Monday, December 31, 2007

Looking back on 2007 -- iPhone Printing


Reflecting back on all the news from the printing and imaging industry in 2007 is a bit overwhelming. In my recent post (and Hard Copy Observer print column) about the Amazon Kindle, I summarized a few of these important hardware developments in the opening paragraph.

But one of of my most popular posts of the year, based on search results and keyword analysis, was my July 19 entry entitled "iPhone Printing". That post, and a few follow-ups, has been a consistently popular Web destination, which tells me there is definitely a demand for printing from the iPhone. Unfortunately, that post offers no solution for the unmet user need to print from an Apple iPhone, just relates the possible opportunity. Later in the year, I went back and forth with HP and their Print 2.0 blog, where Patrick Scaglia offered the promise of HP's Cloudprint solution, which promised a way to direct previously created documents to local printers, but not the kind of quick on-demand iPhone printing that others may have in mind.

So I'll make it a 2008 resolution to spend at least a bit of my time (and space in this blog) to champion the cause, for iPhone users like me to be able to get at least a quick print solution for the iPhone, and also check in on the HP Cloudprint solution that seems to have remained rather dormant since the company's flurry of activity in August/September.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Observations: Amazon's Kindle Stirs Up E-book (and Printing and Imaging) Excitement

Amazon's Kindle Stirs Up E-book (and Printing and Imaging) Excitement

As readers of the year-end issue of The Hard Copy Observer [where this column appears in print form] can no doubt attest, 2007 has been a very big year for the printing and imaging business. The promises of newcomers like Zink and Memjet and new product categories as represented by HP's Edgeline have been exciting to cover. Innovation outside the purely technical, including the formidable challenge to the razor-and-blades business model mounted by players like Kodak and Xerox, have made 2007 a year to remember. Nonetheless, the pinnacle of tech-industry buzz seems to still be reserved for products and services tangential to printing (at best), with Amazon's Kindle, introduced on November 19, as the latest example.

Earlier this year I was quoted in a Printer Pundit interview on the DataBazaar blog as describing our industry as "quietly going about our business", a comment that was stated frankly but also with a spirit of pride. Yes, we do great things in this business and have hundreds of millions, if not billions, of satisfied customers, but we are the strong, silent types, right? But truth be told, this stealth approach can sting a little in vain moments—after all, among all the 2007 announcements mentioned in my opening paragraph, only Kindle graced the cover of Newsweek magazine.

So, in an unapologetic attention-getting move, I am claiming the Kindle as one of our industry's own. Electronic book readers are not new after all, and many of our business's leading companies have covered, discussed, and even invested in these devices. Since at least 2000, the Observer has covered various E-book readers and related products (e.g. see Observer 3/00). As one of the principal ways we use printed paper in our society, books are of great interest to the printer-oriented world, and in Kindle's case, as noted in its voluminous press coverage in both the traditional and "new" media, the content solution offered by Amazon goes beyond books to include a selection of newspapers, magazines, and blogs. Even considering e-books primarily as a threat that have the potential to someday supplant the need for the physically printed page, these devices are undeniably an important developing area in the broader "information collection, dissemination, and consumption" industry, and serve as a caution to avoid falling victim to marketing myopia and think about ourselves as "just being in the printer industry."

And, in keeping with my ongoing theme of marketing successes and failures, I would like to point to what I believe Amazon has done right on the "product" side. For all the attention it has garnered, much of the Kindle commentary has been rather negative, starting with its retro (to be kind) industrial design. On the positive side, Amazon has put together an innovative solution. We learned from the iPod/iTunes example earlier this decade that cracking an industry, the portable digital music industry in Apple’s case, was not just about the gadget. As the E-book is about so much more than the reader itself, there are definitely some parallels.

The Kindle solution could not do better than Amazon's e-commerce infrastructure for its online bookstore, and the Whispernet connectivity seems to solve the Wi-Fi hot-spot problem I have encountered with my iPhone (and its AT&T Edge network backup that has been roundly criticized as inadequate). The resulting stand-alone nature of the Kindle (no PC required) is a big plus in terms of usability and convenience compared to 2006’s Sony Reader. Closer to our printing world, Amazon had the foresight to include the handling of user-generated documents like PDFs and Word files along with books, newspapers, magazines, and blogs, which are added to the Kindle's memory via e-mail. (Conversely, the Kindle's inability to print snippets of books and other files is one of the knocks on it that reviewers have highlighted.)

By staying away from engineering a multi-purpose laptop-PC wannabe, Amazon seems to have nailed the design for a dedicated reading appliance that includes a monochrome, e-ink-based display and limited graphics but weighs in at well below one pound (10.3 ounces, to be exact). Of course, behavioral patterns will have a huge impact on market success in the end, and the battle still rages between dedicated (and thus multiple) specialized devices and convenient (but compromised) all-in-one machines.

To complete the marketing analysis, the Kindle has a fairly reasonable pricing scheme, including an acceptable price for the machine and aggressive prices for best sellers (though customers may soon tire of the nickel-and-dime scheme of paying for blogs and e-mail). The Kindle also benefits from the ultimate "place", i.e. distribution channel, as Amazon is one the one of the world’s most heavily trafficked and most popular e-commerce sites. So with the great promotion (including the PR blitz) still ongoing and attention to product, make that solution, details, I predict success for Amazon’s Kindle, and welcome it to our larger printing and imaging family!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Was 2007 the year of Web-based Apps, or not?

In the interest of expanding a bit beyond my usual printer industry beat, keeping in mind that other forces in the tech universe actually drive what we print, I highlight a great blog post from the other day from one of my favorites, ReadWriteWeb.com, entitled "Consumer Apps: 2007 Year in Review". A later post at the same site, along with another very insightful one from one of my other favorite blogs, Techdirt, drills down on the recent "disappointing" survey results on awareness and adoption of Web-based office applications, most notably Google (NASDAQ GOOG) Docs.

As regular readers will recall, I've been interested in this area, especially when it comes to their abilities (or lack of abilities) in printing (for an example of my analysis and light-touch review see, most recently, "Web-based Application Printing -- Google Presentations".)

I agree with Mike Masnick at Techdirt and Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWrite, in that mounting a bona fide campaign to truly compete, market-share-wise, with Microsoft Office will take years and years, and those "disappointing" takes on the data are from the impatient and naive (and I've been known to be both, myself, from time to time!)

See "The Death Of Online Office Suites Is Greatly Exaggerated" and "First, Put Your SKU in a Box: Will Web Office Apps Ever See Widespread Adoption?". Highly recommended!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Looking back, looking forward

As the year winds down, it's natural to look back over a very momentous 12 months in the printing and imaging industry. So over the next two weeks, I'll be highlighting some of my thoughts on what developed in 2007, and then offer some views, my own and those of others, on what's coming in 2008 and beyond.

In this light, a great piece is available at Eweek.com by M. David Stone looks at "The 20 Most Interesting Printers of 2007". Regular readers may remember I wrote a post pointing to this piece back in November. Now, a companion piece of the more forward-looking variety is available, entitled "10 Up and Coming Technologies That Will Change Printing". Here, David looks at many of the industry's breakthroughs enabling the mainstream of printers and printing (like Memjet, HP's Edgeline, Xerox's solid ink, etc on the device side and ink and paper systems on the supplies side) and also some break-out areas outside the conventional mold like Electronics and 3D Printing.

Highly recommended!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

HP Printers -- numbers and trends tell the strategy story

HP (NYSE HPQ) held their Securities Analyst meeting yesterday and the content of just one of the slides from the printing and imaging portion of the show is worth highlighting here.

The four market areas include Consumer, Small and Medium Business, Enterprise, and Graphics Arts.

Two fascinating conclusions I take from looking at just this one set of numbers and market trends?
1) Consumer is the smallest market (not that $24 Billion should really be considered small) with also the smallest growth rate.

2) All the "dynamics" are consistent with a similar chart that could have been used five, or even ten years ago in some cases -- emerging markets, analog to digital transformation in graphics arts, copier and printer convergence in the office, digital photos and web content in the home? Are these all long-established trends that may be finally transitioning from talk to action?

Monday, December 10, 2007

HP continues growth-through-acquisition strategy with NUR Macro


This morning HP (NYSE HPQ) announced another acquisition in the industrial wide-format space, this time Israel-based NUR Macroprinters. This is HP's second deal in three months in the space (see "HP Acquires Macdermid ColorSpan"). NUR, by the way, is not an acronym, but rather comes from the name of company founder Moshe Nur.

Today's HP "Newsroom" landing page features the NUR acquisition headline and link along with a product shot. And while the MFP pictured is "big iron" for much of the desktop-printer-oriented community, me included, it doesn't hold a candle in size and scale to the NUR printers, an example being the photo at the top of this post, the Expedio.

CompUSA to close

Announced at the end of last week, the remaining CompUSA retail stores, as well as its ecommerce presence, will be closing after the holidays. It's the end of an era in PC and Printer retailing, for sure, but opinion around the Web (e.g. see "CompUSA is closing for good. Good.") seems to weigh against the retail chain and its customer-unfriendly approach.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Direct Marketing, aka "junk mail", good for printers, if it lasts

Christopher Hinton has a piece on Marketwatch (see "Junk mail spurs growth for top printer makers") that highlights positive developments in the Direct Marketing field that mean good news for printer companies like Xerox (NYSE XRX), Kodak (NYSE EK), HP (NYSE HPQ), and Ocè (NL:35493). The surge in direct mail advertising (annual rate of 6% in the US) is spurred by growing capabilities in personalization (and its resultant increase in advertising response rates), as well as the declining effectiveness (e.g. TV advertising) or legal restrictions (e.g. telemarketing) of alternative ad media forms.

Not all bodes well for the future of junk mail, however. An example of forces aligned against direct marketing mailings comes from right here in my home state. Last month, The University of Idaho announced that in a move to save cost, energy, and landfill space, their faculty, staff and students won't receive bulk mail through the university system, as of January 1, 2008 (see "University of Idaho vows to quit delivering junk mail"). Instead, the material will be bulk recycled!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

In the book scanning business, is this considered a typo?

In these days of Google's (NASDAQ GOOG) sky-high stock price (back within a whisker of $700 today) and ubiquitous presence in the high tech world, it's sometimes easy to fall into ascribing omniscient powers to the company. But they, like all others, are not beyond the occasional mis-step, however minor. Their Google Books (nee Google Print) program, has been quite controversial in the book publishing world, and has been something I've been following for some time, thinking it's a story worthy of a printer-industry-oriented "observations" one of these days. Well, this is not that day, but the little snippet found at reddit.com this morning is worth noting, again, if only to remind us all of the old saying, "we all make mistakes". The whole link, to the photo and entire book entry, can be found at "Google must have been in a rush to digitise this book".

(Interesting footnote -- the Wikipedia entry for Google Books contains a very similar, but different, page sample from 2006.)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Lexmark on "Green Printing" for Small Business

In an interesting press release picked up by CNN.com, Lexmark (NYSE LXK) is advising Small Businesses on how to be friendly to the environment when it comes to printing. Combining two of 2007's most-discussed printer industry topics, Small Business printing and "Green" initiatives, Lexmark summarizes the usual supplies recycling tips (which, when presented by the cartridge manufacturers, the options always seem to ignore returning those empties anywhere but to themselves -- wink, wink).

But the company also includes the idea of actually printing less (or at least only printing what's needed). Their advice to use "duplex" is nothing out of the ordinary, but going the "print preview" route to avoid printing unwanted pages mirrors the somewhat more automated Xerox (NYSE XRX)/GreenPrint combination I blogged about last month (see "GreenPrint, Xerox Solid Ink printers get together").

Maybe we in the printer business will eventually clear ourselves of the accusation that those unwanted pages are a supplies-industry conspiracy!