Saturday, July 19, 2014

Google Glass Economics, Part Three

eBay Glass auctions during mid-July, 2014
It's been nearly a year since I became a Google Glass Explorer, and started a dedicated blog ( In that time, I've given my Glass unit a pretty good "run for its money", mostly by taking hands-free photos and a few videos. I have also used it in the classroom, at least a bit, and loaned it out to several friends and associates for them to get some hands-on experience with what has turned out to be a very controversial product, even to the point of fear and ridicule! For an example, See "The Daily Show" sendup (below), which actually including well-known Glass Explorers (going the opposite direction than I did with my blog, naming the segment "Glass Half Empty".)

The Glass "aftermarket", via Ebay, is one of the things I have found most interesting while following the Glass saga. The $3,000 - $5,000 being commanded during the Summer of 2013 indeed influenced my decision to drop the $1,500 to get my Glass unit and join the program, figuring I had a profitable "out" if I decided to exit the program. At that time, Glass had an aura of exclusivity, with Explorers selected mysteriously based on their Tweets earlier in 2013, and terms and conditions technically only allowed loaning or gifting units, and not selling them. (Those early eBay listings all contained some form of "caveat emptor" language.) But since then, Google has broadened the Explorer program, to the point where used units no longer command a premium over the $1,500 list price. The expected discount-for-used (See eBay screenshot, above.) I chronicled this back in March with "Google Economics Part Two", which happened to be my second-to-last post in the dedicated Glass blog, choosing to bring my intermittent Glass Observations to this blog. Back then, a non-scientific sample of three Glass auction listings on eBay averaged closing bids of $1,413. This week, the four auctions pictured in my screenshot sold for an average of $1,139.

Will there be a "Google Economics Part Four" post, you might ask? Stay tuned...I have a very strong feeling that there will be!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Impact of Mobile in the Workplace as viewed by The Economist

A new report sponsored by the Mopria (Mobile Printing) Alliance (see "May 2014 Observations - Market Segmentation Among Smartphone Users Who Print?" offers some interesting perspectives on the impact of mobility in today's workforce. Titled "Untethered employees - The Evolution of a wireless workplace", the summary of the research undertaken by The Economist comes up with some interesting results, with at least a little bit directed to the current and future role of hard copy (e.g. "paper remains a presence in many workplaces.")

I am awaiting an interview with Mopria executives, and will share more of what I've gleaned from the report, as well as highlights of my discussion, in the next day or so.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

June 2014 Observations – The Plain-paper 3D Printer - What’s in a Name?

This June 4, 2014 Analysis of a "Plain Paper 3D Printer" from MCor really got me thinking
As I complete this weeks-long-contemplated post about a “Plain-paper 3D Printer” I recently discovered, Amazon has just announced its Fire Phone, which had been rumored to be a “3D phone” prior to its launch. So before taking a closer look at the Mcor Technologies product and its interestingly juxtaposed description, I will digress on other names, including the Fire Phone.

The importance of a name - examples

The Amazon product more or less lives up to the rumors (see "How 3D Works on the Amazon Fire Phone"), but the company instead named the viewing feature “Dynamic Perspective” to describe its integration of multiple cameras and software that give the user a 3D effect on the phone’s screen. I applaud Amazon’s precision in naming, even if (or because) “3D” is so widely used these days in describing so many diverse products and features. But one wonders if “Dynamic Perspective” is going against the tide. From my perspective (arguably more static than dynamic), as a long-time tech industry veteran as well as more recently a professor of Marketing, naming (more than just branding) really can make a huge difference!

I have often asserted that for a new product or service to be successful in the market, it needs to have a good descriptive name or at least catchy label, either at the category and/or brand level. A recent example for me was the Apple iPad – which came upon (despite some early disparagement) a simple, catchy product name to go with a nascent category moniker ("tablet computer"). But another of my favorite examples comes from way back, and that is the solution category called “desktop publishing”. This two-word phrase really captured much of what was going on in the early days, with products like Apple’s LaserWriter, with its Adobe Pagemaker, the Mac and Aldus PageMaker. (Slightly later, of course, it was the HP LaserJet combined with some of the earliest versions of Microsoft Windows running on an IBM PC-compatible computer, equipped with PageMaker or other page composition software.)

Aldus PageMaker software was a key component to the "Desktop Publishing" solution - a great category label
That's one of my favorite positive examples, and one more negative (that turns positive) was when I saw the development and launch of scanning products meant to be shared in the office by multiple users. Apparently the best name that had floated to the top for this product during its development was “network scanner”, following in the heels of successful “network printers”. The Network Scanner was far from successful, but a few years later the small number of customers who actually had figured out how to use it described their activity as including “digital sending” documents. Thus the product in its newer version was renamed as a “Digital Sender” and became quite popular.

Mixing labels – the Plain Paper 3D Printer

So back to the Plain-paper 3D Paper. Whether or not "3D phones" (or 3D TVs, or whatever) make sense or become popular, we do find “3D” as being a very pervasive buzzword these days, and that includes its combination with “printing”. 3D printing has been around for quite some time, of course, but the last couple of years has seen the interest spike tremendously, among technology futurists, Wall Street analysts, and Kickstarter enthusiasts, among others. But when I came across a story about a “Plain-paper 3D Printer”, I felt like I had entered a time warp!

The revelation about plain-paper 3D printing came from well-known investment news-and-opinion source Motley Fool and its article about MCor Technologies (, “Meet the 3-D Printer That Disrupts 3DSystems Corporation and Stratasys, Ltd.'s Business Model”. I was well aware of the “disrupted” companies, 3D and Stratasys, but felt a bit chagrined that MCor was new to my radar (despite coverage at least a year prior), as was its potentially revolutionary plain-paper 3-D printing approach. The article describes how the company chose the source material for its supplies, plain office paper, as a cheap and widely available material for their products, the output of which is suitable for modeling and prototyping, using, per the article, “selective deposition lamination, or SDL, [which] involves a water-based adhesive and a tungsten carbide blade to precisely adhere and cut paper one sheet at a time to create a 3-D dimensional object after many repetitions.”

I should have known about plain-paper 3D printing at least a year ago, if I was paying full attention!
The importance of Plain Paper in the rise of laser printing

Despite the company and the concept being far from new to the world, the descriptor “plain paper 3D printer” was new to my ears, and got me thinking that if there ever been a confluence of industry buzzwords from different areas this was it. For me, “Plain Paper” printing goes back to the advent of the LaserJet for sure and even a few inkjet printers slightly prior. The HP LaserJet printer, which I worked on beginning in 1986, had been launched in May 1984 (meaning we just missed celebrating its 30th anniversary) – and made its claim to fame based on the three “Q’s”, i.e. it was quick, printing relatively quietly, and with very high print quality. This was brilliant positioning, with product performance that made good on the promises, as it compared this new desktop laser printer to the technologies and products previously available, most common among them the typically noisy and slow dot matrix printers. Beyond the three Q’s though, another secret ingredient to its usability and customer acceptance was the LaserJet's ability to print on plain copier paper, already available in virtually every office. It didn't require the special paper of thermal and other technologies, nor did it require the tractor-feed paper of the dot matrix world, making LaserJet and its follow-ons all the more popular with millions of users.

I learned about this especially well while managing HPs aforementioned desktop publishing program. The strategic relationships with Aldus and Microsoft were the cornerstone of our program, with what I thought to be natural and sensible extensions being alliances with some of the well-known paper vendors, who offered very high-quality paper appropriate for DTP output. These plans were shut down, however, by the consensus of slightly more senior management, who had been in place from the beginning, and enlightened me on what I had not realized - that anything that implied the LaserJet work better with one type of "plain paper" than another would start to weaken the plain paper claim, something like, “when we say we print great with plain paper, we mean ALL plain paper”.

So will Plain Paper 3D Printing provide the disruption the Motley Fool forsees? None other than Stapleshas initiated an in-store 3D Printing service using MCor machines, for a prominent example of a B2B early adopter. But as far as mass acceptance, time will tell. But it’s interesting that what worked with toner-on-plain-paper a generation ago, may just work with plain-paper-sliced-and-diced in the current age.

Is 3D Printing Really Printing? And Comparing it to Commercial Printing

I first learned about 3D printing about 15 years ago. Then, I quickly realized that despite the fact that the field’s (Wikipedia offers a good description here) moniker includes “printing” in its popular label (its other more precise label is “additive manufacturing”), but other than the jetting action of the 3D “print heads” – a technology were HP really excels, then and now – used in some of the products, the overall category really had little or nothing to do with printing, at least as I knew it.

I had seen this parallel before, also during my time as an HP staffer, when we entered commercial printing. It now seems very obvious, but in that case too, the thing that was the most in common with office printing was the word “printing” – though it involved toner (or ink) and paper, the customers, products, solutions, channels, etc. were virtually all different than what we were accustomed to with office printing. Of course, HP took up the challenge, and figured out “Commercial Printing” in its many variations, via a very systematic process, even with inevitable fits and starts along the way. This included company and technology acquisitions, selective hiring of skillful people from commercial printing backgrounds, and an overall strong commitment, that now over decades has taken the today’s successes.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What would Nuance acquisition mean for printing/imaging unit?

One of the most important companies in the printing/imaging ecosystem is making headlines this week with talk about its potential acquisition. But Nuance Communications' speech recognition capabilities are what the company is most widely known for among the broader business/technology community, so one has to wonder what happens if an acquisition transpires that focuses too much on the language recognition? Today's coverage in Forbes, headlined "Siri Is For Sale: Will Apple, Samsung Fight Over Nuance?", is a case in point.

I have had the pleasure to work with the company (in its ScanSoft days), while helping to manage partners while I was still at HP, and over the last 8+ years I've had the privilege of covering many of their products and acquisitions that have made the company integral to printing, scanning, and managed print services. The Nuance Communications Wikipedia entry is a good recap of their recent history too (since most of the articles I penned are behind paywalls), and just borrowing an example list of brands under the Nuance umbrella - e.g. PaperPort, Visioneer, Textbridge, Omnipage, Equitrac, eCopy - gives an idea of their reach. And a list of companies bundling or otherwise partnering with Nuance Imaging is a veritable who's-who of printer OEMs.

But clearly its speech recognition technology, integral in its own right to the world of mobile devices, has the eyes of investors, including legendary Carl Icahn, with his current 19% of the company. Would an acquiring company with similar focus know what to do with the Imaging side of the business? Among the two leading suitors, Samsung has a considerable printing business where one could imaging Nuance Imaging residing -though the fact Nuance has never had printing hardware seems to have made it simpler for them to partner with myriad of competing hardware companies.

Time will tell, but I imagine these are interesting, if nerve-wracking days for my friends on the Nuance Imaging side of the house!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

HP Designjet and Market Segmentation

Coming in 2015 - HP announced a PageWide Designjet family today in San Diego
Today’s press/analyst event for HP’s Designjet Production Premiere is history, and as always it is great to be invited to an activity with an industry leader, even (especially?) the industry leader with whom I was employed for 25 years. Even after over eight years passing since I wore the HP Employee name badge, I have many friends still with HP, as well as countless warm memories from those days. And happily, at this point I have developed many new HP and agency relationships as well. And then there are my fellow analysts, with some of those friendships going back to when I was on the client/vendor side.

The news of the company’s announcement of a coming series of wide-format, page-wide printers went official at mid-day, shortly before our event broke up at mid-day, and no doubt much will be written about the new hardware (due in the second half of 2015 and as yet unpriced and unnamed), as well as the soon-to-be-available Designjet products which were included in today’s announcment (on the hardwarde side, the HP Designjet T3500 Production eMFP and HP Designjet T7200 Production Printer, and a new software solution, the HP Designjet SmartStream Pre-Flight Manager and Controllers).

But for now, in addition to thanking my hosts at HP and Porter Novelli as well as my fellow analysts, for making this a great experience, I’d like to comment on one thing. I mentioned those warm memories when I worked in HP’s Imaging and Printing Group? Back then I remember the high-end graphics teams (both in San Diego and Barcelona) as being exemplary marketers in terms of understanding their customers and designing products and solutions to meet their needs. This has been continued and enhanced and in materials distributed as part of today’s announcement, they identify a dozen different market segments in their product portfolio brochure. This is a great example and one I will be using in my marketing classes as outstanding B2B segmentation.

Friday, May 30, 2014

May 2014 Observations - Market Segmentation Among Smartphone Users Who Print?

  •          Would my next print job on an AirPrint MFP go best with a Cabernet or Merlot?
  •          Is an Android-enabled printer available somewhere near my bus route?

Based on recent research, these could be the kinds of questions smartphone users are asking themselves, at least if we can put a few data points together. Once again, this month I take on a happy confluence of several of my favorite topics from somewhat far-flung tributaries of thought. One of those interests is the general field of marketing segmentation and advertising, another is my fascination with the world of mobile devices and the state of mobile printing, and the third relates to the overall quantification of things and how important it is to track the numbers, especially over time.

Earlier this month, I noticed several stories that referred to a study on the contrasting characteristics between users of Apple iPhones (which all use iOS) and Google/Android-based smartphones. As Ina Fried’s Re/code story (“Android Users Are More Likely to Take the Bus, While the Frequent Fliers Choose iPhones) summarizes, Battery Ventures did research on user activities and characteristics that are most (and least) correlated with owning and using the two dominant smartphone operating systems of the day. As Fried’s report on the research indicates, the motivation for the study is market segmentation, leading to better deployment (i.e., ROI) of mobile ad dollars - in other words, what are the basic buying interests and characteristics that separate the users of each platform? And given that information, where should potential advertisers place should ads for their products and services with the goal of reaching the most likely buyers?

As a part-time professor of marketing, I am fascinated by segmentation, and in fact subscribe to the idea that market segmentation is one of the most critical ideas in the whole discipline of marketing. Segmentation is on my short list of topics, in fact, that I stress to my MBA marketing students, threatening to not let them out the door of my classroom until they can recite a few segmentation basics. For example, whenever someone hears “no one will buy this” or “everyone is going to love that,” I contend that they need to immediately reject those statements, knowing that segmentation precludes such universal judgments.

So when Battery Ventures’ research of smartphones users finds iPhone users are more likely to be wine drinkers, and Nexus users are more likely to be beer drinkers, this is a useful metric, but like other points about segmentation, it is neither a value judgment nor a statement of causation (despite the correlation). I refer readers to the Re/code and Business Insider articles for more “fun facts” about the two camps gleaned from Battery’s research, and especially take in some of the reader comments, and how strong some peoples’ reactions are to this perceived “stereotyping” that really isn’t that at all, but still seems to raise both ire and suspicion.

A now-classic example of similar segmentation involved Windows and Macintosh web surfers. An August 2012 Wall Street Journal story disclosed that the travel site Orbitz, based on user research, was offering Mac-based web browsers higher rates as compared to Windows users. (See “On Orbitz, Mac Users Steered to Pricier Hotels.”)

As the mobile/smartphone market has developed over the last several years, there have been a long string of stories about “iPhone versus Android” quantification that includes, for example, how many apps are used by platform, the amount of web browsing for which each is responsible, the volume of ecommerce by each, etc. In every case, the numbers tilt Apple’s way. At the same time, the market figures show iOS losing the market-share war, more so every reporting period, leaving app developers and others to debate which platform to support first – the one with the installed base numbers in its favor (Android) or the one with the more active, involved users (iPhone). One major app developer, Microsoft, recently made what seems the logical decision, porting the long-awaited mobile Office apps to iPhone in March and with Android support TBD. (For example, see "Why did Microsoft port Office to Apple's iOS iPad before Android?")

At a recent HP Industry Analyst event, I had a conversation about mobile printing and its users with none other than Dion Weisler, senior vice president and head of HP’s PC and Printer Organization. He indicated, without spilling all the beans, that a large difference existed in printing behavior when it came to the two platforms. In thinking about this more, and then following up with others, it made sense more printing would come from the more active iPhone users.

The data HP was willing to disclose, both during their Analyst event in March and also via follow-up recently, add some credence to this idea. Their analyst-briefing slides included quite a bevy of numbers including an overall 66 percent of smartphone users interested in being able to print from their devices, with mobile printing capability cracking the "top five" of printer selection criteria. Among their Instant Ink printing users (see last month’s post on “The Internet of Things”, "Printers as things? Do printers fit as part of the Internet-of-things?"), 30 percent of their devices have received at least one print job from an iOS device. And when I pressed on iOS/Android splits, and keeping in mind the company is understandably close to the vest with much of its market data, a spokesperson did confirm that “iOS dominates mobile print jobs, but Android is on the rise.”

These data are just a start, and between numbers provided by HP and other vendors, and those available on the websites of such printing-oriented pages as those from Apple and Mopria, a regular "Harper’s Index" could be generated. And speaking of that, stay tuned for June’s Observations!

Friday, May 23, 2014

HP results for Q2 2014 are out - a mixed bag but a new 52-week high for the stock

Slightly before the close of the markets yesterday, May 22nd, HP announced its quarterly earnings. Layoffs of from 11,000 to 16,000 more workers dominated the headlines, as well as much of the conference call discussion, but as of mid-day the 23rd, HPQ stock is at 52-week highs, near $34 a share.

On the printer side, operating profits were strong at 19.5% of revenues, which is the highest net profit percentage figure posted in the eight-and-a-half years since I have been tracking their quarterly results. (See my Google Drive spreadsheet by clicking here.)

On the revenues side, there were many single-digit-negative entries, is typically of recent performance. The -4% year-over-year quarterly drop was the 12th negative number in a row, making it three full years of declines. The "bad news" is pretty evenly spread out, as is typically.

CEO Meg Whitman did offer some "color" on IPG results in the Q&A, and her comments are worth reviewing via transcript at the company's investor relations site. Like the numbers themselves, the blame (and some might say excuses, e.g. "...our managed print services business, we were late to that market and we're catching up fast...") is also spread around nicely.