Kodak was a big dog in the camera industry in the 20th century, promoting photography for hobbyists while providing innovative camera technology like its popular Instamatic cameras and even creating the world’s first digital camera in 1975. Basically, Kodak could have been the Apple of photography, but somehow down the line, their focus on new and innovative products ceased to be the focus of their attention and it was all down hill from there. Stuck in the mindset of being a “film” company, Kodak failed at keeping up with the times and wasn’t prepared to face the digital age as well as its competitors (who churn out digital cameras what seems like every month).
Apple was once a company in peril, but thanks to many innovations and a constant eye on the future, they’ve become the company everyone else wants to be and can learn from.
Here’s a look at the history of a what used to be a great American company (they’re 133 years old), who had a promising future only to fall behind the times and become a thing of the past.
1888: The name “Kodak” originates eight years after George Eastman begins commercial production of dry plate for photography. It’s also the year that the Kodak camera is marketed with the slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest.”
1892: Eastman Kodak Company of New York is officially formed
1900: Hobby photography is officially within financial reach for many as Kodak releases the first Brownie camera that sells for $1 and uses film that costs 15 cents a roll.
1929: Kodak takes to Hollywood and releases its first motion picture film.
1935: Kodak introduces its Kodachrome film and is the first commercially successful amateur color film.
1951: Kodak releases a new low-priced Brownie 8mm movie camera, followed by the Brownie movie projector the following year.
1962: Kodak’s work force reaches 75,000 and has U.S. consolidated sales that are more than $1 billion for the first time. Things are looking good for the camera company!
The Golden Years
1963: The popular easy-to-use Instamatic cameras with cartridge-loading film are first introduced.
1969: A Kodak camera was used in by US astronauts on the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 to film the lunar soil from only inches away.
1972: Instamatic cameras are so popular that Kodak releases five new pocket-sized ones that use smaller cartridges.
1975: The year that Kodak invents the first digital camera; a pivotal moment in the evolution of film. The prototype is the size of about a toaster and captures black-and-white images at a resolution of 10,000 pixels (.01 megapixels). Kodak executives will sit on this new revolutionary technology scared it will take away sales from its core business of selling films.
1979: Larry Matteson, a Kodak executive, produces a report that predicted the switch from film to digital all by 2010, he was about five years off, but was still pretty spot-on in his predictions.
1984: Kodak enters the video market with their Kodavision Series 2000 8mm video system and introduces Kodak videotape cassettes in 8mm, Beta and VHS formats, along with a line of floppy disks for computers. It seems they’re innovators of their time, providing consumers with at-the-time current technology, but not entirely focusing on the future of their niche industry and paying any attention or focus to what Larry Matteson predicted for the future. They also pass up being the offer to be the main sponsor of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, which the relatively unknown Fujifilm takes and introduced them as a major competitor to Kodak.
The Beginning of the End
Mid-to-Late 1990s: Digital camera sales increase, competitors look to enhancing the digital future of the camera, while Kodak sits back and doesn’t do much. Film is slowly becoming a thing of the past. Kodak also starts to patent much of the technology used in today’s digital and cell phone cameras. They fail to really market to a youth-driven consumer who, as Apple has experienced, can make or break a product.
Early-2000s: With film sales down, Kodak tried to make money in other markets like drugs to chemicals, with mixed success.
2003: Kodak launches its Easyshare printer dock 6000 that prints durable, boarderless 4” x 6” prints. Digital cameras has exploded in the industry and Kodak now faces many competitors. It seems the Easyshare’s easy-to-use concept would be used and perfected by other companies instead of Kodak building upon its success for better and newer products. Instead of trying to create cell phones using their patents, they focus on printers.
2004: Kodak is ejected from the Dow Jones, begins its digital makeover years too late and cuts thousands of jobs and factories. It’s the wake-up call they needed a few years back.
Mid-2000s: Despite Kodak’s transition to rebrand itself, it can’t compete or assimilate into the digital age and create compelling digital cameras for the market.
2010: Kodak sues Apple and Research in Motion, claiming the smartphone makers are infringing its 2001 patent for technology that lets a camera preview low-resolution versions of a moving image while being able to record still images at higher resolutions. Kodak should have used their own technology and developed their own phone and if they did, they might be sitting happily next to Apple on stock charts instead of becoming a long-lost thought in history.
July 2011: Kodak starts to shop around its 1,100 digital-imaging patents to see if anyone will bite.
September 2011: Kodak hires Jones Day, a law firm that lists bankruptcies and restructuring among its stop specialties.
January 2012: Kodak files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. It has 18 months to turn itself around and get back into shape after being given some credit from Citigroup. The future of Kodak is unclear.
Companies, especially those in tech-related industries, can certainly walk away with how not to become obsolete, as Kodak has done.
The biggest lesson to be learned from Kodak’s demise is no matter how big of a company you are, you can never be comfortable in your niche. Companies need to be and stay innovative to stay relevant an in business. Just take a look at Apple who keeps innovating its most popular products into better iterations of themselves. Apple is always working on new projects and looking to release game-changing devise…that it will then perfect with various editions.
In essence, even though Kodak was first at releasing the digital camera, they didn’t follow through with their technology and was left behind. When they didn’t take advantage of what they had, they stopped trying. Unlike them, Apple continues to lead the market because they’re not resting on their laurels and are continuing to think as innovators and leaders.