Saturday, January 30, 2016

It's Splitsville in Rochester

For the second time in a little over a year, one of the kingpins of the imaging and printing business has announced it is splitting into two companies. Unlike HP's separation announced in October 2014 and enacted on November 1, 2015  (see "It's Splitsville in Palo Alto"), I must admit I offer little insight into the Carl Icahn-inspired split announced by Xerox (XRX), now described as the "business services company".  In numerous stories, the company whose name became synonymous with office copiers is now referred to by its long-intended direction of "services first", but that does not change the fact that their legacy hardware business has been deemed "too different" and needs to be a separate entity (of course, the HP split was a little harder to describe in a simple phrase like "hardware and everything else"). 

Friday, January 29, 2016

January Observations - Amazon Dash Replenishment Service for Printer Supplies

During mid-January this year, my attention was captured by a Quartz article titled “Amazon is selling gadgets that can order their own refills”. The story, written by Mike Murphy, and dated January 19, 2016, the same day as Amazon’s official announcement, features a use case based on a printer owner running out of ink at 3am, when a desperate need arises to print a single page from the printer. This situation which would have been avoided had the hapless user had a Brother printer registered in the Amazon Dash Replenishment program, meaning the printer would have pre-emptively taken on the job of ordering supplies soon to be in need of replacement, leading to a happy ending with that much-needed page pleasingly printed.
The original Amazon Dash Button focused on household items
The Amazon Dash Replenishment Service builds on their Dash Button program, launched about a year ago and featuring product categories like cleaning supplies and sports drinks. Amazon has upped the level of automation and added supplies-consuming machines like printers, automated pet feeders, and household appliances like washing machines and coffee makers, which are Internet-connected and “smart enough” to do the ordering “by themselves”.

And despite the focus on Brother in the release and some of the accompanying press, including a Fortune article that leads with a printer from Brother, Samsung is also shown as a member of the program, with their laser printers, and with open API’s (see release), one can expect more to follow.
Samsung laser printers  are also included in the initial group of  Dash Replenishment partners

Two years ago, some suggested the Amazon drone as an ideal ink cartridge delivery vehicle, and like the “Prime Air” story, the Dash Replenishment Service picked up plenty of press coverage
Déjà vu

I got a strong feeling of déjà vu from this story, and the more I thought about it, it was actually multiple cases of feeling “we’ve been here before”. One instance linked in my mind to the “drone discussion” on 60 Minutes and an appearance by Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos near this time two years ago, which immediately resulted in tons of press (and speculation by some in the printing and imaging industry that ink cartridges might be an ideal drone-delivery candidate – talk about desperate to get a page printed!). Amazon Drones arise as a topic to this day (with the company occasionally feeding the flames), proving the real value of it, in my mind, was in its PR value, or what we call in the marketing field “earned media”. I made to comparison then – and being near the Super Bowl, calendar-wise – to the Apple “1984” commercial. Both stories were seemingly irresistible for both the business and general press. Amazon’s Dash Button last year (a bit reminiscent of the Easy Button from Staples) and now the Auto-replenishment angle also hit it big with that broader base of media, going far beyond the tech world – though considerably less sexy and futuristic than the drones. (It turns out the Quartz coverage that first drew my attention was the tip of the iceberg.) Brother printers also enjoyed a share of the lead (lede?) in many pieces – for example, Fortune’s (see screenshot above)

A much more chronologically distant association but one I remember quite well, came from my time working for HP and leading a team looking at the newly emerging Internet, going back 20 years and more, when one of the first ideas to come out of brainstorming on the possible benefits of the Internet on printers was that we could someday have networked-connected printers which could sense supply capacities and then order their own!  And in fact, I included this memory in my almost two-year-old coverage of HP’s Instant Ink program, (see "April Observations - Printers as things? Do printers fit as part of the Internet-of-things?") where I also ran with the idea that their automated ink-fulfillment program was something of a “proof point” for the Internet of Things – a somewhat loftier subject (if not more practical and potentially profitable) than Amazon’s ever-improving logistics system.

A Third Party Perspective

I wanted to get another industry person’s view on the practicality of all this from Amazon, with some comparison to other programs, so I pinged friend and well-known industry observer Larry Jamieson. Jamieson and I go way back, to a relationship first being defined with me on the vendor (HP) side and he on the analyst side at BIS/CAP and then Lyra Research. Later, we became colleagues when I joined Lyra followed by both eventually moving to Photizo Group when Lyra was acquired. Recently we had been corresponding on other matters, so I threw Amazon Dash Replenishment into the mix. Here’s how he sizes it up, leading with a surprise, to me at least, that he is a current HP Instant Ink customer.

“I got Instant Ink because I really did know how much I printed and how much replacement cartridges are. While many consumers complain about the cost and frequency of purchase of ink cartridges, it isn't that critical in their lives. Printers are not high on the list of important items in their lives, especially with electronic documents becoming more commonplace. For consumers and small businesses to buy into these programs, they must reach a new level of trust with the provider. It's one thing to buy a printer and cartridges on a periodic basis, but to share information and allow the supplier to track usage is pretty open. 

The other factor is that the suppliers may tell consumers that the automatic replenishment system will save them money and aggravation (from running out of ink at inopportune times, but the consumers essentially have to do the math to figure out that this service really does provide them benefits and isn't just a plan to extract more money from consumers' pockets.

I don't know much about the Amazon system. Can it be used to replenish with third party cartridges or refills? In HP's case, it essentially locks the consumers in to HP cartridges, but at a cost that is close to third party providers. Why would people buy third party ink or toner if there is very little price difference and consumers are getting OEM reliability? With the Amazon solution, other than getting timely delivery, are there cost benefits for the cartridge costs? 

In both HP and Amazon's cases, the biggest problem is getting the consumers' attention. Right now, consumers need to look specifically for these solutions to buy in, and with printing generally on the decline, it might be an uphill battle.”

In Conclusion

Jamieson’s question on brand-name versus alternative supplies is a good one, with price-sensitivity and supplies an ever-growing consumer concern. (And yes, that previous subject heading is a bit of a play on words!) So it looks like an invitation to an upcoming follow-up post with a perspective directly from HP. And to throw in a question (really an area of questions) of my own, and speaking of consumers, the Amazon is an end-user play at least at its beginning, but how are small businesses and even enterprises envisioned to play in the same or similar programs? Much of the value proposition of both Amazon and HP programs can be traced to a more automated, hands-off approach brought into the mix by Managed Print Services, working its way down-market. How will these new activities work their way up-market?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Impromptu game inspired by Google Photos search abilities

What constitutes a pet? Part of the fun of "Pet or not a pet?" game using Google Photos search
As readers might know I have recently been enamored with Google Photos. It seems like a great place to be my central digital photo repository, and its search capabilities are quite amazing.

Over the holidays I came up with a game to be played with grandchildren - following entering "Pet" as a search term, we took turns declaring whether a given photo depicted something that really was a pet. We found there is quite a bit of ambiguity in that term - see screen shot example above. Cats are clearly pets, wild birds (no matter how poor the photo) are not, but what about plastic flamingos?

And I must admit, the idea was inspired, at least a bit, by the legendary Late Show with David Letterman sketch, "Is This Anything?".

Thursday, December 17, 2015

December Observations: Mopria Alliance Update and The Case for Standards

As we wrap up the year, it seemed timely to check in with the Mopria Alliance, formed in 2013 to promote standards for printing from mobile devices and representing a major landmark in our industry. As I noted at the time of its founding, the alliance was truly unique in bringing together, in the beginning, four industry-leading OEMs who would more typically be slugging it out in the marketplace (Canon, HP, Samsung and Xerox) and since then gone on to gain the support of virtually every printer vendor on Earth. Some of the numbers attained in just over three years are impressive – the alliance now has 25 companies as members, with 16 brands (OEMs) with printers certified, and more than 1,000 models.

As someone who cut his teeth in tech on industry rivalries going back to Macintosh versus Windows and the “PDL wars” between Adobe Postscript and HP PCL, I find my attention in the mobile printing space shifts to the (assumed on my part) rivalry between iOS and Android, and differences there, and the perception (again, mine) that Mopria is all about Android. In addition to offering the following guest post, HP Fellow and VP LaserJet Chief Technologist Phil McCoog, Phil McCoog, one of the key founders of the Mopria alliance, offered perspective. He notes that much Apple’s mobile printing solution shares underlying technologies with Mopria, a fact that can be tracked to the long-term work of the famed cross-industry “Printer Working Group” (PWG). Many of the same parties involved in Mopria today had been cooperating on developing standards in that group for 10 years or more, with Apple representatives chairing the committee during much of that time. So while “fierce rivalries” remain among all the participants in the market and in head-to-head product face-offs, the standards work removes significant cases of the players being “bogged down by unvaluable innovation,” in the words of McCoog.

What follows are more of McCoog's thoughts on standards and their importance for imaging and printing, in the form of a guest post, which I am very honored to include as part of my first “Observations” in its second decade.


“The Case for Standards” Blog Post
By Phillip McCoog

HP Fellow and VP LaserJet Chief Technologist, and a founding leader for the Mopria Alliance
How frustrating was it when you bought that new cell phone, and then had to buy a whole new set of chargers? Or when your new computer uses an operating system version that you’re not used to? It seems like every time you buy a new printer or scanner, there are whole new batches of software downloads required.

Whether it’s a new cell phone or a new coffee maker, we’re all always learning to use a new “thing.” It’s time intensive and, frankly, annoying. And, with more and more internet connected products – Gartner is predicting that the Internet of Things install base will grow to 26 billion units by 2020[1] – these learning curves are only getting greater.

The thing is – product inconsistencies we face each day as consumers could have been solved if, at the right time, the right people had decided to do something about it. How? Through the creation and adoption of an industry standard.

At the most basic level, industry standards can be defined as generally accepted requirements outlined and followed by the members of an industry. Industry standards allow us to connect to the internet, ensure our computers and phones can interact with one another despite their brand, and make sure that – no matter if your TV is made by Samsung or LG – it can still receive and interpret broadcast signals so that you can watch your favorite show at night.

Standards help to drive broad adoption across industries, creating a consistent experience for end users. Therefore, when done right, industry standards can greatly improve the lives of consumers, and allow for a more stable market environment (baseline technology foundation) for industries, which often leads to greater innovation.

Take the example of the bar code, which is today ubiquitously used to encode product and personal data. In the early 1970s supermarkets saw the benefits of easily identifying and checking stock, and developed electronic tracking systems. But only when a common standard was developed did the barcode take off. Today the barcode is no longer only used by supermarkets; it appears on mobile phones, access cards, airline boarding passes and much more.  The common standard was able to focus creativity to generate new and unexpected applications that add value.

Another great example of industry standards done right is the MP3 file. The development of the MP3 allowed music to break free of physical recording devices like CDs and allowed for the development of an entirely new (and consumer-friendly) distribution process for music, and the invention of new technology such as the iPod, ringtones, computer game soundtracks, online radio podcasts and more. 

However, creating an industry standard is a tricky business, and when done too soon (or even worse, too late) they often fail. As stated by the World Standards Cooperation, “Developing the right standards at the right time becomes increasingly difficult…In the case of technologies that require that different components to come together to connect, exchange information efficiently and provide a unified set of services, it is important that standardization happens early.  However, when standardization happens too early, it may impede the innovation process.”[2] When the industry has failed to develop standards on its own, sometimes regulators step in – something that would have been made unnecessary by the success of a voluntarily standard.

For example, a 2009 regulatory action by the European Commission resulted in the specification of a common external power supply (EPS), otherwise known as a charger, for use with data-enabled mobile phones sold in the European Union. Although compliance is voluntary, a majority of the world's largest mobile phone manufacturers have been compelled to make their applicable mobile phones compatible with Europe's common External Power Supply, making everyone’s lives easier.

Another possible outcome of a lack of an early industry standard is intense competition between similar technologies. This process is referred to as a “standards war.” Some well-known examples include VHS vs. Betamax, Explorer vs. Netscape, HD DVD vs. Blu-ray, and the list could go on.

We’ve all felt the pain caused by a lack of standards. New technologies should improve and simplify our lives – not cause additional headaches. The Internet of Things (IoT) for example is one of the next hurdles in technology development that require different manufacturers products and components to work together to connect and exchange information efficiently. For example, companies like Nest are developing internet connected thermostats & smoke detectors for the home that can be controlled via an application on your smart mobile. Currently, this process is great for consumers, as they only have a small number of devices to control. But as the industry grows, and more and more Internet-enabled products are developed, this will change.

Without a set industry standard to tie all of these devices together seamlessly – regardless of brand – users could end up with 100 separate apps to control the 100 different Internet-connected devices in their home. I think we can all agree that is not a sustainable model, and would not encourage consumer adoption or collective industry innovation. There are already several start-ups, big companies and consortiums creating IoT standards with the intention of solving this problem.  The unintended consequence may be yet another standards war.

By contrast, the printing industry is in alignment on standards for mobile printing.  Being able to print from your mobile device to a printer at home and at work is an example of a customer experience that is being simplified with the adoption of standards.  The Mopria Alliance is making it seamless to connect to any certified printer, regardless of brand.

Industry standards benefit everyone – driving efficiency, adoption and – ultimately – industry-wide innovation. Consider how much easier our lives would be if mobile device manufacturers had decided to make a standard charger at the beginning of the mobile age. Let’s push all industries to embrace opportunities to create a more intuitive world.

[1] Gartner, “Forecast: The Internet of Things, Worldwide, 2013,” December 2013
[2] World Standards Cooperation, “Too early…too late,” April 2012

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The "reusable paper" vision - is it finally here?

It was over 20 years ago that a future-looking strategy team at HP, one that I had the pleasure of leading, came up with some "wild cards" that could disrupt the printing and imaging industry (I don't think we were using the "d-word" back then, but found something similar to describe the idea). These one-off's went along with the team's more obvious trend analysis, seeing paper use diminishing over time, with electronic distribution of information growing exponentially into the future. More trendspotting showed device prices following an ongoing downtrend in price/performance.

But the idea of wild cards was attempting to identify events not on a continuum, that may or may not come to pass, and one of those was "reusable paper". This news from the Asian Wall Street Journal indicates that may have arrived, or will by next year when Seiko Epson indicates it will begin taking orders for the PaperLab. With dimensions of "2.6 meters (8.5 ft) in width, 1.8 meters in height and 1.2 meters in depth," according to the @wsjasia and reporter Jun Hongo (@junhungo@wsj), the machine is clearly not home-office ready.

Stay tuned for more developments!

Monday, November 30, 2015

November - 10 Years of Observations

Ten years ago, I started my monthly columns - an unbroken streak of 120 in a row!

In a column I wrote 10 years ago, in December 2005, I noted that by looking back 10 years (i.e. to 1995), we would see a different printing and imaging industry, with countless threats and opportunities in its future that were easily identifiable by 2005 but were cloudy and mysterious, if not outright unknown, in 1995. I would point to a list of “still in the future” organizations and technologies that were either altogether unheard of, or at least yet-to-become-pervasive, including “digital cameras, MFPs or all-in-ones, Yahoo, Amazon, Google, Napster, iTunes, MP3s, blogs, RSS feeds, [and] podcasts.” My point (one of many I tried to convey in that column) was that times change and we can look back at how the world has changed, with hopes that we will see we have taken advantage of the opportunity afforded by some if not all of the changes.

That happened to be my very first column, written shortly after my departure from a 25-year-long career at HP, with most of that time from 1981 to 2005 directly involved with their (our!) printing and imaging business. And now that 10 years have passed since then, let me reflect a bit on my decade “on the other side” as a blogger/analyst, and include a similar list. (Before I do, let me clarify that in 2005 and for a few years following, Jim Lyons Observations (JLO) really was a “column”, a term I associate with content which is part of a regularly published hard-copy periodical, initially - in my case - The Hard Copy Observer. My continued monthly “column” cycle, when the HCO became an online-only publication, continues to this day and into the future.)

So what didn’t we know about in 2005? How about smartphones like the Apple iPhone; tablets like the Apple iPad and Microsoft Surface; Google’s presence as an OS supplier (two if you count Chrome and Android); the Wearables juggernaut, with expensive experiments like Google Glass and - some might argue - the Apple Watch, but also the hugely pervasive, with devices like those from Fitbit; and the entire Social Media onslaught – Facebook and LinkedIn existed in 2005, but barely, and Twitter was yet to make its appearance, to say nothing of Instagram, Snapchat, and others.

More specific to printing and imaging, I put “digital cameras” on the “1995 MIA” list, at least in terms of their relatively minor presence in the overall industry, and while they have grown to dominate in both 2005 and 2015, their form has changed from predominately stand-alone to pervasive as a key component of smartphones. Pagewide inkjet printing was resident in some of the bigger R&D labs, but remained to make its presence felt in a commercialized sense, and “ink in the office” was only a pipe dream. Though the major printer OEMs spent significant energy, or at least verbiage cycles, on terms like “solutions”, “verticals” and “services”, the phrase “Managed Print Services” was a new one and MPS was an unknown acronym in an industry that still loves its acronyms.

Of course, that is just a start. Clearly, the past 10 years have included lots to analyze and write about! On a more personal level, that first column led to me to status as a regular columnist with the Observer, then also as a paid part-time staff writer and eventually Senior Editor with Lyra Research, all before the acquisition of the company by Photizo Group in 2012. It was a major career highlight to become part of the combined companies, though it turned out to be my second stint with Photizo, as I had participated as a part-timer staffer in their formative years, from 2006 to 2009. Leaving there in 2013, I was fortunate to be invited to bring JLO - along with additional duties – to The Imaging Channel where I continue to enjoy their hospitality, with their hosting most of my monthly columns to this day. I am also self-published, via Google’s Blogger, where all my columns from #1 to now #120 can be found.

In conclusion (for now)

I have to come to realize that I am very big on noting anniversaries and the like. I think it comes from having an historian’s bent, and firmly believing that we all learn from looking at what has happened in the past. The payoff, outside of the simple satisfaction of curiosity, is that by understanding the steps we have followed along the way to the present, we gain insight on where our steps into the future will lead.

Over my ten years of Jim Lyons Observations, I have had great hosting sites!

It was a commitment to this idea that got me started on Jim Lyons Observations exactly 10 years ago. And I have been tracking the current end-of-year anniversary for some time, knowing that I would definitely use (this) Monthly Column #120 to reflect and look ahead (while also knowing I didn’t have to worry as far as coming up with a column idea!). As described in the introductory paragraph, the significance is more than a “round number” – I used Column #1 to reflect back on the previous 10 years, using the “time capsule” pretext which was actually true! (Those who have ever seen a work area/desk of mine would attest to the possibility of ten-year-old, untouched information caches existing, especially in the days when hard copy played a more prominent role in information dissemination and storage.)

Looking back on that 10-year-old column, (in addition to seeing a columnist with more and darker hair and beard!) I am proud to know I have hung in there and I am very grateful for all the help, support, collegiality, and the like, from both those on the blogger/analyst/research side which I joined and was given multiple opportunities to grow as one of them, as well as those on the industry side who provided (and continue to provide) so much help in telling their stories.

Looking ahead, I may not be ready to commit to 10 more full years, but I have the energy, enthusiasm, and most important, the ideas(!!!) to keep cranking out, as I say in my masthead, “business and marketing developments in the Printing and Imaging industry, combining [my] many years of experience with an ever-enthusiastic eye on the future!”

And of course I could not have done any of this without you the reader!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Nicely done, Epson - and CTA / CES

In my August 2015 Observations, I raved about the new line of Epson EcoTank printers and how their mega-ink-capacity (aka #SuperTank) would ease real customer pain points, relieving the hassle and mess (as well as expense) of frequent ink-cartridge shopping and swapping. (See "Epson’s EcoTank Printers make a big splash, for good reasons!")

So it should come as no surprise that the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), sponsor of the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), has named one of Epson's new products, the WorkForce ET-4550 to be precise, as a winner of one of their 2016 Innovation awards.

As far as criteria for the award, here is what the release states:
The WorkForce ET-4550 was evaluated based on its engineering, aesthetic and design qualities, intended use/function and user value, how the design and innovation of the product directly compares to other products in the marketplace and unique/novel features present.
Good call CTA / CES, and congratulations Epson America!