Wednesday, June 22, 2016

June 2016 Observations - Printer industry woes on display in retail

A recent paper purchase included a "Free App" offer
As I read about the decline in HP Inc's ($HPQ) share price in today's stock market, and the reasons behind it (see "HP Hits a Jam with Printers"), I immediately thought of some anecdotal data I gathered earlier this week. In the proud marketing research traditions of "the focus group of one" and "the last customer I talked to", let me explore what could be going on behind these observations.

I found myself in an Office Depot ($ODP) for the first time in a long time, and in addition to looking for another supply item (whiteboard markers), I needed to buy a ream or two of printer paper. This was my first paper purchase in quite some time - I am guessing at least a year - and our multiple home and office printers were all in need of paper reloads.

Teased on the front, the back of the paper package has details.
I was a bit surprised by the pricing, having remembered basic copier/printer paper typically at under $5 a ream, sometimes well under, but I finally found a deal on Hammermill (brand name - nice!) at $10 for two. (Though $6.99 for one - I hate that!) So I grabbed my two reams, along with the markers, paid at the front and exited, with the courteous checker reminding me that my receipt included a coupon to be used on my next visit, for "25% off (selected) printer ink products, when buying two or more," or something like that. Again, these complicated and restrictive offers annoy me!

Getting the paper back home (actually on the front seat of the car while driving back home), I noticed details on the packaging that I found fascinating. Both the front (teaser) and the back (details) touted a Hammermill smartphone printing app, named "Print Hammermill".  Offering basic mobile printing functionality, their app seems to do what many others have already provided, but at least I like their three customer-need-based scenarios, from home, work, and school.

As a blogger/analyst following the development of mobile printing from the beginning (see April, 2008, "iPhone Printing Revisited", for example), at one time I probably would have been thrilled to see this, as further validation of an important imaging and printing trend. "It's not just printer OEMs and a handful of mobile apps startups..." - I can see the opening line of my post now, in 2010 or 2012, maybe. In mid-2016, it now seems unnecessary and even somewhat desperate.

While supplies last! "Valid through 12/31/2015" says something, too. 

What I found more than a little strange however, but again keeping with grand marketing traditions, was the limited-time "offer" that the app could be downloaded free, from both Apple's App Store and the Google Play equivalent, for iOS and Android mobile devices, respectively. The tease on the front dared to declare a "$12.95 Value", only continuing, per the details in fine print on the back, "until 12/31/15", or "while supplies last". And just how are supplies exhausted with a downloadable software app? I am not sure.

Supplies must have lasted! App store screenshot from June 2016 shows the free app - newly revised - still available.

I had a few further take-aways, as well. While no "fresh-until date" applies to copier/printer paper, the fact that the expiration date of the offer is six months past tells me that paper - like other printer supplies - is just not moving like it used to, at least through the Office Products channel represented by one Office Depot in Boise. And the continuing presence of the app, with a new version as of May and still free on the Apple App Store (see above), is a good sign. However, the web address offered on the packaging is a dead end, at least when I try it today, so the enthusiasm by International Paper (supplier of Hammermill) is a bit of a mixed bag, at least as seen by this observer.

And before I get too snarky about the app itself, the App Store reviews going along with the 10 ratings for the new version were glowing. The "all versions" screen shows a 5-star average for 498 ratings, with a sampling of the reviews (not unexpectedly) very positive as well.

And the final question - have I tried it? Not yet - seems I just don't print that much...

NOTE - Last Observations I promised a further look at spin-off technologies from HP's printer unit. That topic will be covered in my July Observations.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

HP and Shutterfly announce largest Indigo deal ever - partners for over 15 (or almost 10) years?

During the quadrennial Drupa Commercial Printing conference, continuing through June 10, many deals and partnerships are announced. HP has featured some of this year's big ones, including what its press release bills as its largest Indigo press deal ever, with Shutterfly's leasing of "25 new HP Indigo 12000 Digital
Presses, marking the largest customer installation in HP Indigo history."

HP has a Shutterfly "success story" on its website, with a PDF dating back to 2005, recounting the company's history with HP Indigo presses. And per Cary Sherburne's recent account of the deal at "What They Think", HP/Indigo's Alon Bar-Shany is quoted as saying that Shutterfly has been an "Indigo customer for more than 15 years", which would go back to before HP's 2002 acquisition of the Israel-based firm. All that makes sense to me, having been around as an insider leading up to and following the aforementioned acquisition.

I was also around for the rather awkward discussions between Shutterfly and HP, when another acquisition occurred. It was the deal, also in 2005, in which HP bought Snapfish, a leading Shutterfly competitor. That came much nearer to my exit as an HP employee, but I was around to witness some tense interactions between the companies, with Shutterfly challenging HP judgement and intention in buying their leading customer's (Shutterly's) fiercest foe.

Could it be 15 years as a customer but only a collaborator for "better part of a decade"?
Things were clearly resolved over time, and HP dumped Snapfish last year in an anti-climatic deal. (See "HP sells Snapfish - cites 'focus'".) But maybe there's an explanation here, for why in this month's release, Shutterfly exec Dwayne Black cites collaboration spanning the better part of a decade!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May 2016 Observations - Time names HP Deskjet as 35th "Most Influential Gadget"

Even from remote locations with sketchy Internet, I did my best to keep up with the news
Having been traveling for the majority of May and the latter half of April, it’s interesting to note what makes it through to get my attention. I had multiple “off the grid” stretches spanning a few days each, and was out of the country much of the time, but still managed to stay aware of at least some of the big and small news stories of the day. (Of course, I may never know the ones I missed!)
Time's list found me out of the country and (mostly) off the grid

One item that peeked through the haze for me was the May 3rd publication of Time’s “The 50 Most Influential Gadgets of all Time” (no pun intended, I am sure.). I got the tweet about Apple’s iPhone at the top of the list at Number One, but couldn’t wait to get to the entire list when my internet access improved, which it did a few days later. And, lo and behold, I found a printer on the list of 50!  While my first reaction (and personal bias) was an expectation of seeing the HP LaserJet as one of the most successful gadgets of all time, it was the HP Deskjet printer that made it, at Number 35. Time’s writers included an interesting blurb to go with the ranking, and one that in the end I couldn’t disagree with.

The HP Deskjet managed a spot in between the Palm Pilot and Nokia 3210 phone on Time's list

Notice I expressed my thoughts of “most successful gadgets”? It was natural, but incorrect, to make that mental switch to “successful” from “influential” as I did back then and carried through in recalling my thinking. Keeping in mind the article’s sub-head, “The tech that forever changed the way we live, work, and play,” Deskjet got its due in Time’s list of influential gadgets, as being the replacement for noisy, low-print-quality dot-matrix printers in hundreds of millions of homes. And while I could quibble with Time's reporting on the exact details of dates and prices, the decade when it launched (the 1980s, which they got right) was a long time ago, and to say the Deskjet and its inkjet printer relations are venerable would be quite an understatement. Time concludes their paragraph quite profoundly (though perhaps a bit quick to write off printing altogether), as follows:
“Even in an increasingly paper-less world, the inkjet’s technology lives on in 3-D printers, which are fundamentally the same devices, only extruding molten plastic instead of dye.”
Which leads to another story from the month of May (and another I had to catch up on following another trip) – HP made good (at least filled in many more details) with respect to its 3D Printing efforts. While far from a “gadget” (Wired saw fit to call it a “contraption” in their coverage), HP’s Jet Fusion 3D is a $130,000 machine aimed at industry, with initial partners like BMW, Johnson and Johnson, and Nike. But I will postpone more on the latest on the 3D printing topic for future Observations.

One other aspect of the Deskjet, beyond the technology, that could have been included as extremely influential? That would be the “razors and blades” business model that really started with the Deskjet, and that HP has driven home for decades. The LaserJet side, partly as a result of sharing the business with Canon, has never quite arrived at full implementation of this model. But as far as the inkjet business, where HP has all the dials and knobs under its sole control, the model continues to dominate to this day – an example is the $20 Deskjet 3633 all-in-one (including scan and copy along with printing) that appeared in Cnet’s Cheapskate blog just last week.

Beyond Printers

That’s not to say I was only looking for printers when I found my source. I was fascinated that the list (sorted in descending order, i.e. Z->A, for those Excel-happy folks) included other products I have used -- and in some cases have a real soft spot for. Right there at Number 50 is Google Glass, and as a Glass Explorer going back to 2013, it's a more complicated mix of emotions that I feel on this one, though I can attest that Glass was a bold experiment that got people talking and thinking, even if it was not a commercially successful product in its own right, and least in its first iteration.

More nods of appreciation came from me seeing Nest (Number 44), the Osborne 1 (preceding at 43), Palm Pilot (right behind Deskjet at 36), Tivo (29), Amazon Kindle (28), and those are only a few highlights from the second 25 of the top 50, please keep in mind. The full list is a trip down memory lane that should not be missed!

A proud ancestor

So was I happy it was Deskjet and not LaserJet make the list? Laser printing elitists might hide behind an excuse following the theme that the HP LaserJet (like the aforementioned 3D printer) is far from a “gadget”. And it could be argued that LaserJet printers and MFPs are communications tools critical to automating and thus transforming the modern office and its workflows, gadget or not. But I won’t take that road. I think the choice was the right one, particularly with the pedigree of the company’s current 3D Printing effort leading back to this seemingly humble technological ancestor. And returning to that “Influential” in the title of Time’s list, it’s appropriate for the first extremely popular inkjet printer from HP to be on the list. Next month, we’ll see there is more than 3D printing that can be found on the Deskjet family tree.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

HPQ Earnings Tomorrow - Forecasting IPG Revenues of $5.3 Billion

My Excel 2013 spreadsheet is forecasting $5.3 Billion for Q2, FY16

As a long-time "quant" going back to my undergraduate days at University of Oregon, I have loved taking the opportunity for "retooling" a bit over the last several years, with the latest in statistical theory and tools via the MOOC revolution. My current challenge (the second in a series of three in an "XSeries") is from edX and Delft University of Technology, and titled "Data Analysis: Visualization and Dashboard Design".

The most recent assignment fits just perfectly with tomorrow's HP earnings announcement. Taking the 10 years of quarterly data I have compiled since beginning my second career, I entered IPG (Printing and Imaging) quarterly revenues (in billions), and let Excel 2013 plot a trendline and make a forecast based on a simple linear model. (Compared to undergraduate days, it couldn't be more simple!) 

Before tomorrow's announcement, I wanted to share the model's purely technical, simplistic forecast of a $5.3 revenue quarter for HP Inc.'s printing unit. From eye-balling the data and their seemingly increasing negative momentum, one might judge this forecast to be a bit high. We shall see tomorrow after the market close - stay tuned!


The actual results announced on the 25th fell short of the forecast as I had anticipated. The Q2 2016 revenue number was $4.6 Billion, per HP.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

April 2016 Observations - My Invisible Upgrades

The times have been exciting for me lately, at least in terms of the geek side of my life. For the first time in nearly two-and-a-half years, I have recently upgraded my Apple iPhone, and after reconfiguring offices about a year-and-a-half ago, I have swapped out my main “desktop” PC, which I had already owned for a while but was moved up to the starting rotation in late 2014. While these and similar exchanges seem to always turn out to be more work than initially planned, and usually leave one with a lingering, haunted feeling of “what have I forgotten that will now be lost forever?”, these two nearly completed upgrades have been remarkably smooth, and similar in one particular way - they are both relatively “invisible”.

I realized after a day or two that the “Invisible” in my description has to be traced in part to my sub-conscious recall of a nearly 20-year-old but still well-known technology/industrial design book named “The Invisible Computer”. Its author is Donald A. Norman, a prolific writer and opinion leader in the area of technology product design and user experience. Norman made a brief career stop at HP during the late 90s* when I was fortunate enough to get to know him a bit. While one of his other titles, “The Design of Everyday Things”, is better known and more highly rated, Norman’s ideas on “Invisibility” are surely the subliminal inspiration contributing to the favorable assessment of my recent experiences. A list of Norman’s quotes from the book include, among others, 
“As the technology matures, it becomes less and less relevant. The technology is taken for granted. Now, new customers enter the marketplace, customers who are not captivated by technology, but who instead want reliability, convenience, no fuss or bother, and low cost.” – Chapter 10, The Invisible Computer, Donald A Norman.

Invisible Upgrade #1 – Apple iPhone SE

One old, one new - which is which?
Apple’s “next big thing” announcement in March of this year may have fallen flat in some quarters, but it got my attention. Anticipating the event, now that I am an Apple Watch wearer, I was interested in what might follow a year after its initial launch. But in reality, my curiosity had been piquing more at the media anticipation that Apple would unveil a new, smaller phone, which seemed fascinating if only in the fact that it seemed so contrary to the bigger-screen trend of the past few years.

Sure enough, the SE confirmed that rumor, and photos showed it looked just like the trusty iPhone 5s I have used faithfully since the end of 2013. In 2015, I had actually initiated an upgrade to one of Apple’s larger form-factor phones (6+) but returned it only a day later, not liking the larger size and really the whole feel, and concluding I was still a happy, satisfied member of the iPhone 5s installed base!

The March announcement described the iPhone SE, as smaller than their recent phones but exactly the same size as the 5s. The idea of my favored form factor combined with the latest performance and features, at least the majority of those features, got me to make the move. As Walt Mossberg summarizes (a bit in defense of Apple and the criticism by many of an offering deemed less-than-spectacular), “The idea, of course, was to make it irresistible for the diehards to upgrade.” If that makes me a diehard, so be it – Mossberg hit the nail on the head, and I couldn’t resist. I am now a couple of weeks in, I love it, and the upgrade has been so “invisible” that the new one even fits into my old 5s case!

Invisible Upgrade #2 -- Desktop Replacement Computer

I am not as far along with the upgrade taking place on my desktop, with my previous “Desktop Replacement” computer being replaced by a newer “Desktop Replacement”. This category is characterized by Windows-based computers (at least that’s all I could find when searching), that look like laptops, but are big and powerful enough to replace traditional desktop computers, which are typically in a tower form factor of some sort. Along with the “big and powerful” comes a laptop (in some places even dubbed a “notebook”) that is really more than I would ever want to carry around or travel with.

Old (background), new (foreground) - spitting images?
The old one has worked for me for quite some time, but the strain has been showing, so a good deal on an HP Envy moved me to make the change. Little did I realize when I ordered it, though five years newer than its predecessor, that it would appear physically nearly identical, even when taking into account one of the big features I have been looking forward to having – my first desktop with a touchscreen. Inside, the numbers are all up, in some cases way up, in terms of internal memory, disk storage, and CPU power. But with both running Windows 10 (the old one was upgraded last summer), I look forward to a smooth finish to this upgrade too, and like with the new iPhone, I relish having fewer sluggish moments and enjoying more overall “headroom” leading to increased personal productivity.

So what does it all mean for printers, the focal point for many of my Observations? Can the industry expect to prosper selling new printers and MFPs to the installed base, focusing on the new hardware’s improved speeds and feeds? When individual and group productivity can be improved, the argument can still be made – I am an example. The more physical similarity, the better. I think it’s a bit like the old saying about what makes a good haircut, something like “the best haircut is one that makes it look like you haven’t had a haircut.”
And that “Desktop Replacement” category I have accepted and taken for granted for so many years? The more I think about it, I realize it’s like a product concept we kicked around at HP years ago, for a new laser printer, the “dot matrix replacement”. It was one of those where we on the internal team all knew what it meant, but as far as providing insight, guidance and inspiration on our next product’s ability to meet customer needs, it was meaningless. More on this topic coming!
Norman, D. A. (1998). The invisible computer: Why good products can fail, the personal computer is so complex, and information appliances are the solution. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
*I know that many of my readers are current or former HP employees, as I was for 25 years, leaving in 2005. (With my second career as a blogger/analyst covering the printing and imaging industry, I have covered HP so much that it sometimes seems like I have extended that 25 an additional 10+ years.) So for those readers in mind, I am including this from my research for this post, as an appendix of sorts. My hope is that some will appreciate, as much as I did, Norman’s amazingly frank assessment of his stop as an executive for HP, back when I got to know him a bit. This is straight from his LinkedIn profile, regarding his time with HP (1997-1998).
“Spent a frustrating year with the mission to establish new products in the "information appliance" arena. Such a nice company, but nobody was empowered to do anything. and the one project I got engaged in was a complete disaster: enough to populate a comic novel. I finally quit out of boredom. HP was such a nice company that they wouldn't let me quit: it took me week to convince them to let me go. Today, HP is doing much of what I hoped to do then. But then, it was independent fiefdoms (divisions), none of which had sufficient resources to do new, bold ventures. Today, HP is structured very differently. Then it was a dull, dead company. Today is appears (from the outside), to be vibrant and thriving. (My friends tell me that the old culture still exists, still resentful of the changes. Culture is hard to change -- but HP looks like it might make it.)”

Thursday, April 07, 2016

3D Systems $DDD Reseller delighted with choice of Vyomesh Joshi (VJ) as new CEO

Retired HP ($HPQ) printer chief Vyomesh Joshi was back in the business news this week, being named CEO of 3D Systems ($DDD), a long-time leader in the field of 3D Printing. And at least one 3D Systems reseller could not be happier with the choice.

A little over a year ago, I profiled Intermountain 3D, a Boise-based business (see "February 2015 Observations - HP Alums Take On 3D Printing World") that includes among their portfolio of activities, being a 3D Systems reseller, and actually "the" 3D Systems reseller for the surrounding three-state area. In a bit of an HP "old home week" I asked their CEO for a comment on the new 3D Systems CEO, all of us sharing many years in the printer business at HP.

VJ would be a strong leader for any company, but the high-tech R&D and marketing knowledge he brings to 3D Systems are truly outstanding assets. We can’t imagine a better choice.
-- Lynn Hoffmann, CEO Intermountain 3D, authorized 3D Systems reseller for the intermountain west

After leaving HP in 2012, VJ had been keeping a fairly low profile, but per a Recode interview by Ina Fried (@InaFried) this week, he has been keeping his hands in the tech world. Per Fried's interview/profile, "Joshi said the past four years he has spent advising startups and serving on various boards will come in handy in the new role." Going on the quote VJ about priorities in the new job, "We have to look at our services approach to B2B (business-to-business) and make sure we excel there,” Joshi said. “That’s the work we will be doing.” And that emphasis is no doubt a big reason for Hoffmann's enthusiasm.

Potential Frenemies?
And back to the "old home week" of HP alums, and an interesting twist? One HP veteran who remains with the company is Stephen Nigro, who some would characterize as a VJ protege. In what was far from the first time for Nigro to follow along after a Joshi organizational move, Nigro became HP's overall printer chief in VJ's absence, reporting to now-CEO of HP, Inc., Dion Weisler. But in mid-2015 (before the company split last Fall - see "Revisiting Splitsville"), Nigro was named president of a new division, HP's "3D Printing Business". The industry continues to anticipate HP's very big shoe dropping and for now it seems Joshi and Nigro are poised to be fierce rivals - or will it be as potential partners?

Friday, April 01, 2016

State of the Apple Watch - Inspired by USAToday's Ed Baig - I would buy one again too!

The "gold standard" in marketing research questions for assessing customer satisfaction has long been something along the lines of "would you recommend to a friend". But I think in the case of the year-old Apple Watch, the question (see above) posed by USAToday's Ed Baig is even more relevant. His March 20th "op-ed" asked, "Would I still buy an Apple Watch?".

Buy again or recommend to a friend - key gauges of customer satisfaction
I have been evaluating my answer to that question since then. Actually it's not that hard for me to answer - YES! (And being less than original, my more complete answer follows Baig's - "On balance, yes"!)

While the watch began to ship a year ago, I held out until early June to buy mine. I was using a Pebble smartwatch when the Apple Watch launched, and I referred to it for a time as my "placebo" - knowing it would hold me off from getting the Apple, at least for awhile. That worked for two months!

As an original iPhone customer, having upgraded and used one ever since 2007, and as a life-long wristwatch wearer, I was an easy target for Apple. (Though as a Baby Boomer, probably outside their ideal demographic.)

As far as how I use the Watch, like Baig, I find the Apple Watch Notifications are closest to making my watch a "must have". Informing me of an incoming call or text when grabbing for my phone is not advisable, for either safety (driving) or courtesy (in a meeting or when around other people in a quiet setting).
The "Stand" meter and reminder -
a life-changer for me

My other basics on the watch include Activity, Weather, and Stocks - they probably consume 80%-90% of my "glances", outside of simply checking the time of day. Speaking of "glances" I think it is interesting how little I see or know about "Glances" (with a capital G) or "Complications" - Apple's categories for watch activities or apps. This part of the Watch marketing effort seems to me to been a miss, by a wide margin.

I have tried a large number of apps, and have mostly set them aside after a few days (which truthfully is true for iPhone and iPad apps). My Fidelity app on the watch was cool in giving me visibility to a few retirement accounts, but it's not like I'm going to be day trading on my wrist. The Shazam app remains on my watch, but I have never quite figured out its ability to do its magic (waving the wrist to ID a song) and how it reacts with the iPhone, so I typically don't try. As mentioned, the basic Activity app is a behavior-changer for me (in a good way), but other fitness and health apps I've tried just haven't done it for me.

And then there are the little surprises. When using my iPhone for driving directions, it's pretty cool to get a little "tap on the wrist" when approaching an upcoming turn. And the notification feature for Instagram, with a "like/reply" capability, is great fun. Also, my Siri-activated Timer action, when parking at a downtown meter, has kept me ticket-free for nearly a year.

The "look" of my Apple Watch,
 entering year two
As far as accessorizing, I vowed to never buy an Apple-brand anything for the watch, which was $350 at the time I bought it. But I caved in and bought one of the new canvas bands, for $50, after they were announced last week. The original bright-blue Sport band had outlived its novelty for me, and a third-party leather band purchased on eBay for $20 was acceptable but had wear issues. So I celebrated the Watch's one-year anniversary by splurging for the blue canvas band and a new look.

So, yes, I would buy again, and am happy to have an Apple Watch. As far as recommending to a friend? I must say I am not always as enthusiastic on this front when given the opportunity. So far, with the Apple Watch, I think it really helps to be an enthusiast.