t show a large file. It was only temporary expedient. 

It was time to get serious - next chapter