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Is 35 Million A Lucky Number?

5 Feb, 2001 By: Brian Bissett imageSource

Is 35 Million A Lucky Number?

Here's a pop quiz - I guess I'm showing my age because my kids tell me they don't do such horrid things in school anymore. What is the magic number of paying subscribers in the US that were needed before cable TV and the Internet became really interesting business phenomena? Well, according to a thought-provoking presentation at last month's CAP Ventures/MFPA Converging Digital Peripherals Conference in Boston, that magic number is 35 million. The source for this number was Lee Caldwell, VP and Chief Technology Officer for HP's Imaging and Printing Systems division.

Here's The Second Factoid From The HP presentation:

Guess when US residential installs for high-speed Internet access are forecast to hit that same milestone? The answer is 2003, if one includes both cable modem and digital subscriber line customers.

So what could that mean for you, your customers, your MFPs and how they use them? ... Potentially plenty! Consider the possibilities.

Some of the most obvious repercussions yet simultaneously the trickiest to navigate, have to do with what will happen inside all of these quickly connected homes. With high-speed access a given, it starts becoming easier to buy into what is today merely the over-hyped promise of so-called Internet appliances. Note that leading forecasts now presume that by 2003 more than 50% of Internet-connected devices will no longer be traditional PCs. The impact of alternative web devices is likely to be threefold.

· First, many of these devices create exciting new opportunities for both printing and scanning. Print you own personal TV Guide ... send Junior's latest crayon masterpiece to Grandma ... e-mail that receipt to the credit card company ... take those one-to-one custom coupons to the grocery store ... have your movie tickets in your pocket before leaving the house ... send that shoebox full of snapshots to a digital picture vault. You start to get the picture?

· Second, all of this demand for more printing and more scanning (and the occasional copy or fax) could easily create a backlash among consumers overwhelmed with the idea of a buying and finding space for a single-function box for every imaginable application. A one-printer home may become a two-printer home, but how many will become three-or-four-printer and two-or-three-scanner residences?

· Third, MFPs already have a big head start in the marketplace compared to many emerging types of appliances. Moreover, companies such as HP and Canon that make these MFPs have a big lead over pure consumer electronic companies when it comes to understanding what Internet connectivity means. This leaves the door open for today's MFPs not only to increasingly complement emerging Internet appliances but to themselves morph into appliances.

HP is clearly salivating over this prospect. We editorialized about some of the same issues four years ago (“From the Network as Computer to the Peripheral as Appliance” in June 1996). How does the concept of an MFP appliance as tomorrow's “Personal Paper Portal” hit you? We know of one big-name technology company actively researching just this opportunity.

The kinds of outcomes described above have impacts that extend far beyond the four walls of digital dwellings and the personal MFPs an appliances, residing therein. Consider what all of this could mean for some of the long-promised opportunities for big-iron print-on-demand printers and presses.

Many the coming high-speed Internet connections will be going precisely into homes where live the types of folks that major marketers are after. What happens when Amazon or Lands' End or Wal-Mart in 2003 and beyond decides it's far more effective to send would-be customers a personalized color brochure - or better yet streaming video - directly over the wire to their home PCs or appliances?

What do you think that does to all of the one-to-one printing with variable data on $250,000 engines that conference after seminar has promised are the wave of the future? Stuff still gets printed, of course. But how much? Where? By whom? And on what types of devices? Is the big winner as likely to be some souped-up HP OfficeJet or tomorrow's Xerox Future Color?

To get an inkling of what could occur, think back to what happened in the 1980's and 1990's as PCs, networks and ubiquitous laser printers spread throughout American offices. This new infrastructure dramatically off-loaded hardcopy pages that would otherwise have gone to pricey glasshouse printers. Then think of what CD-ROMs started and web sites further accelerated when it comes to printing on paper (offset, digital or otherwise) personnel manuals, machine parts catalogs, home encyclopedias, IRS tax forms, and so on.

Perhaps the biggest danger facing current hardcopy players is simply believing that tomorrow will look a lot like today, only better and faster.

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