Wednesday, January 27, 2010

iPad Printing

In addition to being an important day in the tech world as the final day of the 13th annual Lyra Imaging Symposium, another "minor" technology announcement happened that you might have heard about -- Apple's announcement of the iPad!

While I work on my summary of the last day of Lyra, here's a tidbit to think about, courtesy of PC World's Jason Cross. In his piece, "Will the iPad Connect to Anything?", Cross muses about his ability (or inability) to print:

Then there's printing. Clearly, one would expect to be able to print from the iPad. It has iWork, after all! You'll be typing essays and epic poems expressing your love of Apple in Pages and calculating how much money you save by not buying Windows in Numbers. Still, we haven't seen a single "print" icon or menu item yet. We don't suppose you'll be able to plug a USB printer into the device (even with a dongle for the 30-pin connector) but network printers are quite common. If the iPad could print to a network printer, one would think Apple would have mentioned so.

Will be digging into this important question!

Day One Lyra Symposium Recap

This is 13th annual Lyra Imaging Symposium, and we're "at the turn", with a full day of the agenda in the books and one to go. The conference traditional brings together the latest thoughts and thinkers in the business, and covers the range of the printer industry, from consumer and home printing, through the enterprise and the corporate printing scene, and then up to print-for-pay worlds of wide-format and, this year, signage and industrial printing.

I've attended at least 10 of the 13 conferences, and have been offering a blogger's perspective for the last four, so it's tempting to think I'd have some historical perspective to add to the discussions, while throwing out the intentional bias that the Lyra staff has built in based on their selection of an agenda and speakers to go with it. For example, this year's conference title, "The Road to Recovery", implies that the worldwide economic woes of the recent past, are behind us or at least will be soon. Picking up on major themes to go along with that arc, small business and consumer printing seems to be moving ahead without much change, and moving from those realms into the office, there's a long-sought improvement in ink jet's perception compared to the perennial favorite laser. The jury is out on whether the razor-and-blades model of printer-and-supplies pricing is seeing its end, with the recent data points indicating some change, but not a radical shift at this point. Managed Print Services continues its reign as the high ground for enterprise printing activities, and the conference keynote by HP's Tom Codd, and numerous other presentations and panels, offered ample evidence. For the vendors involved, including OEMs and resellers, the long-term challenge seems to be creatively going beyond cost-cutting from fleet consolidation and less printing.

A quick summary of a full day of stimulating discussion can hardly tell the story, and as always, "you had to be here". But, I'm pleased to at least try to give a real-time update, and have found Twitter to be a great solution. Blog posts imply at least a little insight and thought (and thus, time), but the tweet streams at @jflyons and @lyrainc (mostly overlapping) tell the hour-by-hour (if not minute-by-minute) story of the conference, so stay tuned, there and here, for highlight of the symposium's final day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

2010 Lyra Imaging Symposium -- stay tuned here with live blogging

Back again, in a new decade, but the same venue in lovely (and warming-up and drying-out) Rancho Mirage, California, with some definitely new ideas and upbeat feelings! Lyra's 2010 Imaging Symposium has kicked off, and I am once again honored to be the "official blogger" of the event, so watch this space for conference updates. Also, follow me on Twitter (feed is on the right of this blog too) at @jflyons for more immediate, and of course shorter, tidbits from the event. We also promise to have more tweets, from @lyrainc and others. Official sessions begin early Tuesday January 26th and continue through the day on the 27th. (With of course one eye tuned on the events with Apple's big planned announcement.)

January Observations -- From the QR Code sandbox — and will QR Codes help printing?

Observations: From the QR Code sandbox — and will QR Codes help printing?

In trying to find a binding theme for this month’s column about sticking my toe into the water surrounding QR Codes, the underlying influence of the movie sensation Avatar triggered the application of one of my central themes: how things all seem to connect to each other and to my world.

But as a tangible piece of writing, this column began with a tweet that linked to a blog that discussed a report, which I then retweeted. The subject? “More Reporters Using Facebook and Twitter.” This is not surprising as the more I read and write, the more I read and write on social media platforms. As an aside, the report also includes the finding that 61 percent of reporters also admitted to using Wikipedia. (And when it comes to these news sources, it should be noted, blogger Michael Sachoff writes, “The survey made it clear reporters and editors are highly aware of the need to verify information they get from social media.”)

So, I started thinking about how I was gathering information (and initially inspiration) for this month’s column. While I’ve been in the printer industry seemingly forever, I’ve frankly never paid a great deal of attention to barcodes, which have actually been around longer than I have. (The original ideas for barcodes date back to the late 1940’s, according to But it has specifically been the QR Code (see photo and that has found its way onto my radar lately, and for that, I must credit Twitter. The last few months have seen a critical mass of tweets from those whom I follow and those I’ve also flagged on printer-related lists via Tweetdeck and more recently Twitter itself. In particular, @Gail_NK, @johnfoleyjr, and @ToughLoveforX have helped me embark on a basic QR Code education. (Readers, here’s a quick homework assignment: before you start messing around with the QR Codes themselves—follow these three on Twitter.)

QR (for Quick Response) Codes were developed in Japan, and I will forgo a description of how they work, beyond comparing them to the basic barcode functionality that we're all familiar with, similar to those used at the supermarket (see image at left). The ubiquity that’s evident in that situation—printed barcodes on virtually every single item that is manufactured (and more and more, grown)—would be exactly the vision that would excite the printers that produce those codes, especially industrial models. Taking that theme even more broadly, with QR Codes, the key to even further ubiquity is that the “scanner” is now something virtually every person carries around with them in the form of a camera-equipped mobile phone (with the appropriate app installed), and the codes can be used to identify further information, phone numbers, and URLs, and even “take you there” via the phone’s Web browser. To borrow from the banner text at the Web site, QR Codes can “Increase the Impact of Print. Use QR Codes on anything printed—there is no limit. Mobile users simply point and click to jump to online content, dial the phone, or download information.”

A great New York Times article by Stephanie Clifford titled, “From Print to Phone to Web. And a Sale?” appeared in early January 2010 and describes the application of QR Codes, along with some related technologies, in what might be their most promising manifestation. As included inside of print publications, specifically magazines, QR Codes serve as embedded links in editorial and advertising pages. This solution allows an interested reader to get more information, or even immediately go online and order something, in a very appealing linkage between print and online worlds, potentially tapping the best of both.

Now back to that “everything’s connected” idea. Because this was all starting to sound very familiar, even before reading the Times piece, my mind drifted back a couple of weeks to those year-end tweets linked to lists of “best and worst technology of the decade,” and right up there at the top of those worst lists, was the :cuecat! (see photo). In her short article, Clifford masterfully uses attention to the past to try to predict the future as she explores the history of QR Codes and looks at what might be different this time around. The value proposition seems to be exactly the same—see a magazine ad, scan in a link, and pull up a Web page—but as Clifford points out, there are a couple of key differences, the biggest one being that the cat-shaped scanner of the 10-year-old solution was extra, something that had to be provided to magazine readers and PC owners to make the system work. Now the mobile phone provides that missing link, at least that is what hopeful entrepreneurs and technologists are hoping.

Now after this explana
tion, the question remains whether this technology is good for printing. Assuming the system works, the advertising linkage application is good for print publications as a method to keep the medium relevant and inter-linked with online information. And in this day and age, anything positive for newspapers and magazines is a plus. The benefits for local printers are not as clear, as taking a “scan” (photo) from a screen seems to be equally effective as taking that scan from a printed source. Putting the functions of paper into the world of the virtual—with the transfer of some of paper’s functionality to mobile phones—is certainly occurring in applications like tickets and boarding passes.

To get to know QR Codes better, I suggest getting your hands dirty, and based on the recommendation of @Gail_NK, I have had excellent luck with Optiscan, a $2 app for my trusty (and oft-mentioned) iPhone. I suggest springing for the $2, trying a quick download and starting with the QR codes here (represented on-screen or printed). I think you will be impressed.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

No stone unturned? HP enters 3D Printing Market

HP continues to expand its printing industry footprint (remember when they declared it was "printing", not "printers") with today's announcement they will join forces with 3D-printer maker Stratasys of Eden Prairie, MN. We've covered this market a bit (see "3D Printers on the same downward price path as conventional printers?") and it seems inevitable, when thinking about it, that HP would enter this space. It's notable that the deal, basically a branding deal for now, comes from the Large-format/Graphics unit of IPG, and the linkage between printing designs and then modeling them in three dimensions (see quote below) makes it clear that we haven't heard the last of HP in this space.

"There are millions of 3D designers using 2D printers who are ready to bring their designs to life in 3D," said Santiago Morera, vice president and general manager of HP's Large Format Printing Business. "Stratasys FDM technology is the ideal platform for HP to enter the 3D MCAD printing market and begin to capitalize on this untapped opportunity."

PR advice based on recent pop culture trends for HP and Stratasys (not that they asked)? Play up the 3D connection with box-office movie sensation Avatar (which of course only has the label "3D" in common, except maybe for its "futuristic" aura), and downplay the recent Stratasys charity auction of a Jay Leno-autographed Dimension 3D printer...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Back in the Saddle, 2010 version

Well, here it is already into the double-digits of January in a new year and decade, and I feel like I am just getting started again. With New Year's Day on a Friday, then the matter of a little Bowl game just a 1,000 mile drive away, and CES starting in Las Vegas, the first ten days of the month were hardly ordinary.

Anyway, Monday the 11th now, and back on the beat.

In just two weeks, it will be back south, this time to my umpteenth consecutive Lyra Imaging Symposium in Palm Springs, taking place from January 25th to 27th. Stay tuned here for more on that (much more) and also tweeting the lead-up and conference itself, with the hashtag #lyrasymp10 so look for those too.