Digging all things digital

Digging all things digital

As the digital photography craze fuels the inkjet market, vendors are rolling out products and supplies — including consumables and photo quality paper — to cater to the market.

Clamouring for attention from home users, SOHO and the SMB market, vendors are churning out new and improved inkjet features and functionality.

“The push towards the digital home is seeing bits and pieces coming together to make larger and better pictures — and all vendors have a finger in the pie,” GfK analyst, Stuart James, said.

“It’s the way of the future — it’s lucrative.” Interconnectivity was the latest hype, he said.

Indeed, the technology best suited to printing digital photos is available in the inkjet market. And the fastest growing segment was the multi-function space, Canon Australia’s marketing manager for the consumer imaging products group, Stuart Poignand, said.

Lexmark A/NZ general manager for consumer and small business, Stephen Waugh, agreed that all-in-one printers have taken off in the last 12 months.

Lexmark has rolled out six products that cater to home users, and the SOHO and SMB space. The range delivers vivid photos and graphics capabilities, along with enhanced colour output, he said, and print speed was a key feature.

The Lexmark X5250 offers 14ppm in colour and 20ppm in black, he said. The all-in-one aimed at the SOHO space, the X4270, manages print speeds of up to 19ppm and colour speeds of up to 10ppm.

And while the multifunction inkjet printer market was thriving, recording a 19 per cent growth with 166,000 units in the first quarter of 2004, IDC said the Australian single function inkjet market saw a two per cent decline in units compared with the fourth quarter of 2003.

Tech turn-ons in the inkjet world

The digital camera was initially the main driving force behind the growing obsession with printing, Poignand said.

This year, 1.5 million digital cameras are expected to be shipped in Australia, an increase of 60 per cent over last year.

Most important though were recent advances in inkjet quality.

“For the first couple of years of digital cameras, not a lot of photos were getting printed,” Poignand said.

“That has changed now. People are printing their photos because the quality is so great, it is affordable and easy to use.”

Colour fidelity was essential, as well as the ability to unearth the finer details, Poignand said.

Making the digital printing process simpler was the introduction of an industry standard, dubbed pictBridge technology, Poignand said.

Essentially, pictBridge made it easy to print photos directly from any compatible digital camera using a single cable, he said.

“Just about every major camera and printer manufacturer is participating with the standard now,” Poignand said.

Indeed, direct printing from camera storage media without a PC is a key selling feature.

Lexmark’s Waugh said the company wasn’t offering pictBridge at the moment, but it was planned for future models.

General manager for Kodak’s consumer and professional Imaging (C&PI) division, A/NZ, Stephen Morley, said the company rolled out a new printer dock in June which was pictBridge enabled.

This meant it would work with other manufacturers’ cameras that had the universal standard.

Easy to use

The Kodak EasyShare printer dock produces direct 4 x 6-inch thermal picture prints (full size and multiple images per sheet) with or without a computer.

“By not having to rely on a computer, you get what you want quickly,” Morley said. “PC-less technology is much easier for people to use ... We’re trying to make digital photography simple.”

The company is pitching photographic systems which include digital cameras, inkjet media, films, minilab and kiosk applications, digital photo services, accessories, inkjet picture papers and printer docks to rev up the market.

HP consumer marketing manager, Guyon Collins, said the pictBridge technology was one of a few features souping up the inkjet space.

Recent inkjet advancements for HP include the launch of the eight-ink system, which adds two more inks to the mix to create up to 72.9 million colour combinations. Typical inkjet photo printers — and most of the HP line — hold six inks, which create up to 2.4 million colour combinations.

Pushing the digital printing movement in the consumer and the SMB space, HP recently rolled out the PSC 1315 all-in-one inkjet printer, copier and scanner, along with a colour laser printer — the LaserJet 2550 — geared at helping SMBs bring jobs back inhouse and save money on external printing.

In a bid to capitalise on a bulging market, HP’s inkjet strategy caters to three segments: the versatile business inkjet, which offers glossy colour; inkjets catering to the first time digital camera buyer; and the all-in-one range including the PSC 1315 (for the entry level user) and the 2510 at the top of the foodchain.

Lexmark is offering a six-colour system that combines dye-based and pigmented inks, producing photos that last longer and resist fading, Waugh said.

New longevity inks along with borderless photos were other hot features in the inkjet space, he said.

HP is pitching its light fastness system which it claims lets photos live for more than 70 years — the traditional lifespan is 20 years.

Epson is also hot on the inkjet trail, offering a concept photo printer with an eight-cartridge printing system aimed at photographers and graphic designers. The technology adds red and blue inks to the standard cyan, magenta and yellow to increase the colour range on all prints.

The company had rolled out ultrachrome hi-gloss pigment ink that was designed to meet the demanding durability, colour gamut, tone requirements of photographers and digital artists, Epson Australia business marketing manager for inkjets and MFPs, Irma van Leeuwen, said.

Market possibilities

So where is the cash for resellers? In a bid to capture the digital wave, mass merchants and resellers were bundling printers with digital cameras — or other gear including routers — as special promotional offers to take advantage of the digital wave, Waugh said. In addition to the typical hardware sale, resellers could pitch solution-based selling, Poignand said.

“Consumers are motivated now by solutions,” he said. “Show me what you can do, not just the product. This is really exciting technology, and people are getting turned on by it.”

HP’s Collins said the company was offering regular training for resellers on digital printing, whereby the channel could get accreditation.

While colour lasers are best suited for the office realm — and now more affordable — inkjets are ideal for consumers and businesses that require top quality photos.

“In this space, users want high-resolution, sharpness and glossiness,” Waugh said.

A key feature of the inkjet market is its direct printing functionality — something colour lasers weren’t yet able to do, GfK analyst, Stuart James, said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it came out, but it’s not the killer functionality,” he said.

Indeed, the major move in the inkjet market is the dedicated photo printers segment, James said, which is able to create vivid 4x6 images at a competitive cost.

Konica Minolta’s general manager of Asia marketing, Steven Mawson, said the direct photo print functionality in the colour laser market was on the company’s radar screen. And while he would not discuss details, he said it was an interesting segment of the market.

Even while direct print functionality isn’t top of the list, colour lasers are gaining in popularity.

Given the technology advancements in colour lasers — Konica Minolta has added a polymerised toner, a wax that offers more consistent colour, stronger images and even tones to assist in printing photographs — along with drastically lower prices, Mawson said the colour laser printer now had a stronger presence on the mainstream market.

“Laser printers are attacking inkjets in a much stronger way than ever before,” he said. “Inkjets can’t compete on cost per page or speed.”

Regional sales manager for Fuji Xerox Printers, Paul Harman, said adding businesses that wanted greater quality and better business efficiency, should consider purchasing an entry-level colour laser instead of an inkjet.

While more expensive, lasers offered greater benefits in terms of TCO. Although inkjets were cheap to buy, the consumables were expensive in many cases and then there was an issue in regards to service if there are any problems with them.

And while inkjets produce the high resolution quality — on specialised paper — the colour laser is coming into its own, and giving inkjets a run for their money.

“The biggest drawback: inkjets are expensive,” Harman said.

The lower cost/high output colour lasers were having an impact in the SMB space, he said.

“We are seeing a battle brewing,” Harman said. “The colour laser kills an inkjet off in the SMB space.”

While multifunction was the growth sector in the inkjet realm, the colour lasers were encroaching on their territory, he said.

In addition to inkjet advancements, Poignand said the other area of opportunity involved the convergence of camera technologies.

“The video quality digital still camera is growing amazingly, as are the photo capabilities of video cameras,” he said. “So as a link into the IT business, video is a higher requirement of connectivity for editing movies — so there is a real opportunity in the IT channel for video, and then a commonality with their existing printing business through fantastic photographs that you can now print direct from digital video cameras.”

Canon’s megapixel-plus digital video cameras are also pictBridge capable.

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