New England’s Vizit Turns the Digital Photo Frame from a Dumb Display into a Sophisticated Media Hub

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send instructions back, meaning you can do things like sharing your favorite photos with friends or relatives and ordering prints right from the frame’s screen.

In fact, Vizit is close to being a full-fledged tablet computer—albeit one that’s dedicated to handling photos. It’s got a 532-megahertz ARM 11 processor inside, running the Linux operating system and Adobe’s Flash Lite runtime environment, the same media-management system running on many newer mobile Internet devices, such as the Chumby Internet radio.

But all this power shouldn’t scare off the non-computer-literate. The controls are simple enough that owners, grandmothers included, will be able to manage all the device’s functions with ease—and without ever going to the accompanying website. (Though the website does account for much of the device’s power—more on that below.)

I got the whole story behind Vizit from Isabella founder and CEO Growney, who is also the founder of Concord, MA-based private equity firm Rudyard Partners and was formerly the managing director of Motorola Ventures, the venture capital arm of the electronics giant.

The general inspiration behind Isabella Products, Growney says, came from one market observation and one personal experience. The market observation was that the ubiquity of digital cameras and camera phones means that consumers have stored up between 70 billion and 100 billion digital photos, fewer than 1 in 10 of which are ever shared (although Facebook users upload some 14 million photos every day, making the online social network the world’s largest photo-sharing site). The personal experience? “My mother didn’t feel like a grandmother because she couldn’t ever see her grandchildren, living in Chicago,” says Growney, with tongue in cheek. “Her solution was to come and live with us for months at a time. I said, ‘We can solve this problem with technology.'”

The Vizit FrameGrowney says digital communication today is as much about frequency as it is about substance. Which meant that the company wanted to make it extremely easy to get new photos into any digital frame. To make that possible—and to sidestep the main problem with memory-card-based frames, which is that most people never get around to putting new photos on the cards—-Isabella built a cellular card into the Vizit. The company isn’t saying yet which cellular operator the device connects to, but Growney says it’s a GSM/GPRS-based network that reaches all major U.S. metropolitan areas. Reading between the lines, that probably means AT&T.

[Update, 11/5/09: Isabella Products confirmed in a press release today that it’s working with AT&T to deliver photos to the Vizit frame wirelessly.]

The device connects wirelessly to Isabella’s online content management system many times a day to see whether new pictures are available. That system, at, is another part of the gadget’s beauty. While the frame itself holds only 150 photos, the website can hold thousands. Adding new photos into the rotation is as easy as … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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8 responses to “New England’s Vizit Turns the Digital Photo Frame from a Dumb Display into a Sophisticated Media Hub”

  1. bowerbird says:

    a $250 “media hub” that cannot access the web?

    oh yeah, that’s a good idea. a really good idea…


  2. Wade Roush says:

    Bowerbird, the device does access the Web, in a sense — it gets new photos from the VizitMe Web service, which in turn connects to other photo sharing sites. In any case, I don’t think you’d really want to surf the open Web over a cellular modem, and Isabella’s pricing model wouldn’t cover the expense. I see the Vizit as being similar to other dedicated wireless devices like the Kindle — which is $299, and does have a rudimentary Web browser, but is designed for reading books, just as Vizit is designed for viewing photos.

  3. Indy Will says:

    A 10.2 inch screen is a mighty big screen for sure. But once you account for the size of the actual frame around the larger screen and considering how a consumer “typically” uses a frame, the Vizit frame might be too big for a typical book-shelf, night-stand, end-table or desk. I think this why MOST frames, sold by many different manufacturers,tend to be the smaller 7 or 8 inch screen size.

    Your critique of the image quality is not quite right. A larger frame NEEDS more pixels to create the image quality equal to a smaller frame with less pixels. I would HOPE Vizit understood this! So your point that the image “quality” is better is misleading and really an unfair statement.

    Finally, a touch screen might seem like a cool feature at first, but it is a nightmare to keep clean. How do I know? Well my personal frame is a touch screen and now that I have owned it for awhile I wish that I had a remote to operate it instead.


  4. Nokama says:

    ““My mother didn’t feel like a grandmother because she couldn’t ever see her grandchildren, living in Chicago,” says Growney. “Her solution was to come and live with us for months at a time. I said, ‘We can solve this problem with technology.’”

    I can only hope this quote was taken out of context, because if that isn’t a sad commentary on our society today, I don’t know what is. Replace a face-to-face interaction with a close family member with yet another screen!?? I can’t believe that this is how somebody thinks.

  5. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    Geez, everyones’s so negative today!

    I guess the irony in Growney’s comment didn’t come through. I’ve added a phrase to the story to make it clear that the grandmother quote was tongue-in-cheek. My impression from meeting with Isabella Products is that they care deeply about increasing human communication. The great thing about digital media devices, obviously, is that they make it so much easier to stay in touch with the people you care about, even when you can’t be in the same place with them.

  6. TD says:

    HP’s doing this too! And seemingly a whole lot better: Check out the DreamScreen.

  7. Red Velvet says:

    It already appears that Vizit is way better than the HP ScreamScreen. See today’s review on two other frames that look far inferior to Vizit.