In 1888, the Eastman Kodak Company was launched. They sold inexpensive cameras, film, chemicals and paper. They were focused, and they were doing very well. In 1975, the company developed the first ever digital camera. It was never launched—they didn’t want to cannibalize their film sales. Eventually though, in the early 2000s, Kodak was forced to shift away from traditional film in the face of a rapidly shrinking market. As a result, they developed a bunch of innovative stuff in the digital camera space, like a printer dock for cameras, and by 2005, they led the US in digital camera sales.
Unfortunately, as early as 2001, Kodak was losing money on every camera they sold. Overseas competitors were quickly flooding the shelves, and by 2010, the company commanded only seven percent of the US digital camera market. Going into 2011, Kodak had pivoted their core product strategy to printers, presses and workflow software. By September of 2012, barely a year later, they had already announced their departure from the consumer printing game, one month after announcing their plan to sell off its film, kiosk and commercial scanner divisions. Prior to both announcements, in January of that same year, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
In March of 2014, Kodak signed on a shiny new CEO. By December, the company had announced its entrance into the smartphone market; they launched the IM5, built by Bullitt. Never heard of it? Well, it flopped. Somewhat surprisingly, but somewhat not surprisingly, they’re back at it. Meet the Kodak Ektra; launched last week, it’s their latest spoon into the cell phone sauce (though you’ll read a lot of people telling you it’s their first). It’s $550 and it’s essentially a digital camera—or as the company calls it, a “photography-first smartphone.”
First things first: the device is very very good looking…
As is the “shoot-while-you-carry” case you can buy for an additional cost…
The specs certainly start with a bang. The Kodak Ektra has a 21MP main camera, which is almost twice the resolution of the top tier smartphone cameras currently available. As another point of reference, the Canon EOS 80D is a $1,200 digital SLR, and it’s equipped with 24.1 megapixels.
The front-facing camera is 13.1MP; by comparison, the iPhone 7’s main camera is 12MP. Of course, the thing shoots 4K video, and there’s a “Super8” video app. And what kind of phamera (ya, we just made that up, deal with it) would the Ektra be without a dedicated button to trigger a shot.
Even when you’re working with the 5″ HD display, fingering through Kodak’s custom camera app, it won’t be difficult to spot some UX conventions reminiscent of an SLR:
The stuff under the hood seems pretty strong too: a Helio X-20 Decacore Processor, 3GB of RAM (it comes loaded with some pretty intense editing software, tightly integrated with Snapseed) and 32GB expandable memory.
Does all this action add up to a clunky phone that feels like you’re carrying a camera? Kind of, but not really. It is a few millimeters thicker than the smartphones we’re used to. On the scales, the Ektra weighs 163.8 grams; that’s almost 20% heavier than the iPhone 7, but only about 8% heavier than the Samsung Galaxy S7, and actually about 13% lighter than the iPhone 7 Plus, which for some reason, is the size of a small child.
It may seem silly for Kodak to jump into an already vicious and objectively over-saturated smartphone market. But if you look at the vitals of the digital camera industry, who knows how many in that puddle, or lingering on its shores, will end up under water in the next five to ten years, deck-chairs in hand.
The Ektra is admittedly sexy, and seems to have the technical chops to attract a decent following of pseudo-photo-enthusiasts. That being said, if the concept takes off (likely to the surprise of the incumbents), Kodak may find themselves under another market-pressured identity crisis. Either way, we’re rooting for you, Kodak. At least in your times of desperation, you didn’t hire Lady Gaga.