Hit the road, Jet

Hit the road, Jet

Long nights at the local copy shop aren't exactly restful for travelling executives and salespeople who need to update presentations, print contracts and modify sales proposals on a daily basis. But with the latest portable printers and a laptop, those after-hours binges could be replaced with a quieter night in a hotel room.

Today's portable printers weigh 1kg or less and will fit easily into a briefcase, making them ideal travelling companions for on-the-road executives.

And although they don't offer the paper-handling options and speed of most office printers, (Canon's BJC-50 tops out at 5.5 pages per minute (ppm) for black and white and only 2ppm in colour, for instance), the latest inkjet models do borrow print-head technology from their desktop cousins, so they produce fine detail and eye- pleasing output regardless of colour technology.

While model choices are not great, there are several points resellers should consider before deciding to carry any particular product in the mobile printing market.

First, there's thermal versus inkjet. Thermal printers use heat to darken special (and quite expensive) heat-sensitive paper. Inkjet models spray tiny drops of ink onto inexpensive inkjet paper to create characters and graphics.

Thermal printers such as Pentax's PocketJet II print only in black and white, but they also don't require you to replace pricey ink cartridges.

Inkjet printers like the Canon BJC-50 can produce colour output, but they also tend to be larger and heavier than thermal models.

Most portable printers support Windows 3.1, 95 and 98 and Windows NT. Using a printer with a Windows CE device requires the inclusion of CE drivers with the printer. In some cases, they can be downloaded from the manufacturer's Web site.

Many portables also offer at least a couple of connection options, with a proprietary parallel cable being the most common. Some offer Infrared Data Association port connectors as standard or as an optional add-on. Other portable printers connect via serial ports or PC Card adapters. All of those connection types will probably be superceded by smaller, simpler and faster Universal Serial Bus (USB) connections in the relatively near future, however.

Unfortunately for resellers and buyers alike, portable printer choice isn't huge and several major printer vendors don't even offer portable models.

`We used to sell them, but we don't make or market them any more,' says Max Schudeboom, general manager of Citizen Australia. `Our PN-60 model is sold in the US, but nobody has asked for it, so I don't know if we're ever going to bring it in,' he said, echoing the sentiments of a number of vendors and resellers contacted for this feature.

If they do have portable products, most vendors have not paid much attention over the last few years to the need to upgrade them and increase product awareness that would put this still nascent market into second gear.

According to Adrian Weiss, Hewlett-Packard Australia's marketing communications manager, Commercial Channels Organisation, while HP's slow-moving HP 340 portable printer is still on the market, the company has not upgraded it for a while.

`It's not a market where we've seen the need to make a range of competitive products and it's not our key focus either,' Weiss explained.

Even one of the market leaders, Seiko, seems unwilling to invest marketing dollars in a market awareness campaign.

`At the moment, it doesn't seem that the demand is there,' a Seiko spokesperson in Aust-ralia said, `but we do sell up to 30 products at the time when people in special professions, such as couriers, buy and modify it for special use.'

Considering vendor disinterest in mobile printing, it's not surprising, then, that the channel would not show any enthusiasm for selling portable printers.

The lack of market support has forced Pentax's distributor in Australia, Sydney-based Kennedy CR, to stop bringing Pentax portable printing products into the country, even though it still stocks the remaining units of the last shipment it brought in.

Kennedy CR focuses on photographic products and Peter Giamrakis, Kennedy CR's product manager for Pentax, said his company will consider selling portable printers as a value-add in the photographic market following the release of a Pentax digital camera later this year.

However, with its customers mainly dwelling in niche areas, the portable printer might have to wait for its 15 minutes of fame some time later.

At present, the demand for portable printers allows for a movement of no more than 10,000 units a year, according to IDC Australia's printer market analyst Les Champkin.

`There is nothing dramatic happening in this market, ` Champkin said. `The market leader, Canon, ships around 5000 units in this space and its potential for growth is somewhat clouded,' he said.

While no one doubts the fact that mobile computing, and therefore mobile printing, are still emerging markets in Australia, especially compared to their growth in Japan and the US, there is no doubt that the mobile execs of down under will follow the trend. And when they do, portable printers will become those essential add-ons that make a portable printer reseller stand out from the provider of `printerless' mobile solutions.

`The overall growth of mobile executives and mobile workers is very exciting and their ability to print is going to become increasingly important,' Ken Cozak, business development manger for Palm at 3Com Australia, commented.

`The take up of mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) continues and I expect a whole new range of services and add-ons will be needed to follow that growth. But there is no doubt that more market penetration is needed before these mobile accessories become commonly seen as necessary.'

While Cozak expects Australia to seriously start considering portable printers as the third generation of mobile devices makes these desirable and sexy gadgets more affordable, he doesn't expect that to happen for at least another 18-24 months.

IDC's Champkin is more pessimistic in his predictions. `Given that many have been talking about the take-off of the notebook market in Australia, which has not really happened yet, one can only assume that the driver [of the portable printer uptake] is going to be the market itself. If and when it starts to pick up, that's when resellers should start thinking about it.'

However, once the uptake of mobile computing and especially the rise of the idea of accessing the Net via handhelds takes root, they are only likely to grow further, which is the reason Brother International is standing by its portable printer with unshakable faith.

`We think there is a future in the port- able printer market and that's why we continue to invest in it,'' George Nawa, director of Brother International in Australia, confidently stated.

`We know that return on investment is bigger in the desktop arena, but mobile in general is a very, very strong growth market, especially when it comes to wireless application protocol (WAP) and portable development,' he explained.

Contrasting Champkin's `play safe' advice, Nawa believes there are several reasons resellers should give some thought to entering this market early, not least being better than average margins for the middleman.

`Because portable printers are not widely available and therefore not discounted, margins are much healthier than in the $100-200 printer market, ` Nawa said. `Also, there is less likelihood resellers of portable printers would get into the price war.'

Answering critics such as Citizen's Schudeboom, who identified the coastlines and inefficiency of portable printers as the main stumbling blocks in bringing this technology into the mainstream, Nawa says Brother has done a lot to dispel criticism.

`Yes, until recently, mobile printers, even though they're small, have been too big to carry around, and perhaps too slow, but our products are a lot more mobile and powerful now,' he said.

Nawa acknowledges that low awareness of the product and its benefits can impede the sales for those brave enough to try to crack the market right now.

But he is adamant the impediments may well be turned into advantages when good salesmanship is concerned.

`You can differentiate yourself from the rest of the notebook dealers by offering portables as a value-add and knowing that margins on computers are constantly shrinking, which is very important,' he said.

`Point of sale marketing is the prime opportunity to add value to your sale.'

For now, though, portable printers seem to be one of those markets one should watch closely, occasionally trespassing just in case that old saying `there is no gain without risk' turns out to be the name of the game.

After all, everyone is saying that, eventually, portable is going to be all rage.what's new from . . .

. . . Pentax

At about half the weight and one-fourth the size of the BJC-50, the Pentax PocketJet II thermal printer may be a perfect fit for anyone who needs the ultimate in printer portability and doesn't need colour.

Pentax's special paper isn't as thin or glossy as normal thermal fax stock, which makes it more suitable for storage as well as handwritten annotations or highlighting. A slight yellow tinge separates it from good-quality inkjet paper, however.

The paper's expense, about eight-and-a-half cents per sheet, means you won't save anything over inkjet printing costs for black-and-white documents, either, even though you never have to replace an ink cartridge.

The printer attaches to your PC with a proprietary parallel cable or via an optional infrared adapter ($US115). In print tests, the PocketJet II delivered crisp black-and-white documents without the `bleeding' common with inkjet printouts.

At nearly $US400 for a complete kit (including cables, battery and adapter), the PocketJet II isn't cheap. But if you need a reliable, simple printer that can go anywhere with ease, it's hard to beat.

Pentax has also recently released the PocketJet 200, a 200dpi printer that weights less than a half a kilo and is compatible with all print-enabled Windows CE devices. Printing at three pages per minute, the PocketJet 200 needs no other maintenance but the replacement of high-quality thermal paper it uses to print text and graphics, according to Pentax.

Pentax's distributor in Australia, Kennedy CR & Co do not carry the PocketJet II (priced at $US399) at present, but can be contacted for information on (02) 9518 9500. . . Hewlett-PackardLightweight and compact enough to fit into a briefcase, the HP DeskJet 340 portable printer is designed for travelling or anywhere that space is limited, particularly for notebook PC or PowerBook users.

The printer uses HP Resolution Enhancement tech- nology (REt) to ensure a high-quality print job, according to the company.

The package includes a 30-page sheet feeder and flexible paper handling for printing on a variety of media, such as legal paper, transparencies and labels.

Also included is the HP Colour Kit, with a snap-in colour print cartridge and storage container, allowing up to 16.7 million colours.

The resolution is 600 x 300dpi for black and white and 300 x 300dpi for colour printing.

For wireless printing, there's the HP DeskJet 340Cbi portable printer, which includes all the features of the DeskJet 340, plus the HP Infrared Adapter and HP NiCAD rechargeable battery.

The battery has a print life of 100 sheets and no need for connections.

The HP DeskJet 340 sells for an RRP of $499 and comes with a 12 month warranty.


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. . . Brother

Brother has just released the MP-21C portable laptop printer, which offers mobility without the need for external power sources, such as adaptors and cords.

The colour printer draws both data and power from the laptop along a single PCMCIA connection cable, so the printer will always have power if the laptop does, Brother claims.

The printer's power consumption is only 2.5 watts when printing and 1.0 watts when idle, which Brother claims is 10 per cent of the power consumption of similar models.

The resolution is 720 x 720dpi and print speeds are 1.75ppm in draft mode and 1.3ppm in normal mode.

The MP-21C uses Piezo printing technology, with a pressure based system, giving users control over dot size and position.

The company claims the printer is very environmentally friendly, because the Piezo technology separates the ink supply from the print head. When the ink cartridges are empty, only the cartridges need to be thrown out, not the entire head. There are also two ink cartridges (one for magenta and yellow and one for black and cyan), so when one ink colour runs low, the entire ink cartridge does not need to be replaced.

The printer is compatible with most Windows environments, including Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT 4.0.

Optional extras include an AC power adaptor, parallel cable and interface and 30-sheet feeder to transform the machine into a desktop unit.

The Brother MP-21C has an RRP of $649.


(02) 9887 4344 . . CanonCanon offers a choice of mobile printers, the BJC-50 or the BJC-80. The BJC-50 weighs just 900 grams and measures 302mm (wide) x 112.5mm (deep) x 49mm (high) - the world's smallest portable colour printer with optional full colour scanning capabilities, according to Canon.

The BJC-80 measures 300mm (wide) x 157mm (deep) x 57mm (high) and weighs 1.4kg.

Both printers come with batteries to allow mobile printing. The BJC-50 comes standard with a Lithium Ion battery, while the BJC-80 comes with an optional Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) battery pack. The BJC-50 prints up to 5.5ppm in monochrome and 2.1ppm in colour, and the battery prints up to 100 A4 pages per charge.

Both printers feature an in-built infrared (IrDA) interface, allowing documents from an IrDA equipped Windows 95/98 notebook or desktop computer to be sent directly to the printer without the need for cables.

Both printers can be transformed into a scanner by replacing the cartridge with an optional Colour Image Scanner cartridge, enabling colour scanning up to a resolution of 360dpi.

Canon's drop modulation technology enables the printhead to eject large and small ink droplets rather than only one of uniform size, which the company says results in higher precision, reduced graininess and finer colour gradations on plain paper.

As with all Canon Bubble Jet printers, the BJC-50 and BJC-80 print on a wide selection of media including plan, coated, water resistant, high-resolution and glossy papers; overhead transparencies; high gloss and back lit display film; fabric sheets and T-shirt transfers.

Both printers also incorporate Canon's Image Optimisation technology for enhancing low-resolution images such as Internet images or digital photos.

Included standard is a black ink cartridge, colour ink cartridge, a universal AC adaptor, and Image Optimiser-enhanced printer drivers for Windows 3.1/95. (Windows 98 and NT 4.0 printer drivers are available from the Canon Web site). Also available is the optional scanner cartridge and auto 30-sheet folder.

The BJC-50 has an RRP of $699 and the BJC-80 has just dropped in price from $499 to $399 RRP. The optional scanner cartridge has an RRP of $149.


(02) 9805 2000

. . . Seiko

Seiko Instruments has a range of portable and handheld printers. Seiko's DPU-201 series thermal printers are designed for portable printing and limited space application, such as field-test instrumentation and medical equipment.

The printer offers bi-directional and logic-seeking features which are aimed to provide speed and efficiency.

It comes with a rechargeable battery with a charge life of 1500 character lines. Supported character formats include enhanced and condensed fonts with resolution of 91 x 91dpi.

The DPU-201G weighs 400 grams, and the DPU-201GS weighs 370 grams. The dimensions for both are 135mm x 100mm x 35mm.

Seiko's DPU-3445 handheld thermal printer is designed for use with a range of wireless devices.

It comes with IrDA and RS-232C interfaces that are compatible with devices including medical equipment, personal organisers and mobile phones.

The DPU-3445 measures 160mm (wide) x 164.2mm (deep) x 59mm (high) and weighs 370 grams.

Resolution is about 200dpi. The DPU-3445 comes with a Lithium Ion battery (included in the weight) with external charger and power consumption is 7.2VDC.

Prices are available on application.


(02) 9888 7266

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