Monday, September 29, 2008

Printer industry blogging activities expanding

To the faithful readers of Jim Lyons Observations, you heard it here first!

I am honored to have been recently asked to add to my role as publisher of this blog, "JimLyonsObservations.com". Beginning immediately I will be adding to my responsiblities in the world of blogging, by taking on the role of Editor over at "Printer Industry News". "PIN" has been around and on my JLO blogroll for the last couple years, and is associated with The Photizo Group and "Managed Print Services".

The new responsibilty comes as part of my ongoing work with Photizo and the recent formalization of my role as Senior Consultant with the company. As editor of "PIN", I will be a contributor and coordinator of blog content, most of which will center around Printing in the Enterprise and the explosive growth of Managed Print Services. Photizo is at the center of this market category, as providers of the MPS Advisory Service and producers of the first annual MPS Conference, set for April 2009.

My work with Photizo promises to be both rewarding and challenging, but again to my faithful blog readers, Jim Lyons Observations, the blog, goes on! Keep reading here for topics here, ranging from consumer and specialty printing stories, to printing from the web, to breakthrough technologies and new-device printing (like from iPhones, Kindles, and yes, Androids), and of course coverage of industry conferences, to name a few of my favorite topics. And my column, "Observations", featured monthly in The Hard Copy Observer, continues as well, and can be found both in the print version of the Observer as well as right here at "JimLyonsObservations.com".

Please keep reading here, and we'll be looking for you over at the "Printer Industry News" blog too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Google Chrome printing update


The Google Chrome browser may be seeming like old news these days. Even though its "version 0.2" nomenclature does not speak to a mature product, Chrome's day in the sun as Google's (NASDAQ GOOG) latest creation is over, with the Google "Android" Phone now announced, as of yesterday, September 23, 2008 (for an example of the press coverage, see "The 'Google Phone': A Challenge to the iPhone?").

But after posting a very preliminary "Google Chrome printing" piece on September 3, 2008, I would like to offer an update.

First, the fact that the Chrome EULA's "fine print" offered some heinous-sounding language (see "Be Sure to Read Chrome's Fine Print") ended up with a good deal of traffic coming my way. Searches on terms like "Google Chrome fine print" match up pretty well with "Google Chrome printing" so I have been receiving visitors with interests in both topics. And apologies to the group looking for more insight into the "fine print" side of the story, as I didn't even mention that topic until now. Hey, at least I didn't title the post, "Google Chrome prints fine", which it does, for the most part!

Second, Google Chrome browser traffic is quite high at my blog, considering it's a fourth popular browser that's less than a month old. According to my favorite metric-catcher, Statcounter, my most recent "Browser Market Share" numbers for my most recent 1,500 visitors show about 8% on Google Chrome. This is over half of the Safari number (14%), with various versions of IE leading at just over 50%, and Firefox versions making up most of the remainder (25%), and a few odds and ends thrown in for good measure.

And lastly, check out this tip for adding a print button to Chrome. (I've done it already, as seen illustration above, where I used features of SnagIt to blur the background and highlight my print button.) Thanks Tech-Recipes!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Great iPhone Printing dialog at Databazaar.com blog

Just a quick acknowledgement of the latest (and excellent) discussion of potential printing from the iPhone. Kara Soos over at the Databazaar.com blog has pulled together the historical setting (yes, thanks for the link Kara!), along with a discussion with two iPhone applications developers, Josh Keay and Canis Lupus. In "Will iPhone Printing Become a Reality?", find a great summary around current thought and analysis. The key questions explored include "why/how does a user want to print from an iPhone?" and "what's the likelihood they'll soon be able to do it?".

Highly recommended reading!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Observations: Reading the Google Tea Leaves: How are Printers Faring?

Reading the Google Tea Leaves: How are Printers Faring?

It has been a number of weeks now since the seemingly ever-upward march of the price of a barrel of oil, with the resultant high gasoline prices, had finally peaked. And then, just a few weeks after that, a headline surfaced that in response to somewhat cheaper gas, the sales of gas-guzzling Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) were already rebounding. Wow, I thought, that did not take long! Well, the real story was that yes, there was an indication of increasing interest among American car buyers in SUVs, but it was based on measurement of activity on Edmunds.com, one of the leading consumer-research sites in the auto business. (My italics for emphasis.) In other words, the tracking of Web surfers clicking through various truck and car information pages was making national business news. The article is a fascinating look at how, in this e-commerce-oriented age, marketers can read all sorts of interesting clues about buyer behavior well before the actual transactional results show up in the marketplace.

This fascinating discovery inspired me to go back to some research on a similar (if more crude) printer-related idea, research I had started earlier this year. That thinking had been triggered by several studies, including favorable comparisons between the accuracy of Web search metrics versus traditional political polling during the U.S. primary election season and valuation modeling of social network companies, also using search data.



My idea is to simply look at Google Trends data to gain insight into the relative popularity of various printer industry brand names, compared to each other and over time. And while Web-search-savvy readers, including a few close friends, will not be stunned by my approach, I think it sheds some interesting light on trends in the industry. Its appeal is also due to the fact that it’s done “on the cheap,” which the best marketing research often is, in my opinion.

Google Trends does a great job of tracking search terms, but of course the search terms themselves have to have certain qualities, like uniqueness. Just as doing a Google Search for “John Smith” will probably not have satisfactory results compared to a search on a more distinctive name, something like “Printer” or “HP” will not confine things enough to be very meaningful either.

So let’s start with some favorite long-time model brand names, the HP family of printers and MFPs. When entering “laserjet, officejet, deskjet, designjet” into the Google Trends search field, the resulting page appears as shown in the image at left. The default is set for worldwide searches, and a section of the report page not illustrated provides geographic and language ranking details. There is also a “News reference volume” graph that I cannot quite fathom, so I have excluded it from the figures as well. What the main chart, “Search Volume index,” shows, is the color-coded relative index of each of the entered terms. In this case, LaserJet is the leading (top) term throughout the time horizon.



It is surprising, however, that the trends are not in the "right" direction. I’ll let the professional researchers determine what this trend means and how it might be reflected in the market, but a test on a few more brands might shed some further insight, just to see if everything looks to be going down or if it’s just these venerable HP brands.



My next analysis focused on the well-documented printer industry “stars” of 2007: Edgeline, Memjet, Silverbrook, and Zink. The graph above illustrates a lurking problem, in this case that Zink is actually a common enough surname so that it washes out the other results. A data noise warning is that all the terms are represented in Google search universe by other usages—Memjet and Edgeline are used commercially in other relatively obscure products, and Silverbrook is an unusual (much more unusual than Zink, it turns out) but not unheard-of surname. Removing Zink in the chart below gets the other brands back on a visible scale. While these results are even more inconclusive than the HP graph, the interest spike of spring 2007 and resultant searches is certainly apparent.





I will close with one more example to further whet the appetite of would-be Google Trends addicts. Because it looks like search interest may be declining in some of our most traditionally popular printer brands, and even our upstart brands spiked in interest but then mostly held their own since 2007 announcements, how about comparing to something that is really on fire? I have written about Apple’s iPhone and Amazon’s Kindle quite often (mostly about their lack of printing abilities), so how will they fare in the Google Trends analysis? (See above.) The graph below, removing the super-hot iPhone, shows an interesting pattern when putting LaserJet and Kindle together, with the huge November 2007 spike for Kindle, and a pretty steady relationship between the two since.



It is fun to learn more about search data, but can we derive any real meaning? Like it or not, the news is not good for those HP brands—not to pick on them, but they are the easiest to analyze because they are the most popular brands with the longest history. This data might be trivial or even meaningless, but all things considered, which direction would you want your brands heading?

Note -- In an exception to my typical practice, this online version of "Observations" includes some minor changes and additions, relative to the print version appearing in the September 2008 The Hard Copy Observer. Graphics and some supporting comments have been included that were omitted due to space considerations in the Observer.

Monday, September 15, 2008

More on printer industry disruption, business models and ambitions

My post from a week ago (see "Time covers Zink") highlighted Time Magazine's coverage of this summer's new Polaroid PoGo printer, but more significantly, the Time article focused on the primary technology supplier for the product, Zink.

Just as Zink is getting its share of coverage, last year's other printer industry 'out of nowhere' surprise, Memjet, has been back in the press as well, as summarized in my post of a few weeks ago. (see "Australian.com: 'Memjet print head revolution delayed'".)

The timing is not all the two disruptive efforts have in common. Their business history and structure have parallels, with the "overnight sensation, ten years in the making" affect, which in the Memjet companies' case, having had their technology quivers filled by the arrows from a decade-long path of research and development at Silverbrook Research.

The Zink and Memjet business models also have many similarities, where as component partners the companies physically supply other companies, who build and market the end-user printer products. (Referred to as "licensing" in some quarters, but more on this somewhat-confusing concept in a future post.) In Zink's case the first public partner is Polaroid, and in Memjet's case, the partners remain unannounced.

Some differences? This first big (and obvious) difference, is of course the stated "ink vs non-ink" nature of the base technologies. Somewhat ironically, however, it's the Memjet vision of disruption around cost-per-print, attributed to the industry's high-priced ink model, while the non-ink (I should say "zero ink") model remains somewhat more expensive to the consumer, at least on a print-by-print basis, at 33 cents for a 2x3 inch photo print (see "Latest Zink Milestone -- PC Mag on the Polaroid PoGo".)

The companies vary in their stated ambitions too. While Zink has been more narrowly focused around photo printing for camera phones, with a longer-term, broader vision of enabling printing where it's not been available before, it's a much wider array (pardon the pun) of printer industry ambition in the case of the Memjet companies. These include Labels, Home and Office, Photo Retail, and Wide Format, and includes each company with its own headquarters and staff with expertise in their respective market areas.

The upstarts of 2007 are putting their announcements into action in 2008, and there is definitely the promise of many more interesting stories to follow into 2009!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Great industry history courtesy of Geschke, Wharton

Today's daily horoscope published in our local newspaper, The Idaho Statesman, offers me and those like me (i.e. Virgos) some advice about dealing with certain historical material that's come my way. Well, that's good enough for me! I knew exactly what the reference was -- an interview published recently by the Wharton School's Knowledge@Wharton, an interview with the co-founder of Adobe Systems (NASDAQ ADBE), Charles (we knew him as "Chuck") Geschke.

In "Driving Adobe: Co-founder Charles Geschke on Challenges, Change and Values", Geschke waxes eloquently on numerous historic developments in the story of the company and the industry. And at a few places, the story intertwines with my own recollections while at HP (NYSE HPQ), though in an admittedly Rashomon-style fashion. For example, in discussing early interest in their Page Description Language Postscript:

"IBM came to talk to us, but we deliberately decided to go really slow. We figured that in order to get a decent deal with them we had to have leverage -- namely a competitor already doing well. We tried to do a deal with HP [Hewlett-Packard]. They were extremely arrogant because the [Hewlett-Packard] Laserjet was doing very well and they didn't want to talk to us.

After the [Apple] LaserWriter and desktop publishing became a phenomenon, IBM decided they had to get into the game and we did a deal with them. As soon as we announced the IBM deal, then Hewlett-Packard called and said, "We think we need to do business."

This would have been in the 1986-1987 timeframe, a period I remember well. And it's interesting to hear the story told from the "other side" so to speak. There's a lot more in this wonderful interview (definitely recommended for industry history buffs) with much of it worth a little more comparing of notes with Chuck, so stay tuned! (This includes the "Mumbo Jumbo" period, see "Observations: Microsoft’s XPS—After All These Years, More Mumbo Jumbo?".)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Time covers Zink

In this week's Small Business "special section", under the heading "Tales of Triumph and Turmoil", an article entitled "Ink Inc.", by Time magazine writer Jeremy Caplan features the Polaroid PoGo printer, and its key technology supplier, Zink.

While the PoGo printer is covered prominently, the focus of the piece, appropriate with its positioning in the magazine, is Zink, the company I've featured here numerous times (for example, see "February 2008 Observations: Zink Partnerships Make Really Big News".)

Jeremy's piece discusses the Zink business model:

The company, based in Bedford, Mass., is so confident of its intellectual property that it isn't even making its own machines. Instead, Zink is modeling itself on Microsoft and Intel, licensing its technology for use in other manufacturers' devices. Why battle Canon, Epson and Lexmark when they could become your customers instead? "If Intel were captive to one brand, it never would have become the great brand it became," says Zink ceo Wendy Caswell. "The same goes for Microsoft."


And I really like that he's has captured Zink's entrepenuerial "all-for-one, one-for-all" side, which I've picked up on in numerous interactions with the company:

Like most start-ups, Zink has wrestled with growing pains. When the company received its first set of paper packs from a packager, some had the wrong number of sheets. Rather than send the sets back, Caswell put 30 employees on an assembly line to weigh the 30,000 packages and fix the lemons. Chemists, engineers and others along the corporate ladder chipped in. "Everybody does the dishes here," Caswell says. But if Zink technology catches on, the same employees could be dining out soon.


And also, of course I like that I'm quoted in the piece. Thanks Jeremy Caplan and Time!

___

Interesting to note, too, the timing with the Zink coverage and the kickoff of Fall Demo 2008. Zink first caught my attention (see "Zinking in from Demo") at the Conference series' Spring 2007 edition.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Google Chrome printing


As promised in yesterday's post (see "Labor Day news leak -- Google Chrome"), I've done some very light-touch printing experiments with the beta version of the new web browser that has the tech world buzzing, Google (NASDAQ GOOG) Chrome. (This was after multiple tries and finally having success in getting through the download -- seems it's quite popular!)

The screen shot above shows (like with the other images in this post, please click through on this one to get a readable view) the pull-down menu ("Control the page") on the upper right that includes the print command. (Note my test page is the press release, "HP (NYSE HPQ) Delivers Color to Small Businesses for Improved Marketing Efforts", which includes two new color laser printers and an interesting finishing product tie-in.) The outcome was typical old-school web browser, with what should be a two-page document overlapping with that annoying third page. (See illustration and thanks, GreenPrint, for eliminating it before actual printing.)



By comparison, the print-enhanced Microsoft (NASDAQ MSFT) Internet Explorer 7.0 (see "A big day for Internet Printing") handles the two pages as we would prefer, with no third-page elimination required by GreenPrint. Like more earnest reviewers are discovering*, in this case, when Google says "beta" they really mean "beta" -- as opposed to very refined services like their Gmail which is also still labeled as beta. Sometime before final Chrome code, let's hope the Google masters recognize the customer need for enhanced printing. (* for an example see David Pogue's "Serious Potential in Google's browser".)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Labor Day News Leak -- Google Chrome

Today, Google (NASDAQ GOOG) has confirmed it will be launching its own web browser, dubbed Chrome. It's a high-tech news story that parallels the impact and timing of the HP/Compaq merger, first leaked over Labor Day weekend 2001 and then confirmed shortly thereafter (though HP's leak didn't arrive via a comic book!).

The eight-page comic book doesn't mention printing, but when the browser becomes available as a download I'll give it a spin and report in on Google Chrome Printing. This new-browser announcement is garnering a great deal of media attention, especially with its positioning vis a vis Microsoft's (NASDAQ MSFT) Internet Explorer. Of course regular readers will recognize browser and Web-related printing to be one of my favorite topics (see "A Big Day for Internet Printing", for example) and IE has been quite innovative in meeting users' printing needs. So it will be interesting to see if Chrome matches up in this area!