Wednesday, December 14, 2016

HP Inc's Sprocket printer - a hot (make that scorching) holiday gift item!

Teddy Ruxpin was one of those highly desirable toys in short supply during the 80's
It started with toys, as I remember. The hot item that was in short supply during peak shopping season, and crazed parents would go to any length to get their kid the product of the year. I recall Cabbage Patch dolls, Furbees, and Teddy Ruxpin - the latter being the one I proudly "scored" for unwrapping under the tree.

Those feeding frenzies were before the widespread adoption of the internet and auction/shopping sites like eBay, which may have even upped the ante. The incursion of tech also played into the equation on the in-demand product side, too. It also became a not-particularly-holiday-driven phenomenon (I'm leaving out those pup-tent dwellers outside Best Buy for days before Black Friday). For a number of years (and mostly missing my demographic) the hot items were mostly things like the latest video game consoles. But I got back into it, at least as a very interested observer, when my Google Glass, purchased from the company as part of the Explorer program for $1500, and seeing those being offered for between $3,000 and $5,000 on eBay during the latter months of 2013. (See my post - note that was on another blog, which I had established as my personal contribution to the Glass hype of that year).

Snapchat Spectacles have a list price of $129
So connecting the dots from those early shopping frenzies leading up to Google Glass, one might conclude that Snapchat Spectacles would be the high-premium item this year. With their sketchy retail availability and "cool" factor, that was definitely true, as least a month ago, though eBay prices (bids and offers) have slipped significantly recently, down to a few hundred dollars.

HP's Sprocket printer is in high demand this holiday season, as this recent eBay buy-it-now listing shows

HP Shopping and other retailers are sold out!
And currently up there with the Spectacles' eBay-to-list-price ratio right now? It's the pocket-sized HP Sprocket Photo Printer, introduced early this year. I had posted about its appearance in the HP Q4 Earnings briefing deck in November as an HP Inc. Printing and Imaging highlight, and on further investigation which I had promised last week, lo and behold, it's a holiday season phenom!

More coming on its speeds and feeds in a future post, when I can get my hands on one!!!

Monday, December 05, 2016

My first "irregular" Observations

From HP Inc's Q4FY16 Results Presentation
Wow! Checking my last post (which announced the end of my regular monthly "Observations"), I was good to my word - nothing at all for the months of October or November.

But with the feeling that it's been too long, here I am with some reflections on HP's printing results for its fourth quarter, which ended October 31st and was reported a few weeks later. Overall, the numbers were not good, with a continuing decrease in quarterly revenues, as compared to prior years. A few glimmers of hope made it into the numbers (commercial hardware units and revenues ticked up a bit for example), but I was particular intrigued by what made it into a bullet point on the slide I have inserted above.

They included a final bullet as follows: "Innovation: Announced A3 platform, 13 laser and 3 ink models. Launched Sprocket, a mobile photo printer, and new Indigo platforms for Graphics", which got my attention and has had me thinking ever since! Perhaps it is the convergence with my own life? I have been spending much of my time lately (while I was not blogging) teaching a class called "Product Design and Development", and if there is a single key word to describe that class, it would be "innovation". Or maybe seeing a mobile photo printer named Sprocket make it to HP Printing's short list has been what's caused my curiosity to linger?

One thing I learned during my career actually involved in development projects is that, consistent with the old adage about "a watched pot never boils", stepping away from the action for awhile does have the effect of making those aforementioned projects seem to move along much faster! So maybe this is going on, but regardless, it seems the HP Sprocket is screaming for some investigation and reporting on my part. So as I so often ended my regular Observations, stay tuned!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

September 2016 Observations - The writing (printing?) is on the wall…

Getting ready to “file” my monthly “Observations” for the 130th time since its debut in December 2005 in the Hard Copy Observer, it dawned on me (actually after much thought) that it was time to announce a change.

To review a little history (always a sweet spot for me), I had a great career with Hewlett-Packard beginning in 1981 that stretched 25 years until the end of 2005, with most it affiliated with the incredible rise of HP and the LaserJet (and other) printers. At that point, offered an “Early Retirement Package” that fit well with the idea that there other things I wanted to do, I made the difficult decision to leave the friendly (most of the time) confines of HP, resisting the “retirement” part of the deal.

Those “things” have included teaching and consulting, but more relevant here, I also started writing my “Observations”, addressing topics in the Printing and Imaging industry - and I haved loved covering many of the developments since then.

My nascent activity as a blogger/analyst expanded to work with three respected publishing/research companies, and I am grateful for their support, starting with the Observer in late 2005 and my first column. It has turned into a great second career, and even with a sabbatical in 2015, I have continued to crank out something every month, with generally great enthusiasm.

As far as “retirement”, I have wondered what it would be that would trigger the feeling that I really am retired, at least as far as the aforementioned “blogger/analyst” role. Friends and authors told me that “I would know when it was time”, and that has finally happened. The “writing was on the wall” earlier this month with the announced acquisition by HP of the Samsung printing business.

Prior to the official announcement, I was unaware of rumors the week prior (which in retrospect told me a lot), but I did note the acquisition news in a blog post on September 12th, though it was of a historical nature. (See “HP buys Samsung's Printer/Copier Unit - the more things change...). And while reading that day’s HP release, watching HP CEO Dion Weisler’s comments on CNBC, and talking to a few industry friends, I realized the time had come - I really had no excitement or enthusiasm for the deal or the strategy behind it.

That, my readers, was the “writing on the wall” - I realized I am no longer interested in what goes on in the industry (that has been so good to me), at least not interested enough to crank out a monthly column. I will continue to post “Observations” from time to time, and they might even include things about printing and imaging, but my “streak” on monthly posts has ended - not bad, if I say so myself, at 130!

Monday, September 12, 2016

HP buys Samsung's Printer/Copier Unit - the more things change...

Breaking news this morning across the business world is HP's somewhat surprising $1 Billion acquisition of Samsung's printer business. The move is touted by HP as a path into the copier business, taking advantage of an A3 product line currently designed, manufactured and marketed by Samsung.

It is a time of long-term decline in the printing business and it is predictable that consolidation like this will continue to take place. This move brings to mind the HP/Samsung joint venture that ended in 1998. On my first visit to Seoul in 1985, our destination was "SHP" - as the logo on a large downtown office building read. I always will remember my education on the Korean economy of the times and the importance that HP work with a local business giant like Samsung. (Another one I learned about at the time was Lucky Gold Star.)

From HP's Measure magazine, 1995

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August 2016 Observations - Back to School with Chromebook

My beautiful new HP Chromebook 13 G1 is far from an invisible upgrade
 It’s that time of the year when the days suddenly seem noticeably shorter, the leaves start to show a little color, and neighborhood kids clearly exhibit different behavior patterns. Though it varies around the country, our area typically begins its school year the final week of August, including everyone from kindergarten to university level.

So what better time to get myself a new Chromebook? But what’s the connection? The Chromebook could be called the darling of educational computers these days – a search on Google for “Chromebook Education” returns nearly 600,000 hits, and CNBC reported in December that over half the computers sold to schools are now Chromebooks. The simplicity of Chromebooks’ hardware typically translates to excellent prices, and their connection to the Internet, with apps oriented to run in the cloud, means a level of sharing and collaboration that comes, more or less, with the Chromebook culture, and benefits the educators talk about.
But again, what does that have to do with me? One could assume my need for a new Chromebook is work-related, but not really, and actually on the contrary. I continue as the most active part of my second career these days in the education field, as a professor of marketing. My university’s standardization on Microsoft Office apps for online posts and assignments (including Word, PowerPoint, and Excel) creates a pull in the other direction, to stay standardized on Windows machines. (Although working recently with Office365, the cloud version of Microsoft’s venerable suite, has made the bridge to Chromebook much easier.)

But for everything else in my life, computer traits of simplicity, thrift, and portability, which includes excellent battery life, are top priorities. And for these reasons, I was drawn to Chromebooks from the very beginning, and for well over a year, my favorite, everyday computer for home or travel has been a very simple HP Chromebook, which I bought refurbished from Woot, for a fantastic price.

Before continuing on with my Chromebook saga, I should summarize the feature tradeoffs/preferences which cause me to favor the Chromebook over the iPad for daily use, tablet computers being a category where I have been an early adopter too. At the very top of the list is a full-size (or near enough) QWERTY keyboard. Writing posts, sending emails, and keeping up on social media all require lots of typing, and for me there is no comparison between the two form factors for creating text, and it becomes the deciding factor without having to go down the list to tradeoff number two.

Tracing back to my interest in Chromebooks, my fandom no doubt has roots in following the bold assertions of Larry Ellison of Oracle, and his network computer aka “thin client” vision which goes back over 20 years. Also, I have been a user of Google products for many years, and adopted Gmail and then the Chrome browser as my go-to solutions for years now, installed on everything from my iPhone up through my Windows desktops. So I was a curious earlier adopter of Chromebooks, meaning my new one is the fourth Chromebook I have owned
To be honest, the first two were more novelties, though number two was definitely an improvement over number one, and I found a blog post from 2013 where I wrote about traveling with the Samsung (#2) as my only computer. For the most part, though, their sluggish performance too much to overlook. But number three was different, performance-wise, and soon became my favorite computer. Its turquoise case added to its charm. But it had recently shown signs of all that use, with a growing number of missing pixels and more-than-occasional freezes and crashes. So when I read some stories about the HP Chromebook 13 G1, released in late Spring, I was on my way to getting sold. This included a favorable comparison to the Apple MacBook in early August, then, a CIO listicle on nine reasons to buy a Chromebook, and then a favorable Forbes review comparing, favorably again, the HPChromebook 13 to Apple and Windows machines. (Truth be told, by the time the Forbes piece hit, I had already had my new HP Chromebook 13 G1 for about a week!)

My turquoise Chromebook pictured with color Kindle Fire and mouse

The new Chromebook seems like a great choice, and unlike my Invisible Upgrades this Spring, it’s a metal-plated beauty that is noticeably snappier and with a much better screen. I am very happy with my HP and the upgrade it offers over the faithful but failing turquoise model. In addition to a great price, like my previous Chromebooks, this one is fast to start up, easy to carry around, and very good on battery life. Just one thing has been bothering me…what about Chromebook Printing? I hear some good and not-so-good things and we definitely need to drill down in my next Observations. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Pinterest and Instapaper getting together

TechCrunch coverage of the story
Two of the tech industry's household names have joined!

Of interest to readers of this blog, I've covered both with a printing angle. Starting in 2011 with "February Observations: If It Sounds Like Print and Looks Like Print, Is It Printing?", and then "Pinterest Printing" earlier this year, and I think it's a very interesting development. Whether this consolidation will make for more printing from users, stay tuned!

Monday, August 01, 2016

I have used Google Blogger, aka Blogspot, for over ten years now, as the primary platform for this blog. I am now moving to Medium for my final publishing target. While most posts will be available in something less-than-complete, I have found Blogger's formatting, editing, and overall usability to be very confining and at times quite frustrating. It's been a good run though!

See July's Observations in a form which flatters the writer and hopefully pleases the reader!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

July 2016 Observations - Wrinkles in the Innovation Development Cycle - More on that Deskjet Family Tree

July 2016 Observations
Wrinkles in the Innovation Development Model
More on that Deskjet Family Tree

3D Nanocolor is an interesting example of a “spin-out” technology promising potential success far outside HP’s traditional markets, in their case the category of “Dynamic Glass”

Product innovation leading to business success can take many forms, as it turns out. In my May Observations (see "Time names HP Deskjet as 35th 'Most Influential Gadget'"), I started with the HP Deskjet printer’s recent inclusion on as one of the 50 most influential gadgets of all time.  As the Time list’s description points out, the Deskjet’s influence has to do with its fundamental technology and its link to HP’s recent entry into the futuristic world of 3D printing. But what other entries of note can be found on the Deskjet family tree? This month I take a look at some less-than-direct descendants as well as some other tech innovation examples.

My motivation for a deeper dive can be attributed to the fact that I have always enjoyed these stories of innovation, but also, in preparing to teach another round of “Product Design and Development” to a group of graduate students in University of Phoenix’s MBA program. The “PD and D” class is the final marketing elective option in the curriculum, for those specializing in marketing, so it never hurts to brush up a bit! In my goal to be prepared, I have been reviewing some of the thinking in our text on product innovation. 
(Davila, T., Epstein, M. J., Shelton, R. D. (2013). Making innovation work: How to manage it, measure it, and profit from it. Upper Saddle River, N.J: FT Press.)
The HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing solution has technology roots that can be linked to the original Deskjet printer.

So starting with recently detailed 3D Printing offering from HP Inc, the HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution represents the type of innovation story that most people can’t resist. The result of years (decades actually) of tireless research, originally focused on something much more pedestrian (in this case, the humble HP Deskjet printer), is now deployed in a dramatic new application of the technology that results in a world-changing solution. Time will tell on that “world-changing” part, but again, there is no more classic an innovation tale than this one.

But what about variations on this theme? Everyone seems to love the story of internally developed technology finding its way into new, even surprising, applications and markets – but it might even be better, at least from a story-telling standpoint, when the technology deployed has been initially dismissed as a failure. This is a “rags to riches” kind of tale that keeps Hollywood afloat, and 3M Post-it notes are a favorite example– the adhesive that “wasn’t sticky enough” but ended up creating a whole new product category and even one could argue a new and improved form of office communication.
3M’s Post-it Notes were based on a product development that wasn’t sticky enough
So there’s one model, the intended long-term investment in technology, with one variation, with the common thread that both HP 3D Printing and 3M Post-it Notes remained under the same corporate roof through their development life cycles. But what about a technology that is transferred between entities and takes on new ownership?

Acquisitions – For better or worse

One might first think of corporate acquisitions here. Having been involved in many during my HP career, it is not a surprising conclusion to make that the success of acquisitions is a mixed bag. The Indigo purchaseclosing in 2002 got HP fully into a commercial printing space that would have been a difficult leap with its existing, in-house technology; Exstream on the other hand was a technology solution to go along with commercial printing (direct marketing software) that seems to have never quite stuck, and was sold off by HP earlier this summer. (See “HP Inc. Announces Divestiture of Certain SoftwareAssets to OpenText”, and note there were four offerings included in the sale, but Exstream is the one I judge to have been most prominent, biased no doubt by my following its acquisition by HP in 2008 in my role as a blogger/analyst.) As another printing-and-imaging example, Snapfish - the photo-repository and finishing service - took HP into a desired direction at the time (2005), but again did not endure as part of HP’s portfolio (see “HPsells Snapfish - cites ‘focus’”.)

For startup companies, one of their most-desired milestones is the “liquidity event”, which often takes the form of an IPO but many times is a corporate acquisition. But acquiring an exciting young company with breakthrough technology is hardly a panacea for the acquiring firm. As my class’s text concludes about mergers and acquisitions, they “…achieve growth, and they can be important tools to bring into the company building blocks of innovation. But they cannot provide the same sustained lift as robust organic innovation. (p. xvii, Davila, Epstein, Shelton (2013).)
Internal New Business Creation
But what about the other way around? What happens when an innovation-intensive corporate culture begins to over-fill the pipeline with technology building blocks of their own design? Sometimes, independent units of “intrapreneurs” are organized to attempt to capitalize on the “raw material” generated by teams of engineers and research labs.

Going back to my years with HP and the Imaging and Printing Group (before I departed in late 2005), the site in Corvallis, Oregon had a New Business Creation organization centered there, with emphasis on using the intellectual property generated around inkjet printing to apply to other fields, some more closely related but with others very distant. For example, I remember a number of ideas aligned around dispensing patient prescriptions via inkjet-based devices, but none of those had commercial market success.

In good HP engineering-culture fashion, the “NBC” process had been broken down into a series of steps, many if not most of them metric-driven. Typical of the thinking of that time (the “Fiorina era” for lack of a better label), future growth for the company was foreseen as coming from a few “big bets” with plenty of “wood behind the arrow”. A typical "hurdle rate" for the new business ideas was something that could be seen growing into a “billion dollar [in annual revenue] business”, a target which can end up being more than a little daunting.

But what about a more unusual approach, divesting the internally developed technology to a group of entrepreneurs who might just be able to focus down enough to find market success but measured, at least initially, on a much more modest scale? Tim Koch (pronounced the same though spelled differently than the Apple CEO) is a long-time HP engineering manager, who along with another HP veteran from the business side of the house, departed the company in 2013, effectively taking a technology with him. He is now Chief Technology Officer for 3D Nanocolor, based in Corvallis, Oregon, in rented space that is on the same site that still houses Hewlett Packard and goes back to the calculator days.
Marathon Patent Group acquired HP imaging technology, which they are attempting to commercialize through 3D Nanocolor, a subsidiary, in the area of smart or dynamic glass. Beyond owning the technology, another advantage in its favor is the startup is managed by two long-term veterans of HP technology businesses.

The intellectual property in question was sold, by HP, to Marathon Patent Group, which in turn owns 3D Nanocolor as a key asset of their commercialization portfolio. While not the time or place to provide a full account of the technology and its commercial possibilities, from the company’s description, “thin-film plastic roll-to-roll technology that can be used for electronic smart windows as well as other application where electronic control of ambient lighting is needed.”

Automotive is one area 3D Nanocolor is pursuing as a potential customer for its dynamic glass.

In a recent conversation with Koch, we discussed innovation and what it takes to convert basic technology to a commercially successful product. Having experienced the NBC process and its overly high expectations (we overlapped but never knew each other during our respective HP careers), Koch’s insight into the current innovation challenge is impressive and seems perfectly suited to the challenge at hand. “It’s critical in our role to not try to do something terribly complex,” he told me, and the company is well along the path to market penetration. As he states, “the story is yet to be told…” but again going back to my textbook, sometimes multiple, small steps can be far more effective in innovation than one giant one.

James Douvikas, Koch’s counterpart from HP who now is 3D Nanocolor’s CEO, adds, “Through the ground-work laid by the HP R&D teams, we now have the opportunity to take the electronic film technology into a wide variety of very large markets like windows with the potential to "make every surface change.”

In Conclusion
So betting my long-time readers, those who have been with me for most if not all of my now 10-plus years of Jim Lyons Observations, may get tired of this, we will be watching and waiting for further news from 3D Nanocolor and other HP Deskjet technology descendants!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

June 2016 Observations - Printer industry woes on display in retail

A recent paper purchase included a "Free App" offer
As I read about the decline in HP Inc's ($HPQ) share price in today's stock market, and the reasons behind it (see "HP Hits a Jam with Printers"), I immediately thought of some anecdotal data I gathered earlier this week. In the proud marketing research traditions of "the focus group of one" and "the last customer I talked to", let me explore what could be going on behind these observations.

I found myself in an Office Depot ($ODP) for the first time in a long time, and in addition to looking for another supply item (whiteboard markers), I needed to buy a ream or two of printer paper. This was my first paper purchase in quite some time - I am guessing at least a year - and our multiple home and office printers were all in need of paper reloads.

Teased on the front, the back of the paper package has details.
I was a bit surprised by the pricing, having remembered basic copier/printer paper typically at under $5 a ream, sometimes well under, but I finally found a deal on Hammermill (brand name - nice!) at $10 for two. (Though $6.99 for one - I hate that!) So I grabbed my two reams, along with the markers, paid at the front and exited, with the courteous checker reminding me that my receipt included a coupon to be used on my next visit, for "25% off (selected) printer ink products, when buying two or more," or something like that. Again, these complicated and restrictive offers annoy me!

Getting the paper back home (actually on the front seat of the car while driving back home), I noticed details on the packaging that I found fascinating. Both the front (teaser) and the back (details) touted a Hammermill smartphone printing app, named "Print Hammermill".  Offering basic mobile printing functionality, their app seems to do what many others have already provided, but at least I like their three customer-need-based scenarios, from home, work, and school.

As a blogger/analyst following the development of mobile printing from the beginning (see April, 2008, "iPhone Printing Revisited", for example), at one time I probably would have been thrilled to see this, as further validation of an important imaging and printing trend. "It's not just printer OEMs and a handful of mobile apps startups..." - I can see the opening line of my post now, in 2010 or 2012, maybe. In mid-2016, it now seems unnecessary and even somewhat desperate.

While supplies last! "Valid through 12/31/2015" says something, too. 

What I found more than a little strange however, but again keeping with grand marketing traditions, was the limited-time "offer" that the app could be downloaded free, from both Apple's App Store and the Google Play equivalent, for iOS and Android mobile devices, respectively. The tease on the front dared to declare a "$12.95 Value", only continuing, per the details in fine print on the back, "until 12/31/15", or "while supplies last". And just how are supplies exhausted with a downloadable software app? I am not sure.

Supplies must have lasted! App store screenshot from June 2016 shows the free app - newly revised - still available.

I had a few further take-aways, as well. While no "fresh-until date" applies to copier/printer paper, the fact that the expiration date of the offer is six months past tells me that paper - like other printer supplies - is just not moving like it used to, at least through the Office Products channel represented by one Office Depot in Boise. And the continuing presence of the app, with a new version as of May and still free on the Apple App Store (see above), is a good sign. However, the web address offered on the packaging is a dead end, at least when I try it today, so the enthusiasm by International Paper (supplier of Hammermill) is a bit of a mixed bag, at least as seen by this observer.

And before I get too snarky about the app itself, the App Store reviews going along with the 10 ratings for the new version were glowing. The "all versions" screen shows a 5-star average for 498 ratings, with a sampling of the reviews (not unexpectedly) very positive as well.

And the final question - have I tried it? Not yet - seems I just don't print that much...

NOTE - Last Observations I promised a further look at spin-off technologies from HP's printer unit. That topic will be covered in my July Observations.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

HP and Shutterfly announce largest Indigo deal ever - partners for over 15 (or almost 10) years?

During the quadrennial Drupa Commercial Printing conference, continuing through June 10, many deals and partnerships are announced. HP has featured some of this year's big ones, including what its press release bills as its largest Indigo press deal ever, with Shutterfly's leasing of "25 new HP Indigo 12000 Digital
Presses, marking the largest customer installation in HP Indigo history."

HP has a Shutterfly "success story" on its website, with a PDF dating back to 2005, recounting the company's history with HP Indigo presses. And per Cary Sherburne's recent account of the deal at "What They Think", HP/Indigo's Alon Bar-Shany is quoted as saying that Shutterfly has been an "Indigo customer for more than 15 years", which would go back to before HP's 2002 acquisition of the Israel-based firm. All that makes sense to me, having been around as an insider leading up to and following the aforementioned acquisition.

I was also around for the rather awkward discussions between Shutterfly and HP, when another acquisition occurred. It was the deal, also in 2005, in which HP bought Snapfish, a leading Shutterfly competitor. That came much nearer to my exit as an HP employee, but I was around to witness some tense interactions between the companies, with Shutterfly challenging HP judgement and intention in buying their leading customer's (Shutterly's) fiercest foe.

Could it be 15 years as a customer but only a collaborator for "better part of a decade"?
Things were clearly resolved over time, and HP dumped Snapfish last year in an anti-climatic deal. (See "HP sells Snapfish - cites 'focus'".) But maybe there's an explanation here, for why in this month's release, Shutterfly exec Dwayne Black cites collaboration spanning the better part of a decade!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May 2016 Observations - Time names HP Deskjet as 35th "Most Influential Gadget"

Even from remote locations with sketchy Internet, I did my best to keep up with the news
Having been traveling for the majority of May and the latter half of April, it’s interesting to note what makes it through to get my attention. I had multiple “off the grid” stretches spanning a few days each, and was out of the country much of the time, but still managed to stay aware of at least some of the big and small news stories of the day. (Of course, I may never know the ones I missed!)
Time's list found me out of the country and (mostly) off the grid

One item that peeked through the haze for me was the May 3rd publication of Time’s “The 50 Most Influential Gadgets of all Time” (no pun intended, I am sure.). I got the tweet about Apple’s iPhone at the top of the list at Number One, but couldn’t wait to get to the entire list when my internet access improved, which it did a few days later. And, lo and behold, I found a printer on the list of 50!  While my first reaction (and personal bias) was an expectation of seeing the HP LaserJet as one of the most successful gadgets of all time, it was the HP Deskjet printer that made it, at Number 35. Time’s writers included an interesting blurb to go with the ranking, and one that in the end I couldn’t disagree with.

The HP Deskjet managed a spot in between the Palm Pilot and Nokia 3210 phone on Time's list

Notice I expressed my thoughts of “most successful gadgets”? It was natural, but incorrect, to make that mental switch to “successful” from “influential” as I did back then and carried through in recalling my thinking. Keeping in mind the article’s sub-head, “The tech that forever changed the way we live, work, and play,” Deskjet got its due in Time’s list of influential gadgets, as being the replacement for noisy, low-print-quality dot-matrix printers in hundreds of millions of homes. And while I could quibble with Time's reporting on the exact details of dates and prices, the decade when it launched (the 1980s, which they got right) was a long time ago, and to say the Deskjet and its inkjet printer relations are venerable would be quite an understatement. Time concludes their paragraph quite profoundly (though perhaps a bit quick to write off printing altogether), as follows:
“Even in an increasingly paper-less world, the inkjet’s technology lives on in 3-D printers, which are fundamentally the same devices, only extruding molten plastic instead of dye.”
Which leads to another story from the month of May (and another I had to catch up on following another trip) – HP made good (at least filled in many more details) with respect to its 3D Printing efforts. While far from a “gadget” (Wired saw fit to call it a “contraption” in their coverage), HP’s Jet Fusion 3D is a $130,000 machine aimed at industry, with initial partners like BMW, Johnson and Johnson, and Nike. But I will postpone more on the latest on the 3D printing topic for future Observations.

One other aspect of the Deskjet, beyond the technology, that could have been included as extremely influential? That would be the “razors and blades” business model that really started with the Deskjet, and that HP has driven home for decades. The LaserJet side, partly as a result of sharing the business with Canon, has never quite arrived at full implementation of this model. But as far as the inkjet business, where HP has all the dials and knobs under its sole control, the model continues to dominate to this day – an example is the $20 Deskjet 3633 all-in-one (including scan and copy along with printing) that appeared in Cnet’s Cheapskate blog just last week.

Beyond Printers

That’s not to say I was only looking for printers when I found my source. I was fascinated that the list (sorted in descending order, i.e. Z->A, for those Excel-happy folks) included other products I have used -- and in some cases have a real soft spot for. Right there at Number 50 is Google Glass, and as a Glass Explorer going back to 2013, it's a more complicated mix of emotions that I feel on this one, though I can attest that Glass was a bold experiment that got people talking and thinking, even if it was not a commercially successful product in its own right, and least in its first iteration.

More nods of appreciation came from me seeing Nest (Number 44), the Osborne 1 (preceding at 43), Palm Pilot (right behind Deskjet at 36), Tivo (29), Amazon Kindle (28), and those are only a few highlights from the second 25 of the top 50, please keep in mind. The full list is a trip down memory lane that should not be missed!

A proud ancestor

So was I happy it was Deskjet and not LaserJet make the list? Laser printing elitists might hide behind an excuse following the theme that the HP LaserJet (like the aforementioned 3D printer) is far from a “gadget”. And it could be argued that LaserJet printers and MFPs are communications tools critical to automating and thus transforming the modern office and its workflows, gadget or not. But I won’t take that road. I think the choice was the right one, particularly with the pedigree of the company’s current 3D Printing effort leading back to this seemingly humble technological ancestor. And returning to that “Influential” in the title of Time’s list, it’s appropriate for the first extremely popular inkjet printer from HP to be on the list. Next month, we’ll see there is more than 3D printing that can be found on the Deskjet family tree.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

HPQ Earnings Tomorrow - Forecasting IPG Revenues of $5.3 Billion

My Excel 2013 spreadsheet is forecasting $5.3 Billion for Q2, FY16

As a long-time "quant" going back to my undergraduate days at University of Oregon, I have loved taking the opportunity for "retooling" a bit over the last several years, with the latest in statistical theory and tools via the MOOC revolution. My current challenge (the second in a series of three in an "XSeries") is from edX and Delft University of Technology, and titled "Data Analysis: Visualization and Dashboard Design".

The most recent assignment fits just perfectly with tomorrow's HP earnings announcement. Taking the 10 years of quarterly data I have compiled since beginning my second career, I entered IPG (Printing and Imaging) quarterly revenues (in billions), and let Excel 2013 plot a trendline and make a forecast based on a simple linear model. (Compared to undergraduate days, it couldn't be more simple!) 

Before tomorrow's announcement, I wanted to share the model's purely technical, simplistic forecast of a $5.3 revenue quarter for HP Inc.'s printing unit. From eye-balling the data and their seemingly increasing negative momentum, one might judge this forecast to be a bit high. We shall see tomorrow after the market close - stay tuned!


The actual results announced on the 25th fell short of the forecast as I had anticipated. The Q2 2016 revenue number was $4.6 Billion, per HP.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

April 2016 Observations - My Invisible Upgrades

The times have been exciting for me lately, at least in terms of the geek side of my life. For the first time in nearly two-and-a-half years, I have recently upgraded my Apple iPhone, and after reconfiguring offices about a year-and-a-half ago, I have swapped out my main “desktop” PC, which I had already owned for a while but was moved up to the starting rotation in late 2014. While these and similar exchanges seem to always turn out to be more work than initially planned, and usually leave one with a lingering, haunted feeling of “what have I forgotten that will now be lost forever?”, these two nearly completed upgrades have been remarkably smooth, and similar in one particular way - they are both relatively “invisible”.

I realized after a day or two that the “Invisible” in my description has to be traced in part to my sub-conscious recall of a nearly 20-year-old but still well-known technology/industrial design book named “The Invisible Computer”. Its author is Donald A. Norman, a prolific writer and opinion leader in the area of technology product design and user experience. Norman made a brief career stop at HP during the late 90s* when I was fortunate enough to get to know him a bit. While one of his other titles, “The Design of Everyday Things”, is better known and more highly rated, Norman’s ideas on “Invisibility” are surely the subliminal inspiration contributing to the favorable assessment of my recent experiences. A list of Norman’s quotes from the book include, among others, 
“As the technology matures, it becomes less and less relevant. The technology is taken for granted. Now, new customers enter the marketplace, customers who are not captivated by technology, but who instead want reliability, convenience, no fuss or bother, and low cost.” – Chapter 10, The Invisible Computer, Donald A Norman.

Invisible Upgrade #1 – Apple iPhone SE

One old, one new - which is which?
Apple’s “next big thing” announcement in March of this year may have fallen flat in some quarters, but it got my attention. Anticipating the event, now that I am an Apple Watch wearer, I was interested in what might follow a year after its initial launch. But in reality, my curiosity had been piquing more at the media anticipation that Apple would unveil a new, smaller phone, which seemed fascinating if only in the fact that it seemed so contrary to the bigger-screen trend of the past few years.

Sure enough, the SE confirmed that rumor, and photos showed it looked just like the trusty iPhone 5s I have used faithfully since the end of 2013. In 2015, I had actually initiated an upgrade to one of Apple’s larger form-factor phones (6+) but returned it only a day later, not liking the larger size and really the whole feel, and concluding I was still a happy, satisfied member of the iPhone 5s installed base!

The March announcement described the iPhone SE, as smaller than their recent phones but exactly the same size as the 5s. The idea of my favored form factor combined with the latest performance and features, at least the majority of those features, got me to make the move. As Walt Mossberg summarizes (a bit in defense of Apple and the criticism by many of an offering deemed less-than-spectacular), “The idea, of course, was to make it irresistible for the diehards to upgrade.” If that makes me a diehard, so be it – Mossberg hit the nail on the head, and I couldn’t resist. I am now a couple of weeks in, I love it, and the upgrade has been so “invisible” that the new one even fits into my old 5s case!

Invisible Upgrade #2 -- Desktop Replacement Computer

I am not as far along with the upgrade taking place on my desktop, with my previous “Desktop Replacement” computer being replaced by a newer “Desktop Replacement”. This category is characterized by Windows-based computers (at least that’s all I could find when searching), that look like laptops, but are big and powerful enough to replace traditional desktop computers, which are typically in a tower form factor of some sort. Along with the “big and powerful” comes a laptop (in some places even dubbed a “notebook”) that is really more than I would ever want to carry around or travel with.

Old (background), new (foreground) - spitting images?
The old one has worked for me for quite some time, but the strain has been showing, so a good deal on an HP Envy moved me to make the change. Little did I realize when I ordered it, though five years newer than its predecessor, that it would appear physically nearly identical, even when taking into account one of the big features I have been looking forward to having – my first desktop with a touchscreen. Inside, the numbers are all up, in some cases way up, in terms of internal memory, disk storage, and CPU power. But with both running Windows 10 (the old one was upgraded last summer), I look forward to a smooth finish to this upgrade too, and like with the new iPhone, I relish having fewer sluggish moments and enjoying more overall “headroom” leading to increased personal productivity.

So what does it all mean for printers, the focal point for many of my Observations? Can the industry expect to prosper selling new printers and MFPs to the installed base, focusing on the new hardware’s improved speeds and feeds? When individual and group productivity can be improved, the argument can still be made – I am an example. The more physical similarity, the better. I think it’s a bit like the old saying about what makes a good haircut, something like “the best haircut is one that makes it look like you haven’t had a haircut.”
And that “Desktop Replacement” category I have accepted and taken for granted for so many years? The more I think about it, I realize it’s like a product concept we kicked around at HP years ago, for a new laser printer, the “dot matrix replacement”. It was one of those where we on the internal team all knew what it meant, but as far as providing insight, guidance and inspiration on our next product’s ability to meet customer needs, it was meaningless. More on this topic coming!
Norman, D. A. (1998). The invisible computer: Why good products can fail, the personal computer is so complex, and information appliances are the solution. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
*I know that many of my readers are current or former HP employees, as I was for 25 years, leaving in 2005. (With my second career as a blogger/analyst covering the printing and imaging industry, I have covered HP so much that it sometimes seems like I have extended that 25 an additional 10+ years.) So for those readers in mind, I am including this from my research for this post, as an appendix of sorts. My hope is that some will appreciate, as much as I did, Norman’s amazingly frank assessment of his stop as an executive for HP, back when I got to know him a bit. This is straight from his LinkedIn profile, regarding his time with HP (1997-1998).
“Spent a frustrating year with the mission to establish new products in the "information appliance" arena. Such a nice company, but nobody was empowered to do anything. and the one project I got engaged in was a complete disaster: enough to populate a comic novel. I finally quit out of boredom. HP was such a nice company that they wouldn't let me quit: it took me week to convince them to let me go. Today, HP is doing much of what I hoped to do then. But then, it was independent fiefdoms (divisions), none of which had sufficient resources to do new, bold ventures. Today, HP is structured very differently. Then it was a dull, dead company. Today is appears (from the outside), to be vibrant and thriving. (My friends tell me that the old culture still exists, still resentful of the changes. Culture is hard to change -- but HP looks like it might make it.)”

Thursday, April 07, 2016

3D Systems $DDD Reseller delighted with choice of Vyomesh Joshi (VJ) as new CEO

Retired HP ($HPQ) printer chief Vyomesh Joshi was back in the business news this week, being named CEO of 3D Systems ($DDD), a long-time leader in the field of 3D Printing. And at least one 3D Systems reseller could not be happier with the choice.

A little over a year ago, I profiled Intermountain 3D, a Boise-based business (see "February 2015 Observations - HP Alums Take On 3D Printing World") that includes among their portfolio of activities, being a 3D Systems reseller, and actually "the" 3D Systems reseller for the surrounding three-state area. In a bit of an HP "old home week" I asked their CEO for a comment on the new 3D Systems CEO, all of us sharing many years in the printer business at HP.

VJ would be a strong leader for any company, but the high-tech R&D and marketing knowledge he brings to 3D Systems are truly outstanding assets. We can’t imagine a better choice.
-- Lynn Hoffmann, CEO Intermountain 3D, authorized 3D Systems reseller for the intermountain west

After leaving HP in 2012, VJ had been keeping a fairly low profile, but per a Recode interview by Ina Fried (@InaFried) this week, he has been keeping his hands in the tech world. Per Fried's interview/profile, "Joshi said the past four years he has spent advising startups and serving on various boards will come in handy in the new role." Going on the quote VJ about priorities in the new job, "We have to look at our services approach to B2B (business-to-business) and make sure we excel there,” Joshi said. “That’s the work we will be doing.” And that emphasis is no doubt a big reason for Hoffmann's enthusiasm.

Potential Frenemies?
And back to the "old home week" of HP alums, and an interesting twist? One HP veteran who remains with the company is Stephen Nigro, who some would characterize as a VJ protege. In what was far from the first time for Nigro to follow along after a Joshi organizational move, Nigro became HP's overall printer chief in VJ's absence, reporting to now-CEO of HP, Inc., Dion Weisler. But in mid-2015 (before the company split last Fall - see "Revisiting Splitsville"), Nigro was named president of a new division, HP's "3D Printing Business". The industry continues to anticipate HP's very big shoe dropping and for now it seems Joshi and Nigro are poised to be fierce rivals - or will it be as potential partners?

Friday, April 01, 2016

State of the Apple Watch - Inspired by USAToday's Ed Baig - I would buy one again too!

The "gold standard" in marketing research questions for assessing customer satisfaction has long been something along the lines of "would you recommend to a friend". But I think in the case of the year-old Apple Watch, the question (see above) posed by USAToday's Ed Baig is even more relevant. His March 20th "op-ed" asked, "Would I still buy an Apple Watch?".

Buy again or recommend to a friend - key gauges of customer satisfaction
I have been evaluating my answer to that question since then. Actually it's not that hard for me to answer - YES! (And being less than original, my more complete answer follows Baig's - "On balance, yes"!)

While the watch began to ship a year ago, I held out until early June to buy mine. I was using a Pebble smartwatch when the Apple Watch launched, and I referred to it for a time as my "placebo" - knowing it would hold me off from getting the Apple, at least for awhile. That worked for two months!

As an original iPhone customer, having upgraded and used one ever since 2007, and as a life-long wristwatch wearer, I was an easy target for Apple. (Though as a Baby Boomer, probably outside their ideal demographic.)

As far as how I use the Watch, like Baig, I find the Apple Watch Notifications are closest to making my watch a "must have". Informing me of an incoming call or text when grabbing for my phone is not advisable, for either safety (driving) or courtesy (in a meeting or when around other people in a quiet setting).
The "Stand" meter and reminder -
a life-changer for me

My other basics on the watch include Activity, Weather, and Stocks - they probably consume 80%-90% of my "glances", outside of simply checking the time of day. Speaking of "glances" I think it is interesting how little I see or know about "Glances" (with a capital G) or "Complications" - Apple's categories for watch activities or apps. This part of the Watch marketing effort seems to me to been a miss, by a wide margin.

I have tried a large number of apps, and have mostly set them aside after a few days (which truthfully is true for iPhone and iPad apps). My Fidelity app on the watch was cool in giving me visibility to a few retirement accounts, but it's not like I'm going to be day trading on my wrist. The Shazam app remains on my watch, but I have never quite figured out its ability to do its magic (waving the wrist to ID a song) and how it reacts with the iPhone, so I typically don't try. As mentioned, the basic Activity app is a behavior-changer for me (in a good way), but other fitness and health apps I've tried just haven't done it for me.

And then there are the little surprises. When using my iPhone for driving directions, it's pretty cool to get a little "tap on the wrist" when approaching an upcoming turn. And the notification feature for Instagram, with a "like/reply" capability, is great fun. Also, my Siri-activated Timer action, when parking at a downtown meter, has kept me ticket-free for nearly a year.

The "look" of my Apple Watch,
 entering year two
As far as accessorizing, I vowed to never buy an Apple-brand anything for the watch, which was $350 at the time I bought it. But I caved in and bought one of the new canvas bands, for $50, after they were announced last week. The original bright-blue Sport band had outlived its novelty for me, and a third-party leather band purchased on eBay for $20 was acceptable but had wear issues. So I celebrated the Watch's one-year anniversary by splurging for the blue canvas band and a new look.

So, yes, I would buy again, and am happy to have an Apple Watch. As far as recommending to a friend? I must say I am not always as enthusiastic on this front when given the opportunity. So far, with the Apple Watch, I think it really helps to be an enthusiast.