Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hello Drupa, 2008 edition

Thursday May 29th kicks off the 14-day run of Drupa, the quadrennial commercial printing trade show held in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Spirits are not as buoyant as they might be (see "Printing press makers gather amid growing gloom") but newer companies in the mix, like HP (NYSE HPQ), are enthusiastically showing their wares, with the goal of displacing traditional analog printing with digital. (See "A little more than another desktop printer from HP".)

Stay tuned for developments from the show, and also the week following the show, from Amsterdam. On June 18-19, Lyra Research will be hosting their first Lyra Europe Imaging Conference. As is becoming tradition for Lyra events, I will be blogging with updates from the conference sessions.

Inkjet patent tallies for 2007 analyzed

Back from the holiday weekend, and there's a lot in the old blog queue.

An interesting piece in May 2008's The Hard Copy Observer caught my eye and is worthy of a quick summary here. (The Hard Copy Observer is a publication of Lyra Research, and their May article is an annual effort that "examines yearly ink jet patent publishing in partnership with Pivotal Resources, the Cambridge, U.K.-based publisher of Directions, a patent-review periodical that monitors the number of ink jet patents published in both Europe and the United States.")

In the rankings of 2007 patent, Silverbrook Research took the #1 spot, with an even 400 patents, followed by Seiko Epson, Canon, Brother, and HP comprising the remainder of the top five. The article includes an analysis of 20+ companies and their inkjet patent activity in 2007. Lots here for the analyst community here and in the source material from Pivotal Resources, as patent activity is a key leading indicator of product introductions to come.

Lyra's Steve Hoffenberg is quoted several times, with this comment regarding Silverbrook and Memjet, who dominated much of the printer news a year ago but have been relatively quiet this year:

"There is a general temptation to think that if [people] don’t hear anything, there is nothing going on. But it may be that everyone is being very hush-hush about partnerships and product development. If anyone is an expert in being hush-hush, it’s these guys [Silverbrook Research]."

Hoffenberg's other comments in the piece, including news of Silverbrook hiring marketing staff and opening a wide-format division of Memjet, compliment my "observations" of three weeks ago (see "Now Hiring...").

Full disclosure department -- my monthly column, Observations, is published in print form in The Hard Copy Observer.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

HP's (NYSE HPQ) latest "Green Printing" announcement


HP (NYSE HPQ) is out today with a wide-ranging "Green" initiative that features new products, software tools, and labeling (see example above), to further their message of more environmentally responsible printing. (See "HP Makes it Easy to Make Smart Environmental Choices with Unrivaled Portfolio of Printing Solutions".)

A good summary along with comments from HP exec Tom Codd can be found at TechNewsWorld's web site. (See "HP's New Eco-Friendly Printer Push".)

There are a couple of notes of special interest from my viewpoint, one being the continued inclusion of the Internet-printing tool, "Smart Web Printing", as part of HP's Green story (see "Smart Web Printing Reviewed in The Wall Street Journal" and other more recent posts). Smart Web Printing has been a favorite development to watch as regular readers of this blog can verify, and HP should be commended for sticking with the solution and even adapting its positioning over time. Another inclusion of interest is the news of the internal build-out of its Halo Collaboration Studio as an alternative to business travel. Most appropriate on a day when crude oil hits $135 a barrel!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Scribd featured in The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal's Small Business Enterprise column for May 20th features the subject company of May 2008's "Observations", Scribd.com, and its co-founder, Trip Adler. While the column and blog post here evoked functional comparisons to YouTube, a Silicon Valley startup success story famously acquired by Google in 2006, the Journal piece connects Scribd to another Web 2.0 phenom, in "Facebook Ignites Entrepreneurial Spirit at Harvard".

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

HP (NYSE HPQ) Printer Metrics through Q2FY08

While some anxious speculation over HP's (NYSE HPQ) 2QFY08 Imaging and Printing results surfaced earlier in the month (see "A little pressure on HP (NYSE HPQ) printer results"), the numbers released as part of HP's earnings announcement today look very solid. The HPQ conference call is now proceeding, and highlights relevant to Imaging and Printing will be available here as the transcript becomes available.

A brief view of the HP/EDS deal relative to printing

As the market awaits HP's earnings announcement after today's close, it's worth clicking over to Mike Feldman's recent "HP and EDS" post at the revitalized "HP’s Enterprise Printing Blog". Not surprisingly, Mike likes the deal, and sees an expanded overall services business at the combined companies leading to growing outsourced print services deals as well.

Again, not an earth-shattering view, but nice to get an executive opinion on a current news development directly via a blog.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

HP (NYSE HPQ) earnings now on May 20th -- printers on front burner?

Originally, today (May 15th) was the scheduled announcement day for HP's (NYSE HPQ) second-quarter earnings. But a preliminary announcement was made on the 13th, along with the official clarification of the EDS (NYSE EDS) deal, and now the official numbers day has been pushed out until Tuesday the 20th.

So what's changed since the beginning of this week, when I posted in this blog, virtually crowing about the fact that printer results, could be front and center this time, even if in a potentially negative way? (See "A little pressure on HP (NYSE HPQ) printer results".) Well, later that same day (Monday the 12th), the word came that HP was considered an 11-figure deal to acquire Ross Perot's old company, EDS, and ever since, no one has been thinking about printers at all, it would seem.

That's not quite true, actually (i.e. the 'no one thinking about printers' point). In a quick search of the Web this morning, PC World has a provocatively title piece, "Surprise! What HP's Multibillion Dollar Bid to Buy EDS Means for You" by Stephanie Overby of CIO. The piece contains this paragraph (my italics added) that's surely toungue-and-cheek, given IPG's profit margins, but still, what a difference a few days and a nearly $14 Billion deal makes!
Bulking up the services side would better HP's position against its bigger IT services brethren like IBM and Accenture . It could even enable HP to shed that darn printer business once and for all.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Observations: The YouTube for Documents

The YouTube for Documents


Imagine if there was such a thing as YouTube for documents. The mind stretches to picture a Web-based repository where users from around the world could upload favorite documents to be shared with a vast network of other interested users. And as with YouTube, this personal sharing and networking could be a source of education and humor, a forum to introduce new entertainers (maybe authors, if not singers and dancers) and new products, and, to some level anyway, drive societal trends. Like YouTube, millions of visitors would regularly check in to see what was new and what was there to share, only not with videos but with documents in their myriad forms.

These documents would run the gamut: historic or current, scanned or application-generated, in PDF, DOC, XLS, PPT, and any other reasonably common document format. And through the use of the magic of Web 2.0 technology, this repository would work simply and seamlessly, with free access and unlimited storage capacity. And also like YouTube, visitors could easily cut-and-paste any document image visible from within the repository into any other Web site or blog, increasing the reach and frequency by orders of magnitude.

Now, to get a little mercenary, think of the printing that would ensue. While some of the documents would be suitable as view-only, many others would cry out for printing. The ink and toner would flow like never before. The promise of distribute-and-print was conceived originally as occurring primarily within confined corporate and private network settings or through controlled subscription arrangements, but in this incarnation, an explosion of print volume would be set off, as growing throngs of users gained access to millions of documents.

Well, stop imagining. This fantasy is a reality, courtesy of Scribd (pronounced, “scribbed”), a San Francisco Bay area startup company that has been online at www.Scribd.com since March 2007. At the time of the company’s launch, it was no less than TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington who assigned Scribd the label the “YouTube of Documents.” After a little more than a year, the site now includes two million uploaded documents, and the number continues to grow. Up to one million users per day visit the site, leading to 15 million to 20 million visitors per month.

Other than the sheer growth in documents and users that Scribd has experienced during the past year, a new document viewer is one more interesting development (literally), especially for the printing and imaging industry. Introduced by Scribd and implemented into its site in recent months, the new document viewer is called iPaper.


Jason Bentley, director of community development at Scribd, shared a little of the history behind iPaper. The company’s original document-viewing solution, dependent on a more-or-less universal file viewing requirement, was conceived out of inspiration by co-founder Trip Adler in a moment of “unopenable file frustration” during college, and was based on FlashPaper, the Macromedia creation that was eventually a casualty of the Adobe acquisition. To improve the user experience and to create further potential business opportunities, Scribd took the pros and cons from users of its FlashPaper-based site and developed from scratch a new and better universal document viewer named iPaper, which has been implemented on the Scribd site since late 2007.

Bentley downplays the rivalry with Acrobat and PDF, noting for example that iPaper has no interest in emulating the extended tracking and editing features that have grown up around the PDF standard for years and years. Another difference, from this observer’s eye, is that Acrobat and PDF were coming from a printed-page perspective, allowing viewing when and as needed, whereas iPaper has been developed with viewing and sharing in mind, with printing bringing up a bit of a rear position (see image below).

Worth noting, too, with respect to the site’s format-agnostic interests, is Scribd’s range of upload capabilities. Supported file formats include PDF, PostScript, current Microsoft Office flavors including the Office 2007 formats recently added, Open Office, and popular image formats (see image on page 11). Not surprisingly, PDF, DOC, and PPT rank, in that order, among the most popular formats.

I have had a couple of first-hand experiences with Scribd that speak to its usefulness and reach. Last April, I blogged about a new ink jet printer that turned out to be rather popular but (somewhat curiously) under-publicized. After some time-consuming searching, I turned up a data sheet for the product. So in the interest of sharing the document with my readers and seeking an opportunity to try Scribd, I posted that document, as my first and so far only upload. Checking in now, that two-page color data sheet (in PDF format) has been viewed 740 times, although no metrics are available on how many times the document has been printed.

Fast-forwarding to current times, I was pleased to locate a company press release I had been seeking to supplement a blog post. Rather than post a link to the release, I was able to cut-and-paste an embedded iPaper version of the release, readable and printable from directly in the post. That company — GreenPrint, a company familiar to 2007 Observations readers (Observations, 2/07)—has made a decision to upload all future marketing materials on Scribd as one channel for communications.

So looking at the Scribd opportunity through the lens of a printing company, I ask, how can this opportunity for printing be further realized? Will these be the “lost” documents that never are printed, much like those millions upon millions of digital photos that are still “trapped” in arcane camera phone menu structures, never to see the light of day (or favorite printer)? Or will a sensible, enhanced printing solution come to light as a result of one or more of our industry members partnering with Scribd (and a few emerging competitors)?

Monday, May 12, 2008

A little pressure on HP (NYSE HPQ) printer results

Marketwatch has an article by Rex Crum entitled "PCs and printers to highlight H-P earnings report" which is a change, from a printer perspective. Followers of recent HP earnings communications will know that printers don't typically get a lot of play, including from the HP (NYSE HPQ) executives explaining the quarterly numbers, and from the press and analyst community covering the company. (There are exceptions to this, naturally.) This is especially true on the revenue side. The very healthy profit margins from the Imaging and Printing Group, especially those of the supplies businesses, are of course very important to HP's bottom line, and tracked and discussed somewhat more carefully. But still, the HP vs Dell (NASDAQ DELL) battle in the PC sector generally gets the most attention.

Looking at the Second Quarter of 2008, Crum's piece quotes a group of Banc of America analysts who are watching HP printer revenue numbers a little more closely this time. (Earnings will be announced after the markets' close on the 15th.)

At Banc of America Securities, a group of analysts see "some challenges in printing hardware," and believe that this could provide H-P with a challenge in growing sales of printer units. B. of A. believes that H-P's imaging and printing group will report sales of $7.48 billion, for an increase of 4% from a year ago, and there is some risk to the company meeting revenue estimates.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Now hiring...

A look at the Silverbrook Research site reveals some very interesting "help wanted" listings. Of course, Silverbrook and Memjet created one of last year's big industry news splashes with their announcement and demonstration of disruptive price/performance points, based around their inkjet-based printing technology. (See my post, from exactly one year ago today, "Memjet business in HP's backyard". This followed their original announcement in March at a technical conference in Prague. See "March 21 -- First Day of Spring".)

But bringing it back to the present, a recent review of Silverbrook's several dozen job openings include those which relate to what we already know about Silverbrook (e.g. Imaging Researcher, Patent Attorney, etc) but also what we can guess are significant to the company's current priorities (Manufacturing Engineer, Reliability Engineer, Test Engineer, etc). Note to industry members who may be looking -- all the openings all seem to be in Australia.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Clarifying HP's (NYSE HPQ) Smart Web Printing browser support

My apologies for mis-interpreting the HP Smart Web Printing marketing materials, and I've edited out the following text (in quotes below) from today's earlier post, after hearing from HP in the blog comments. I was confused by the wording at several points in their email and web materials about "only applicable to users of Internet Explorer 6.x". IE7 contains its own built-in printing enhancement features that overlap with some of those in HP's Smart Web Printing (see my October 2006 (!) post "A Big Day for Internet Printing" for coverage of IE7 print enhancements). So HP, to their credit, was apparently just trying to be extra careful in not touting a new feature that IE7 users already have. In being extra careful, though, they confused at least one reader -- me!

And since my point of a broad scope for the solution still applies, I include the deleted paragraph here, since it contains some interesting browser data from my blog as well as a link to a great Business Week article. And as I think about it, over 25% for IE6 is actually pretty good, considering its replacement came out a year and a half ago. Somewhat in line with the Office 2007 and Vista adoption issues, I might suggest?

Third, I hope they make good on their plans to expand its [HP Smart Web Printing] scope. Right now, the product is only "only applicable to users of Internet Explorer 6.x" -- yes, that's the old version of IE. So even if you're only going to look at PC/Windows users as your universe (not such a good idea if you've read the Business Week cover story this week, see "The Mac in the Gray Flannel Suit"), the number of IE6 users is clearly in the minority. At this blog, a sample of recent visitors were using Firefox 2x the most, closely followed by IE7, and then came IE6 (only a little more than 25% of all visits).

HP's (NYSE HPQ) "reduce printing" tool for the Web

I haven't mentioned it for some time (see September 2007's "HP's Smart Web Printing Reviewed in WSJ"), but HP (NYSE HPQ) has been recently touting their Web printing tool, now as a way to "Stop wasting paper & ink with Smart Web Printing". I saw this headline in their latest emailed "HP Technology at Work Newsletter".

Here are a few observations from me. First, I'm glad to see HP's hanging in there with this latest version (circa 2007) of a Web printing tool. Second, I'm glad to see them adapt its positioning, and somewhat ironically noting that the original idea was to promote "more" printing by making Web printing more accessible to users, but now is a part of their "Green" message on printing less.

And last, even though the Web print utility "works on both ink and laser printers" it must have been an inkjet type who wrote that headline about saving ink!

Note: this is a revised post. See "Clarifying HP's (NYSE HPQ) Smart Web Printing browser support".

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The $100 color laser printer


It's not the first time (Black Friday 2007 featured a few "early bird" deals like this), but the Samsung CLP-300 color laser printer is being featured by Staples at $99.98, after rebate. Of course, that's the famed Staples' "Easy Rebate", too.

Thanks to Gotapex.com and Techbargains.com.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Xerox and reusable paper

We occasionally get glimpses of ideas from Xerox (NYSE XRX) and their famed Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). This week they've showed off their concept for reusable paper, and UV-technology-based combination of media and printer, with an explanation of when a printer application could take advantage of this capability. CNET's Green Tech Blog covers the story, and includes the following encapsulated video.