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BW Businessworld

'IPG Is Fully Committed To Technology Innovation'

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For most small and medium businesses (SMBs), buying a printer is often a matter of going and finding a multifunction device that suits their requirements in terms of print costs and speed. Over the years though, this space has not changed dramatically, with the core components -printing, scanning and copying -largely staying the same, except that print quality has gone up and prices down.

Could the LaserJet Pro M275 a.k.a TopShot, HP's innovative 3D scanning multi-function device change all this? At its most basic, the device adds a second scanner, via an arm that sits above the device. The embedded camera then allows you to scan in any 3D object small enough to sit below it and fit in an area no bigger than an A4 sheet of paper.

It's a rather novel concept, and a number of applications immediately come to mind. Want to show your friends the papier-mâché mask your kid made? Or how about the jewellery or handicrafts you produce? Or the product you wish to auction off on eBay? Just place the product on top of the M275 and hit scan. The result will be a high-resolution 2D photo of your device created by combining 6 different images that the camera takes from different angles. The image processing removes the background leaving you with a clean object image. You can then either print this image or instantly upload a scan to the web.

The HP Topshot LaserJet Pro M275 will be available in Asia Pacific in early 2012, and pricing is yet to be announced.

John Solomon

Tushar Kanwar discussed the TopShot and HP's Imaging and Printing Group (IPG) at large with John Solomon Senior VP, Asia Pacific/Japan HP IPG at the HP Innovation for Impact Summit recently.

TopShot is very novel and innovative for the space, but where do you truly see it being used?
We don't know yet how broad the applications are going to be, we've launched one product and while we're excited about it, we want to see what the consumer reaction to it will be. The initial focus for us is that we think it has a great ability for a simple workflow, because while there is a wow factor (which is nice to sell a product), but what we want to look at is how do we make SMBs more productive. And since a lot of SMBs are in the business of selling and demonstrating their products and services, TopShot is not just a cool new way to capture it, but also from a workflow perspective, it enables them to showcase their products on a website very quickly. And going forward, much like we did with ePrint, we'd be interested in looking at how we can apply what we learn on this one model to proliferate such innovations (assuming it's well received) across other lines of our products.

Let's talk about ePrint for a second. You've been in the market with ePrint for well over a year, what's the response to ePrint been like, especially in India?
In general, the interest in ePrint has been extremely high. With this feature, every print job is sent through an HP server, so we actually know how many pages are printed and how people are using it. The thing with applications, especially on the mobile space and the Apple app environment, is that most people use it for a week and then they stop using it. We've found it's different with ePrint; consumers try it, they like and they continue to use it. They may use it less, but there isn't that steep a drop off because fundamentally it is such a useful utility, and in my case as with many others, they've incorporated it into how they use their printer in their workflow. You will also notice that we've lowered the price point of ePrint, particularly looking at a market like India, which is a price sensitive market on the hardware side. And we've seen a high propensity in metros like Delhi and Mumbai where you have a lot of mobile users - iPhone users, BlackBerry users -use ePrint a lot.

HP's LaserJet Pro M275 a.k.a TopShot
HP's LaserJet Pro M275 a.k.a TopShot

One criticism that has been made about ePrint is that while the apps are a strong component of the offering, the printing itself is a very rudimentary interaction with the printer. For instance, I can't send instructions for two-sided printing, or print with photo paper. How do you plan on addressing that?
 You're absolutely right. What we looked at first was basic printing, and what we decided in the first generation was to make simplicity our first goal and give up some of the features. But now what we've done with this current introduction of ePrint is to bring back some of the features you typically had through your printer driver. With the downloadable app that we're launching, you will recover many of those features, such as selecting number of copies, the print mode, the media type and you'll even be able to use scanning functionality from the printer to your mobile device.

Speaking of apps for ePrint, the discussion hasn't really happened and HP has maintained a silence on the app space when that could well have been the centrepiece in this app-aware economy. When will see a shift from hardware to apps?
 If you think about it, ePrint initially was the core app; it's different in the sense that you don't pay for the app and it comes with the printer. I think beyond that what you will see us doing and what we're announcing are apps for education, and we're going to talk a lot about that, invest in that because we think that is so critical to growing the market in India. We're at 70 per cent in the inkjet market in India, and a key way to grow the market is via the education sector.

At some time in the future, we will also publish the SDK for apps for ePrint, and at that time, we will be able to talk more broadly about apps rather than just the focus on specific segments like education.

A broad complaint has been that while the initial cost of the hardware is low, the recurring costs of cartridges is what keeps people away from printing as much as they'd want to, and from printing in general. Could you speak to what you're doing to address that?
This is something we've been focusing on for some time now, right from the "everyday" cartridge in India to the InkAdvantage product we've announced. With InkAdvantage, we're looking to change the model - we'll charge you a little bit more for the hardware, but charge you much less for the supplies. We ran a pilot in Philippines and we believe a lot of consumers self-limit their printing, and this is proven by the fact that people who bought the InkAdvantage product printed a lot more than people who didn't buy it. We're seeing that if you lower the cost of supplies, people print more. InkAdvantage, we feel, is a huge breakthrough in getting people to print as much as they need.

VJ (Vyomesh Joshi, EVP of HP's Imaging and Printing Group) mentioned that enterprise is a big focus, and a lot of HP's messaging seems to suggest that enterprise is a large part of their future direction. Where does HP's consumer business stand in this? There are open fears about it being hived off as a separate business, much like HP's consumer lineup in PCs.
We're extremely focused on the Imaging and Printing business, and the consumer business is a huge and relevant part of that. Something that is not that well understood is that we have huge leverage in IPG in enterprise and consumer, because the inkjet technology in publishing is directly scaled out from what we used in the OfficeJet Pro lineup of printers. IPG is fully committed to technology innovation that we can deploy and the fact that we can do it in enterprise is enabled by our consumer business. We need that scale of making millions of printers to be able to leverage that technology into the graphics and enterprise segments. For us, we have got to be in all these segments. Unlike HP's PC line-up, we are a vertically integrated company where we develop our own technology, so for us the scale comes from R&D, development and manufacturing.