The home, household goods & services

Market for wet film dries up

During the last boom there was a lot of talk about how the Internet was going to transform or even obliterate whole industries like retail or automotive. Most of these predictions were a little off the mark, but a good example of a business that has been changed out of all recognition is the photographic industry. Earlier this year Konica Minolta – the third largest film manufacturer – pulled out of the wet film business while Nikon announced that it was to stop production of non-digital cameras. Most significantly, Kodak, the world number one, has openly talked about the not-so-slow death of its traditional film business. Sales of film fell by 10% in 2000 and fell by another 30% in 2005. And it’s not just consumer sales that are slipping. Physical prints of movies will soon be a thing of the past as movie theatres download films directly onto digital projectors. Moreover, digital camera users are printing less photos onto paper and emerging markets like China are going straight to digital. So where does this leave Kodak? The answer is probably as a business split evenly between consumer imaging, (digital storytelling), commercial printing and healthcare imaging – most of which put Kodak up against a totally new set of competitors.
Ref: Financial Times (UK) 27 January 2006, ‘It’s a photo finish as Kodak focuses on digital’, A. Yee
Search words: photography, film, Internet, e-business, e-commerce, change

Real time E-paper

Anyone who remembers predictions of the paperless office will be amused to hear that global paper production has increased from 300 million tons in 1995 to approximately 400 million tons in 2004. Of this about 30% is used for advertising (magazines, posters, leaflets etc) so it’s no surprise that companies are interested in the cost savings offered by the removal of the printing and posting of posters and other advertisements. The dream, which is now quite close to reality, is to replace everything from outdoor billboards and instore price tags with e-paper that can be reprogrammed at the touch of a button. Other uses would include reprogrammable newspapers, books, magazines and packaging all of which would utilise super-thin paper-like flexible ‘screens’. Companies like Hitachii, Fuji Xerox, NTT DoCoMo and Plastic Logic are all working on such technologies and it’s predicted that the market for these products will be worth US $900 million by 2008. In terms of the distant future, the possibilities are even more fantastic. Cereal packets and soft drink cans will be able to play short promotional films and magazines and newspapers will carry moving images. Flat surfaces like bus tickets will be transformed into TV screens and the boundaries between items like photo albums and computers will virtually disappear.
Ref: Business Week (US) 21 February 2006, ‘E-paper is ready for its rollout’, K. Hall
Search words: e-paper, printing, paper, ink, e-books, screens

The shape (size and colour) of things to come

Innovative materials like Nylon, Polyester, Gore-Tex and Lyrca have been around for years and there are a plethora of new products in the pipeline to make clothes stain, crease and smell resistant. We’ve got ski-jackets (Burton) with built in MP3 players and running shoes (Adidas) with built-in microchips to monitor footfall. There are even rumoured to be clothes containing built-in fabric conditioner and fragrances. A few of the more recent innovations in Japan include pollen-repellent clothing – built using nanotechnology – for outdoor enthusiasts (for example, from Mizuno Corp and Toray Industries), clothes that change colour to match whatever else your wearing (a research concept at Keio University) and self-cooling trousers from Kuuchoufuku. So what else can we expect to see on catwalks in the future? At the moment ‘wearable technology’ represents less than 1% of the US $180 billion apparel market but it’s set to grow with the introduction of innovations like self-heating shoes, trousers and jackets. There will also be clothing for kids with embedded GPS locational technology, spray on tights and T-shirts (using clouds of unwoven cloth) and clothing with built-in remote controls (to change size and colour). Tthe majority of these ideas won’t actually be seen on catwalks. Like most innovations, they’ll spring up from the street or they’ll come out of fringe sports and activities. They’ll then be refined in places like MITs Media Lab and commercialised by the likes of Nike and Timberland before they end up on special at Wal-Mart and Tesco.
Ref: Forbes (US), 16 March 2006, ‘Fashions of the future’, M. Ejiofor
See also Nikkei Weekly (Japan) 9 January 2006, ‘High-tech shawl shifts color to match wearer’s clothing’, and 6 March 2006, ‘Allergen-repellent fabric coming into its own’ See also Fashioning the Future by Suzanne Lee.
Search words: fashion, materials, clothing, clothes

Toy trends

The two themes that seem to be dominating toy sales at the moment are smart toys and a trend called age-35 marketing. Smart toys are basically toys with computer chips inside. For example, 75% of toys shown at a recent US trade show featured some kind of computer chip or rudimentary form of ‘intelligence’. Age-35 marketing refers to the fact that after the age of about ten most boys (and some girls) want exactly the same ‘toys’ as their parents and grandparents (e.g. mobile phones, iPods and laptops). If this is the case why not average out the ages and treat all three age groups as the same? Another toy trend is the growth of so-called ‘training models’. These are products like the Fisher Price Tough Digital Camera that has binocular style two-eye viewing or the Tek Nek MP3 player. Robots seem to be taking off too with the re-introduction of Lego’s build-it-yourself Mindstorm range. These clever ‘bots feature everything from distance and sound recognition to movement sensors. And for the little girls (and boys) that like horses there’s Hasbro’s My Little (robotic) Pony.
Ref: Trendcentral (US) 24 February 2006, ‘Top three themes from this year’s show’, See also ‘The amazing Amanda’.
Links: For a list of the most popular toys from 4000BC to 2003 AD look at
Search words: toys, toy trends, intelligence, kids, children, presents

A clever idea and a dog of a product

What do you get if you cross a frisbee with a can of dog food? One answer is a fun new product called the SnackShotz Treat Launcher. This is part cool human toy and part food source for dogs. The ‘gun’ fires various flavours on ‘ammunition’ into the air for your dog to chase – meal and exercise rolled into one. The flying treats come in three flavours – beef, chicken and mint – all of which also fight dog breath and dog plaque. And if you think that’s a sign of dog decadence, how about bottled water, for dogs, available in beef, chicken, liver and lamb flavours. A 12-packs costs US $19.99, which is rather more than the US $3 per taxpayer that the US spends on aid to Africa where there are 300 million people without access to clean water.
Ref: Iconoculture (US) 22 March 2006, ‘SnackShotz Treat Launcher shoots airborne treats for Fido to fetch’ See also
Search words: pets, dogs, water