Thursday, January 31, 2008

2008 Office Laser Printer Guide

Better Buys for Business has published its 2008 Office Laser Printer Guide, which covers monochrome (black-and-white) office laser printers to up to 55ppm. While monochrome printers are far less sexy than color machines, they are still the mainstay of most offices. Speeds keep increasing (now have several office machines at 55ppm) as sticker prices go down. At the same time, costs per page for the least expensive models continue to climb.

The 114-page guide covers vendors from Brother to Xerox, with product reviews, specifications, an industry briefing, and buyers’ tips. You can order it here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Kodak on the mend?

Eastman Kodak declared today that its net income showed a major upswing in the most recent quarter, thanks to increased digital sales. Kodak has long been on the decline, thanks to the rapid implosion of the analog photography business. Since 2004, it has shed over 27,000 jobs. But signs are good that the radical corporate restructuring is over and the digital strategies (including ink jet printers and color production printers) is starting to pay off.

Indeed, digital sales at Kodak surged 15%, even as analog sales mostly film) dropped 15%. According to a Wall Street Journal article, the company hopes to sell half a million ink jet printers in 2008. Other strong areas are in digital cameras sales and digital photo printing kiosks.

This is good news for Kodak, where digital now accounts for over three-quarters of revenue. But margins are still thin and the competition on all fronts (ink jets, cameras, high-end printing) is getting tougher all the time, as companies like HP, Canon, Sony, and Xerox are all on the move.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New heavy-duty Kodak production scanner

Kodak recently introduced the i780 Scanner. This 120ppm machine scans in color, grayscale, and black-and-white and has a list price of $39,995. Among the excellent features on the i780 are ultrasonic double-feed detection, auto-color detection, autoimatic image orientation, auto cropping, and multistreaming output. The i780 is a speedy extension to Kodak’s comprehensive series of scanners.

The i780 holds up to 500 sheets in an elevator-type feeder. It is rated for a staggering 130,000 pages per day. Interface with a PC is through FireWire (IEEE 1394). It comes with Kodak’s Perfect Page imaging software.

Friday, January 25, 2008

HP gears up for variable data printing

Hewlett-Packard this week announced the purchase of US-based company Exstream Software. Exstream makes software that streamlines the use of variable data printing. The price for buying the privately-held company was not announced.

Exstream was founded in 1998 and currently has some 300 employees. Its software allows companies to create personalized marketing documents and billing notices. Its key products are called Dialogue, Dialogue Live, and AFP Studio. These Web-based products would be part of HP’s Print 2.0 initiative.

While the products can be used with some of HP’s higher-end LaserJet color printers and MFPs as well as its Indigo printer line, the suspicion is that HP is working on a high-speed digital press product, where it will compete against Canon, Xerox, and Kodak. HP has already made it clear that it sees its greatest source of future growth in chipping away at the vast majority of printed pages that are still done on analog, conventional printing presses.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Toshiba refreshes black-and-white copier line

Toshiba announced over the last few weeks a nearly total upgrade of its black-and-white copier/multifunctional line, from 20pppm to 86ppm. The upgraded models, all similar to current models, are signified with a “3” at the end of the model number. The new models are the e-STUDIO 203L, 223, 283, 353, 453, 523, 523T, 603, 803T, 723, 723T, and 853. Speeds correspond to the first two digits.

The major changes in the upgrades involve compatibility with Windows Vista XPS printing, enhanced security, and (in some cases) added memory capability. This is a baby step, enhancing slightly what is already a very good copier product line. The prices remain the same as those of their predecessors.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

OKI survey on printing

Small and medium businesses (SMBs) are paying a price for unmanaged printing costs. That’s according to a survey just released by OKI Data Americas. The company surveyed 700 IT professionals from SMBs across the U.S. and found very little in the way of serious cost controls in place. Such companies are far less in control of printing costs than larger companies, and the headache is growing. (Small businesses are defined as those with 1-99 employees, while medium businesses have 100-999 employees.)

The survey found that:
• Over half of SMBs expect to print either the same amount or more in the future as they do currently
• Seventy-seven percent of SMBs still prefer to review just about everything on paper rather than onscreen. Meaning they print out almost everything.
• SMBs report that fifteen percent of jobs printed are non-work related (as opposed to seven percent at large companies).

In general, few companies had any real control of how much was being printed, who was printing, on what devices, and at what cost. OKI proposes a printing needs assessment, extended use of administrative tools, and the education of users to avoid paper and toner waste.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New Xerox branding

Xerox, which five years ago was close to the brink, has made an amazing recovery, thanks to an impressive stream of fine new products and a streamlined business model. But Xerox’s logo and branding have remained essentially unchanged for decades.

Now Xerox announced a new logo and with it a new brand strategy. As Richard Wergan, director of worldwide brand at Xerox, has said: "The new logo is meant to disrupt the mental model of Xerox as just a copier company."

The new logo has a more rounded, softer font, along with a graphic icon that, it appears, signifies Xerox’s global reach. Brand is an important part of the mix, and Xerox’s had stagnated, in spite of its record of innovation. As a BusinessWeek article (“Xerox Gets a Brand Makeover”, 1/7/08) notes:

Xerox, despite the ubiquity of its brand, operates at a brand-building disadvantage to rivals like Canon, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), and Toshiba in that those brands have strong consumer franchises to buttress their business-to-business images. "The research shows that this gives our competitors an advantage in communicating innovation and modernity," says Wergan.

Friday, January 18, 2008

New Lexmark Color MFP

Lexmark has added to its extensive color laser MFP line with a fast new networked machine that costs under $1,000. The Lexmark X560n prints at 31ppm in black-and-white and at 20ppm in color. It also supports copying, scanning, and fax. This machine handles up to 1,600 sheets of letter-sized input. It also has a 50-sheet ADF and supports PCL and PostScript.

Sub-$1,000 fully-featured color MFPs suitable for workgroups are yet another sign of how quickly the industry is evolving. A few years ago, there were few single-function printers that could print at 20ppm or faster in color, and the few that did exist could cost twice as much.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ricoh adds new viscous ink MFPs

Ricoh keeps coming out with new color printers and multifunctionals based on its GelSprinter technology. As Ricoh works on the technology, the printing speed keeps going up as costs stay reasonable. These look like good choices for small workgroups and home offices.

The GX3000S ($549 list), GX3000SF ($600 list) and the GX3050SFN ($849 list) offer printing, copying, scanning, and (except in the base model) faxing. They are aimed at desktop or small-workgroup use.

All there models print at 29ppm in color and black. Ethernet connectivity is optional on the GX3000S and GX3000SF and standard on the GX3050SFN. The printers are host-based, with the GX3050SFN also supporting PCL. There is a 20-sheet document feeder on all models. Scan-to-email, not always available on competitive models, is standard with networking.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Matsushita changes name to Panasonic

Japanese conglomerate Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Japan’s second-largest technology company, has announced that it will change the company name to that of its most important commercial brand, Panasonic. The company manufactures copiers, printers, and scanners (along with product ranging from TVs to washing machines to vending machines) under the Panasonic name.

According to the company, the move stresses Matsushita’s current reality as an international company, not a narrowly Japanese one. According to an article on (“Matsushita rebrands as Panasonic, its best-known product brand”, 1/10/08): [Matsushita president] "Ohtsubo made it clear that the switch was related to perceptions of the company's brands. ‘Our brand value has unfortunately not developed as we hoped in recent years.’"

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Toshiba SmartCard

The move to access control for security and accounting in the copier industry keeps growing. Today, Toshiba’s business products division announced the availability of a new product called e-BRIDGE SmartCard for its e-STUDIO line of copiers. The product controls access to the copier through use of an identity card, including current commonly-used building access cards. The standard formats it supports are HID iClass and MIFARE Classic.

The product consists of a contactless card reader that attaches to a USB port on the copier console, along with Web-based software. The software can be customized for various levels of security, so that users can be limited to certain kinds of access to MFP features. It can be installed on an existing e-STUDIO product by a Toshiba dealer technician.