for the The Hard Copy Observer, April 2007
At the Demo 2007 conference, Zink displayed prototypes of an iPod-sized portable printer and an integrated camera/printer. Jim Lyons covered this announcement in the March issue, and he recently interviewed Scott Wicker, vice president of marketing for Zink, to gain additional insight into the firm’s history and strategy moving forward.
Zink’s “Zero Ink” photo-printing introduction was part of a memorable volley of activity during the first quarter of 2007. Squeezed intellectually, if not temporally, between the pop-culture-intensive Kodak event in early February (Observer, 2/07) and the mystery-shrouded Silverbrook/Memjet announcement in March (Observer, 3/07), Zink chose the road less traveled from a printer industry perspective and appealed to the general technology crowd at Demo 2007 in late January.
Zink is marching on with its “Zero Ink” technology message and preparing to announce its initial partnerships in the second quarter of 2007. Agreeing with my assessment that the story is not about “speeds and feeds,” Wicker expresses pleasure with the company’s focus on photo printing only and its decision to go with a Demo launch. He states that the company’s marketing vision is to “enable printing where it has not been possible” with its technology’s compact form factor and lack of the requisite ink reservoirs (although Zink’s magic is partly due to its proprietary paper).
During our discussion, Wicker cleared up the origins of Zink’s technology, which may be of particular interest to veteran readers of The Hard Copy Observer. Although Zink’s roots can be traced to Polaroid, including the firm’s investors, management, and technology, the firm’s printing technology is not based on Polaroid’s infamous Opal technology (Observer, 7/01). Polaroid’s Opal technology never shipped as part of a product, but for years it was widely shown and publicized. The firm’s last public display of the technology was in photo kiosk prototypes at the 2003 PMA show (Observer, 4/03). Zink is based on a technology that is an Opal alternative and that Zink acquired when it purchased more than 100 patents from Polaroid in 2005 after the onetime camera giant filed for bankruptcy. According to Wicker, in Polaroid’s final days, when most everyone in the printing division was working on Opal and the related Onyx technologies, just a few engineers were developing what has become Zink in a “skunk works” operation. So, while there may be numerous connections between the Zink company and Polaroid, Wicker reiterates that Zink technology is not Opal.