Issue: "Iraq: The other caucuses," Jan. 31, 2004

35mm negative

Loyalists of the 35mm camera insist that their mainstay outperforms digital cameras, but they received a big vote of no confidence this month. Analog cameras moved a step closer to extinction when Eastman Kodak announced plans to stop selling reloadable film cameras in North America and Western Europe.

Kodak says that the analog camera line makes less and less money as demand declines, although the company will still make disposable models and fresh rolls of film, even in the old Kodachrome format.

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Last year, 12.5 million digital cameras were sold overall versus 12.1 million film cameras, the Photo Marketing Association reports. The group projects that 15.7 million digital cameras and 10.6 million film cameras will be sold this year, a sign that color analog cameras are slowly becoming a niche market, like that of black-and-white film today. That means one-hour-photo and other mass-market film-processing ventures likely will fade too.

Kodak boasts that it has a vision in which "integrated, omnipresent digital imaging systems" let ordinary people take pictures anywhere they wish. It has invested heavily to develop new inventions from wireless photo kiosks to a networking service for camera phones.

Phone tag

Forget the "brrrrrring, brrrrring" sound of your old corded phone from Ma Bell; mobile phone ring tones are now a global fashion statement. Sales spiked last year to $3.5 billion, according to the Arc Group, a UK-based market-research firm.

The average customer pays about 60 cents each for a short, low-quality audio clip, ranging from public domain sound effects to the James Bond theme, which is installed in the handset. Nokia is best known for ring tone features, although many other manufacturers such as Samsung, Motorola, and Kyocera also let users set their cell phones to music.

As the record industry complains about music piracy, ring tones provide it an unexpected digital revenue stream. Cell phone operators also gain a gimmick (alongside cameras, games, and text messaging) to entice customers to sign up or buy a new phone. As with other mobile trends, ring tones are more popular overseas, although American providers are eager to offer them.

Verizon Wireless, for example, offers a feature called Get It Now in new handsets, which enables ring tones that can be downloaded without using a PC. "Don't go around sounding like everyone else. Stand out from the crowd," it boasts.

Distinctive sounds also help identify one's own ringing cell phone in a crowd of people, and some people are collecting tones like others collect baseball cards.

Bits & Megabytes

A major British study concludes that no significant evidence exists linking cell phone use and cancer risks. Scientists at Britain's National Radiological Protection Board could not find a link between tumors or mutations and the radio signal sent by mobile handsets or base stations. They did call for more research, however, because the technology is so new.

Yahoo resurfaced as an internet megapower, beating MSN and America Online as the internet's top destination. It expects online advertising to soar as high as $8.1 billion this year and plans to capitalize on a buying spree, which includes Inktomi, HotJobs, and AltaVista. The portal also holds a stake in Google, which is rising as a competitor for search engine traffic.

Microsoft still faces federal antitrust accusations, namely that it is not working hard enough to license technology to competitors. Government lawyers claim the software giant's contracts are too complex and potentially too expensive, although it promised to lower prices and make agreements more attractive.

Intel announced plans to ramp up production of its latest Pentium 4 chip, code-named Prescott, which is set for February release. It promises higher speed and better multimedia performance on a smaller wafer that costs less to produce. A sister chip for laptops known as Dothan was delayed due to manufacturing problems.


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