Thursday, April 30, 2015

April Observations - Printers and the Internet of Things Revisited

April 2015 Observations – Printing and the “Internet of Things” revisited

Just a year ago, for my April 2014 Observations, I wrote about printers and their potential role in the future of the much-talked-about “Internet of Things” (IoT). In “Printers as Things? Do printers fit as part of the Internet-of-things?” I explored a bit of what I had picked up, knowledge-wise, regarding the IoT and reported on some exploration I had been doing on whether or not printers qualified as “things” and thus had a future as part of a far-flung concept.

Prior to writing the story, in floating the question around with colleagues in the printing and imaging industry I had found a bit of push-back. My perception at least was that “printers as things” was a demotion of sorts in some peoples’ minds, and that while the IoT might be great for things like thermostats and toasters (and a multitude of other more industrial objects), printers were “better” than that. But then I consulted with my former Lyra Research colleague Steve Hoffenberg, who was then and now Director of IoT & Embedded Technology at VDC Research. For those wanting to go deeper, please refer back to last April’s Observations, but in summary, Steve concurred with me that printers were “things” but more than that, through the successful creation and implementation of Managed Print Services, our industry had provided a “proof point” for the developing IoT movement.

Last April's Observations explored the connection between the Internet of Things and Printers

With wind in my sails as provided by Hoffenberg’s thoughts, I went on to assert that HP’s noted “Instant Ink” program (see above) was another current industry example of IoT. But again, read the details from the post if interested.

Which brings us to the past year. I have been keeping an eye (and ear) and the IoT field and the growing buzz about it. And one of my developing interests in the hands-on area – and frankly without immediately associating it with IoT – has been the web service, “If This Then That”. The current version of the Wikipedia article introduces the service as follows:

“IFTTT is a web-based service that allows users to create chains of simple conditional statements, called "recipes", which are triggered based on changes to other web services such as Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, and Craigslist. IFTTT is an abbreviation of "If This Then That" (pronounced like "gift" without the "g").”

I was directly exposed to IFTTT for the first time via a recipe involving organizing various contributors’ photos from a family wedding, but soon I had implemented a few now successfully operating recipes of my own. I use it to this day to, for example, store my “favorited” tweets as notes in Evernote, and to convert my Instagram photos into tweets. But I needed a little push to make the connection to printing and the Internet of Things!

As far as the IoT, I found out the company, IFTTT, as ranked by one “scorekeeper”, is the fourth highest valued firm in the IoT ecosystem, as of February of this year. This seemed obvious, following a little reflection on my sorting through all the available recipes on multiple occasions – including the email I get which recommends one each day – I have noticed a great number of them relating to objects like the Nest smart thermostat, which we have installed in our home, and of course a prime example in the IoT. So while my chosen recipes so far have revolved around Web platforms/programs such as Evernote, Instagram, and Twitter, interaction with IoT-enabled devices in the physical world is a natural part of If This Then That.

 And as far as the physical devices called printers? That connection came by way of a communication from my friends at printer-industry-leader HP, alerting me to a mid-February post on the blog of Shane Wall, currently Chief Technology Officer of HP’s Personal and Printing Systems organization. The guest blogger was Phil McCoog, Chief Technologist and HP Fellow, and also a frequent source for me when I am writing about mobile printing and other future-oriented printing and imaging developments. In his post, entitled, "HP Launches the HP Print Channel on IFTTT Creating Over40M IoT Printers”, McCoog not only declares 40 million HP printers as IoT “things”, he also explains how the HP/IFTTT Connection has been implemented (by the creation of an “HP Print” channel), and also expands into the strategy around “Hyper-Integration”.

Next month, I will start with a little more on HP’s view on “Hyper-Integration” and some of my thoughts, define a few of those key IFTTT terms like recipes and channels, and offer an interpretation of the mystery graphic at the top. I will also pass along some of my recent hands-on experiences. Of late, I have been implementing some of the recipes using the HP Channel and IFTTT, and have discovered a few other printing and imaging-related recipes which I look forward to sharing. So stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

HP sells Snapfish - cites "focus"

My three-year-old post comparing Facebook/Instagram to HP/Snapfish
In one of the more anticlimactic business stories of recent times, today the long-rumored disposition by HP of its Snapfish "global photo storage and merchandising business", was made official, via press release. With HP set to separate into two entities later this year, the intent to divest Snapfish bubbled up last fall and Julie Bort of Business Insider (see "After years of trying to sell Snapfish, HP finally finds a buyer"points as far back as early 2013 and indications of interests then in unloading the unit, originally acquired for $300 million in 2005. Bort also describes Snapfish as "an oddball unit" as no doubt many in the industry would see it, in the light of the tech world as we know it in 2015. Even HP, in its own release, cites the sale to District Photo as "consistent with HP’s strategy to focus the organization following HP’s previously announced separation" -- in other words, it was an oddball unit.

Three years ago, the big acquisition news was Facebook and its $1-Billion buy of Instagram (later dwarfed by its much-larger acquisition of WhatsApp.) I penned a post comparing that digital-imaging deal to another digital-imaging deal, in 2005, i.e. HP-Snapfish, where an established but somewhat aging tech titan buys a much younger upstart in an effort to "get into the game" as being played by the new kids on the block. (See graphic above.) That post was "What a Difference Seven Years Makes! Facebook Acquires Instagram – a $1 Billion Imaging-Related Transaction" and to follow up that headline with today's news, one might state that given three more years, there's even more of a difference!

While at one time Snapfish was an HP "darling", leading to some serious feather-ruffling of huge Indigo-press customer and Snapfish rival Shutterfly, its status has certainly diminished rather steadily, compared to, as Bort points out, a time back when "people really printed a lot of photos."

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Happy Tax Day, as technology rolls along...


I woke up this morning with the Beatle's Taxman playing in my head, which helped remind me I still have a couple of tax-related tasks to do today, April 15th - call it tradition.

But it also made me curious about the rate of e-filing, and this blog post, "First Time Tax Filers: 8 Quick & Easy Tips You Should Know", carried by The Huffington Post and penned by @TTaxLisa, TurboTax Blog Editor and CPA. In addition to the basic tips included in the post, the statistic that "about 84 percent of tax returns were e-filed".

Printed tax forms and supporting documents seemed at one time like one of the last bastions of hard-copy domination, but the climbing rate of e-filing shows the world's ever-growing preference for electronic documents. Pretty obvious, right? So what's next?

I found a tidbit that did startle me, I must say, but once again, it shouldn't come as a surprise. "Filing taxes is the next frontier for mobile" according to conclusions from Adobe Digital Index and reported in "ADI: Full Digitization Would Make Filing Less Taxing For Most Americans" by Giselle Abramovich, Senior & Strategic Editor for (The Adobe-sponsored website, by the way, is one of my most-recommended websites to my graduate marketing students.)

The graphic borrowed from the article which I've included at the beginning of this post requires some attention to the "fine print", as the 20+% of "visitors by device type" using smartphones and tablets includes not only tax filing, but also financial management, so I play in all the categories. But call me old-fashioned if you would like, but it is hard to imagine doing my taxes on anything less than a full-size keyboard and not one but two full-sized monitors!