Hewlett-Packard is putting more intelligence into its printers to adapt to the emerging market for Internet printing. HP's move to address the Internet market is anchored on a realisation that print volumes will decrease as more information is stored digitally.
In fact, officials at a press briefing here quoted industry forecasts that say only 30% of information will be printed on paper by 2004, with the remainder being stored digitally. This is a significant shift from today, where about 90 percent of information is still stored on paper.
HP believes, however, that there is a huge opportunity in converting data back and forth from paper to digital and back. In fact, HP expects to be unaffected by the shift from the print-then-distribute method still common today to the distribute-then-print method that is made possible by the Internet and electronic mail.
HP's Internet printing vision is one in which all devices can send and receive information from anywhere to anywhere. This means that aside from printers, HP is also readying its other hardcopy products like scanners for the task.
This anywhere-to-anywhere passing of information can take four forms, HP officials say:
-- Printing from the Internet.
-- Viewing, distributing and printing photographs and images from and to the Internet.
-- Scanners as "on-ramps" for paper to the Internet.
-- Printing over the Internet.
Software is the enabler, which is why HP has joint development efforts with Microsoft Corp., Netscape Communications Corp. and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). HP is co-developing new, nonproprietary printing standards for HyperText Markup Language (HTML) which is used by content providers to develop Web sites. As a member of the W3C, HP will also develop new printing enhancements and Web browser extensions.
HP's efforts along this line should make available hardcopy products that can do selective and faster printing of text and graphics from selected Web pages. Improvements on HTML, on the other hand, should result in better document formatting for viewing and printing. To date, HP and the W3C are working to ensure that style sheets, like the so-called Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and the technology required to print them accurately, become a standard part of the Web. CSS is an HTML enhancement which enables Web browsers to uniformly render Internet information so authors and artists can have a manageable way of creating the visual effects they want.
During the press briefing, HP executives asserted that while the percentage of printed information is decreasing, the total volume of information doubles every three to five years. And instead of making printers obsolete, the Web and e-mail have even increased the amount of information being printed in offices today.
"The Internet can literally make fax obsolete overnight [but not printers]", said Bill P. McGlynn, HP's general manager for the personal laser division. "Printers are safe for a long, long time because people will always want to print at least once to have a copy of what they send off. We like printed forms and it will stay that way."
Instead of making printers obsolete, E-mail applications have doubled the volume of data for printing, McGlynn said. "There are a lot of things on the Web which they expect you to print. An example is Amazon.com which gives the first two chapters of selected books. But since so much junk gets printed each day and paper is getting scarce, HP is helping users print only the items they need and not the entire Web page."
Carolyn M. Ticknor, vice president and general manager, LaserJet Solutions Group, added that many users who subscribe to online publications still print subjects that interest them. "They don't want to read everything online, and they still want the `feel' of the publication," she said.
HP's Internet printing vision also includes assigning Internet addresses to printers and other devices to allow people, even those without PCs, to receive printed information from the Internet.
"The day is not far when this can happen," McGlynn said. "HP will evolve its devices, and who knows, one day at a push of a button a book will fall off your LaserJet. HP sees printers turning into Internet appliances in the next three years."
HP's imaging solution for the Internet is comprised of software modules and a file format, FlashPix, which has been proposed as a new standard for accessing and distributing high-resolution images on the Web. FlashPix, an image-file format and software tool kit introduced by HP, Kodak, Live Picture and Microsoft, minimizes the memory requirements for high-resolution images and thereby reduces network overhead.
In addition, HP has a solution called JetAdmin, which provides intranet-wide printer management and print path identification. A user can send a page over a corporate intranet to a printer anywhere in the world by using JetAdmin and TCP/IP protocols.
HP is also pushing its new workflow concept called MOPy (Multiple Original Prints), which directly assaults copying machines. This is part of HP's recently introduced Digital Workplace strategy for simple, seamless flow of information between paper and digital forms, from person to person, from device to device.
HP sees strong market opportunities for MOPying, saying the intelligent additions to printers give peripheral vendors new things to sell. "HP is attacking the copying business from the printing side, while makers of copiers attack HP from the copying side and they are ready to evolve copiers, too. But their disadvantage is they don't have networking skills like HP and their products are seen as devices that always break," said McGlynn.
For this category, HP is now pushing its LaserJet MOPier, which combines original prints and an HP laser printer with the copying, duplexing, paper-handling, collating, stapling, and sorting capabilities of a high-speed copier, and makes it all accessible on the network. HP executives said it is now cheaper to print multiple copies today than to produce copies.
HP is also bullish about all-in-one or multifunction printers which open another opportunity for peripheral vendors to sell more. By 1999, HP expects more than 30 percent of all printers sold will be all-in-ones.
Vince Ferraro, marketing manager at HP's Asia Pacific hardcopy marketing center, said one attraction of multifunction machines is that they help users save money. For the price of a color scanner, they get a color copier and other functions free, he said.
Ferraro admitted though that the demand for all-in-one machines is not big yet, especially in the small office, home office segment. "All-in-one is an overkill for now for small to medium-size companies. For the home market, the most they want now would be fax and black and white printing capabilities, while small offices would look for scanning."
Even market competition along this line is not hot yet. Other vendors like Cannon also have similar products, but HP officials said the competition they get at some point comes from within the organization.
Meanwhile, HP believes that scanning, though still unwanted in homes, will soon be like printing, especially as home users discover what it can do. "Scanning is the flipside of printing," Ticknor said.
In fact, HP executives said they believe scanners will play a vital role in making the Internet a better communications medium. To date, HP offers the ScanJet 4s personal scanner and the ScanJet 4Si network scanner as digital "on-ramps" for paper-based information to enter the digital superhighway. Once in digital form, the information can be communicated instantly to a global audience. HP's color flatbed scanners, the ScanJet 4p and ScanJet4c, can also be used in this manner.
All these, Ferraro said, put HP in the finished document business. Ticknor added that HP views printing today not just in terms of putting things in print but in terms of exchanging information. "It's not just putting dots on the page, but it's a part of the entire lifecycle of information," she said.