Mon, 17 Jan 2000

Hewlett-Packard sees the world becoming more colorful

By Zatni Arbi

SINGAPORE (JP): Life is surely more fun in colors. When a new technology is born, it might have to start with black and white. Eventually, however, color will be the right way to go. That seems to be one of the main themes of Hewlett-Packard's press symposium last week at the Regent Hotel, Singapore.

Take the first digital scanner, for example. It was a black and white device. Today, you won't find any scanner from any brand that is not also color-capable -- except, of course, those highly specialized scanners such as the QuickLink Pen Personal Scanner from WizCom Technologies, which is designed to capture text as you brush it across the page. Or the high-speed Context FSS 8300 scanner, which is used by companies like Geoservices to scan printouts of seismic data.

The first generation of digital cameras, such as the Fotoman from Logitech, was also black and white -- with several levels of gray, of course. Today, virtually all digital cameras will capture images in full colors. Even cell phones and PDAs are beginning to show up with color displays.

Alina Wang from HP's Imaging and Printing Solutions, asked, "Can you find a Web site that is only in black and white?"

And the trend is also observed in the workplace, too. HP's General Manager for Imaging Solutions for the Workgroups Chuck Walter said "Color is now the norm."

"People have different reasons to prefer color rather than monochrome. In offices, for example, people use colors to highlight the most important portions of their messages to reduce possibilities of errors."

Both at home and at work, the growing popularity of digital cameras also contributes to the increasing dominance of color printers, especially the special breed that can print photo- quality images in addition to ordinary documents.

"People quickly embrace digital cameras because these gadgets allow them to choose only the best shots to be printed and discard the rest," Chuck said. "With film-based cameras we don't really have the privilege, as the one-hour photo service usually print all 20 shots that we've taken. With a digital camera and a personal photo printer, we can print only the ones that are really worth putting in our family albums."

HP's Asia Pacific Marketing Director for LaserJet Imaging System, Joergen Jakobsen, cited some other interesting reasons for using color. "There have been studies showing that people send in their payment early when the invoices are printed in color rather than in dull black text."

Now, isn't that intriguing? HP promised to provide me with more specific details of the studies that they alluded to during the media gathering.

One area that has not changed very much is, perhaps, the facsimile, although there have been efforts to standardize color faxing since 1996, and today we already have the ITU T.30E International Color Fax standard. Most of the fax machines that we have at our homes and offices are still monochrome, and as far as I'm concerned, color faxing is doomed because of the emergence of far more cost efficient alternative: e-mail.

New Digital Sender

Suppose you're a desktop publisher and you want to quickly show a sample of your previous works to a prospective client, what should you do? Sending it via an ordinary fax machine will not do it, because the monochrome fax output will not impress and will not be able to convey to him your tasteful choice of subtle colors.

HP has a solution, which was one of the major highlights during last week's event. Dubbed Digital Sender, this device may be the first of a new category. It is basically a network color scanner with a built-in sheet feeder.

However, it also has the built-in communication capabilities of a computer. Using an integrated keyboard and LCD display, which you can see in the accompanying picture, you can instruct it to scan color-printed material and send the digital file to a printer that is connected to the same network, or to your client's fax machine using a network fax/modem that connects you to a public switched telephone network, or to an e-mail address on the intranet, extranet or Internet. To top it all, Digital Sender is also compatible with most Internet fax-service providers, such as

The third option is certainly a boon to desktop publishers as well as others who need to send color printed materials quickly, as the compressed file of the scanned material, which may be in the TIFF or PDF format, can be sent as an attachment to an e-mail address. When received, the recipient will be able to print it out on their own printers without loss of color subtlety and quality. Any document can be shipped almost in real time without the high cost of overnight courier service.

Kevin Lai from HP Imaging & Printing Solutions explained, "The cost of sending a digital file of color material using the Digital Sender 9100C can be 5 percent of the cost of shipping it by express mail, or even 1 percent of the cost of an international courier service."

Uh oh, the ability to send documents as e-mail attachments rather than faxes surely adds yet another threat to telephone operators' revenues. HP quoted some testimonials from users of Digital Senders in the U.S. and Europe, where this device was introduced 15 months earlier, in which they claimed to have enjoyed tremendous savings on their phone bills as their documents were now e-mailed instead of faxed (Telkom, are you listening?).

The biggest downside of the new Digital Sender is, in my opinion, its steep list price -- US$3,599. For that amount of money, we could actually buy two high-end scanners such as the ScanJet 6390C, two white-boxed PCs with modems and network cards, and do exactly the same thing. The Digital Sender's main advantage is, of course, that it is much easier to operate and it can save far more money than its price.

My only suggestion to HP would be that they add file storage capability to the device so that we won't have to rescan printed material if we need to resend it or send it to different addresses later on.

Another area that still remains largely in the black, gray and white area is laser printing. The majority of us still use monochrome laser printers for the obvious reason that the initial investment is so huge.

"A color laser printer can cost more than four times the price of a decent DeskJet printer," said Joergen. "Because of the price difference, people tend to overlook the fact that the cost of printing is actually lower when using the laser printer," he added, emphasizing the need to evaluate our needs when choosing between a color inkjet and a color laser printer. "If you print a large volume of prints every month, the color laser printer will be a more cost-efficient choice because of its higher duty cycle," he said.

Now, what in the world is this thing called "duty cycle"? If you're often confused by the wide range of printer models that any printer vendor offers, the duty cycle may help you in making choice.

Similar to the Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) specification that hard-disk makers use to indicate the expected durability of their products, different printers have different duty cycles.

Low-end personal printers may have a duty cycle of 500, which means that the product is designed for use to print around 500 pages a month. On the other hand, network printers may have a duty cycle of 150,000, which means that it has been designed strong enough to churn out around 150,000 printed pages a month. If you force a printer with a duty cycle of 500 to print 5,000 pages a month, it will naturally have a much shorter useful life.

There were several other new hardcopy products from HP that you will be seeing at Plaza Gajah Mada or Mal Mangga Dua soon, such as the new ScanJet 5300C and a wide array of multifunction devices that HP calls All-in-One products. These include devices that can function as a scanner, a printer, a copier and a fax machine at the same time. We'll be reviewing some of them in more detail as I receive the loaned demo units. (