PC and printers: Is the innovation gone?

Moderated by Josh Gingold | March 26, 2012 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

Summary: With HP merging its PC and printer units, we ask our debaters: Have these products been commoditized beyond innovation?

Christopher Dawson

Christopher Dawson

Look to the cloud

or

Too soon to tell

Lawrence Dignan

Lawrence Dignan

Best Argument: Too soon to tell

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thanks!

    Thanks, everyone. Closing arguments are March 28 and I'll decide who wins on March 29th.

    Posted by Josh Gingold

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Last question

    I have two printers in my house... both well used... and three more in boxes in my garage. Proof of the commoditization! How many printers do each of you own right now?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    Two

    One at my office, one at my house. They're both all-in-ones, though, and the scanners see far more use (unprinting?) than the printing functions. Prints are either for school reports when the kids have backwards teachers who won't accept an email or when Grandma needs a picture of a kid but can't figure out that newfangled Facebook thing.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    One

    More than one printer seems absurd to me. Yes your garage (and possibly you) are a bit off kilter. If mobile printers can work you'll see them as add ons to iPads and smartphones. Then there may be more.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

  • Great Debate Moderator

    PC "water heaters"

    For years, we've heard about the concept of PCs as another appliance in the average home such as the water heater. Might that in fact be the most important role of PCs in the future, as a home- or office-based information management system where everything is coordinated?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    Not to sound like a broken record, but...

    I think the cloud will take this role. Web-based applications will manage content and push it out to a wide variety of personal computing devices. We already see this with iTunes on multiple computers and Apple devices, with Google's Play offerings, with Dropbox, with Eyefi, with Amazon/Kindle, etc. Some time ago, Microsoft Home Server. Where's that product now?

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    Indeed

    I see the PC essentially becoming a home server and a hub of home operations. It will also be used for other tasks that are more sporadic such as writing reports, printing etc. Most content consumption will happen on tablets. The PC will have some role.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Public printers

    Can you ever imagine open printing devices in public places so anyone can print on an as-needed basis?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    Why?

    Open, ubiquitous WiFI and sharing with those around you via location-based services, definitely, but what would you need to print at the mall or at Starbucks? If I take a great picture of my friends at a restaurant, they're automatically tagged, the photo hits our social networks, and replicates to their phones, we've arrived. When I need to give a presentation for a client and it automatically downloads to my phone because I'm at that client's location and I project it from the microprojector in said phone, we've arrived. When I can print at a public kiosk, I've taken a step back in time.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    We have trials today

    Ricoh and a few others have tried this if I recall. It's an interesting trend that could catch on. Today the pilots haven't had a groundswell just yet. For many people these services would be good enough. You still have to print from time to time.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Mobile printers?

    It could be argued that all the different types of devices we now use every day are actually the result of ongoing innovations in personal computing but what are the most important factors right now that may be driving innovation for printing and imaging technologies?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    Social

    As Larry pointed out, most of what we used to print (pictures, documents, etc.) just gets shared socially. Better printing from social and cloud services would be useful for some, but I'd actually rather see tighter integration between our various screens with our computing devices, making it easier, for example, to display the movie from my phone on my TV (or just blast it over to Grandma's TV instead of having to print out pictures or burn a DVD for her).

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    Imaging improves...but

    Imaging technologies are improving, but mostly on the corporate side via paperless systems. The real innovation in the printer market may be 3D printers that can go for what an inkjet costs today. That's what I would love to see. Physical printers for the masses.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Smartphones

    How have smartphones hastened the decline of PCs and printers and how might manufacturers adapt, if possible, to take advantage?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    Better printing from the cloud and devices

    Printing from your phone remains a kludgy proposition at best. There's some room here to improve, especially when Grandma really wants to see pictures of the grandkids that you took on your phone (which likely has a better camera than that DSLR you bought a year ago). The advent of superphones, as Canonical's recent announcements around dual-booting Ubuntu and Android for true desktop experience from your phone suggests, means that PCs have become relics. Most people don't need them - phones and tablets provide great portability and the innovation around using them as desktop replacements has relegated them to school computer labs and office cubicles.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    Mobile has stolen PC thunder

    Smartphones and tablets have curbed PC usage to some degree and definitely hurt printers. Facebook photos is your printer today in many respects. HP could create handheld printers that could work with any device. We'll have to figure out how the paper would be fed though. But an iPhone to pocket printer connection could be interesting.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What's old is new again

    It seems to me that PCs are far from finished in terms of innovation but what does that look like? Cloud terminals, perhaps?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    Screens, screens, and more screens

    Everything should be a "PC" - your TV, your phone, your tablet, your desktop (with the full experience streamed from the cloud so you never lose 1000 pictures again because of a crashed hard drive), whatever. I think Chromebooks are getting close, but need to be polished like Apple products. Connected TVs have a long ways to go, but the digital living room is the heart of the home - that big screen should be very attractive for developers. On the enterprise side, if I was a CTO, I'd never want to buy anything more than a dumb terminal again and save my resources (human and $$) for managing powerful, redundant access to business productivity and social tools with strong workflows and low costs.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    Hybrids

    PCs will get smaller, faster and always have. Cloud terminals have some promise, but the Chromebook hasn't really gone anywhere. I think the hybrid tablet/ultrabook has a lot of promise in the immediate future.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Printing innovation

    The key to printing is efficiency. Aren't lower costs of printing and less wasted papered considered innovations and are there other printing advances that might be considered innovative?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    Been there, done that

    The key to reducing printing costs is not to print. It's 2012 - has anyone heard of tablets, e-readers, and the Internet? That said, HP has already squeezed most of what they can out of improved efficiency and management, both on the consumer and enterprise sides of printing. They already offer great all-in-one devices that make wonderful photos as well as picture perfect essays. And they already have solid document management and high-efficiency lasers on the enterprise side. They've arrived. Now let's stop printing.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    3D

    I still think printing to go may be an option and 3D printing could be mass marketed. Of course, less paper and ink costs are innovations that help the wallet.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Printers can be improved

    I still can't imagine a world without printed pages. Are the printers we use today adequate for what's expected and how might printing be improved in the future?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    You might not, but I can

    So can the folks at Adobe. And Apple. I'm sure we'll see incremental improvements in printer efficiency, and possibly cost reductions in solid ink and other color technologies, perhaps with even more sustainable consumables, but innovation? No, what we have in printer tech is just fine and hasn't really evolved all that much recently.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    Adequate for the foreseeable future

    HP and others have pushed for smarter printers. I for one like my printers dumb and the only thing I really want it to do is connect easily via Wi-Fi. I'd like cheaper ink too, but that innovation could hurt the business for printer makers (much to my chagrin).

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The cloud

    What about the cloud? What role might it play in the potential for continued innovation in PCs and printing?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    The cloud will...

    (and already almost has) kill printing. The potential for personal computing devices to become nothing more than thin clients with robust entertainment and business productivity value with the cloud doing all of the heavy lifting is where we can see some real innovation. Who wouldn't want awesome games, great movies, interactive television, and business desktops delivered right to any cheap, commodity screen that sits on your desk, in your living room, or that you hold in your hands?

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    Cloud as complement

    PCs and printers will use the cloud to offload more computing tasks. In theory the cloud can be used to crunch massive data sets with PC-ish specs. There's a lot of potential for innovation in PCs and printers. It's going to be HP's task to connect PCs and printers in new ways and then use the cloud to be the icing on the innovation cake.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

  • Great Debate Moderator

    A trend?

    Is it possible that HP may in fact be at the front of a trend that other manufactures will consider or is this just one company trying to survive in an increasingly competitive market?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    I think they're actually behind the curve

    Like I said, Dell is doing this quite well. They sell entire ecosystems now, with all the cheap hardware you need to access their outsourced IT and cloud-based services. Yes, this is a trend. Businesses need hardware, so sell hardware to businesses while differentiating with the services you can offer to make that hardware useful. It's a trend, but it's not rocket science and it's happening everywhere.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    Combination only for HP

    That remains to be seen. If HP can take a mashup of PCs and printers and create something new then it will look ahead of the curve. However, if HP just keeps status quo then it'll look like a mostly cost cutting move. No other company had leading printer and PC businesses.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

  • Great Debate Moderator

    But PCs and printers are different businesses

    Printers are still necessary but PCs are increasing less essential. Does it make sense to lump the two together?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    Absolutely!

    Enterprises need to buy lots of commodity PC hardware and most are still buying lasers for a variety of printing needs. Most consumers have an inkjet somewhere in their house and one or more computers. Stick your mainstream commodity products together and find what marketing and management synergies you can in the two market segments. There should be some costs savings and they can be sold as packages or as bundled accessories.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    Sort of

    Printers are necessary but less so in my view. The use of paper is declining and print management typically means less printing and therefore less ink. HP's move to put the two units together make sense on a macro level. After all both products are commodities mostly aimed at the consumer. Where it doesn't make sense is the micro level. PCs and printers have completely different models and selling cycles.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

  • Great Debate Moderator

    PC innovations

    What else would you like to see from PCs that might be considered innovative?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    I'd rather see innovation in the cloud

    And, of course, we are, big time. That said, though, innovation in battery life and connectivity on the notebook side, innovation in power consumption and management on the desktop side, and innovation in work-anywhere-anytime sync between all devices (BYOD, company-purchased, or otherwise) for employees. For consumers, let's push the envelope on graphics performance and storage to make media servers, gaming consoles, etc., converge into great experiences.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    Beat Apple

    Virtual keyboards would be one. More touch integration and a form factor that Apple hasn't thought of first. Integrated projectors. Kinect-ish innovation. For me it's simple: Do something Apple hasn't thought of yet.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Exit strategy?

    Could it also be that HP may be strategically consolidating its PC and printer businesses for a possible sale of the combined business as opposed to any sort of drive to innovate?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    Yes, but...

    There's still money to be made on commodity hardware, especially in the enterprise and especially when it can be bundled with value-added services. I don't think they're going to be spinning this off. I think we'll just see them offering more and more services to the enterprise customers who come to them for PCs, printers, servers, monitors, etc. Dell is doing this pretty successfully and even IBM has a partner in Lenovo through which they can sell lots of hardware in addition to their much higher margin services.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    Possible

    I think that's a definite possibility, but problem is that HP may not want to dish off a highly profitable business with more than $60 billion in revenue.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

  • Great Debate Moderator

    HP consolidation

    Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman says she consolidating her company???s PC and printer businesses to ???provide the best in customer-focused innovation and operational efficiency??? but isn???t the move really intended to cut costs and is it possible to cut costs and be innovative?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    How is cost cutting innovation?

    Yes, of course there should be reductions in redundancy in a big company like HP. If you're selling primarily to the same audience (enterprises), then combine sales and marketing teams and sell more stuff with fewer people. It's not like too many businesses need a hard sell to go buy PCs and printers. This isn't innovation, just a reasonable business move.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    A fine line

    That's HP's line to walk, but I'd say it's cost cutting. HP's argument is that it can cut costs and redeploy those savings elsewhere. If I'm a betting man I expect those funds to make it to the enterprise side of the business over the consumer focused printing and PC units.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The commoditization thing again

    Might we be entering an era, due primarily to commoditization, when leased hardware and managed services make more sense from a business perspective?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    We've been there for a while

    Why buy products that will be outdated in 2-3 years? Make them operating expenses and refresh as needed. Obviously the printers will have longer lifecycles, but the PCs just need to sit on the same desks or in the same bags day after day. And enterprises need lots of them. Consumers are still buying, too, since the price is right, and the idea of BYOD means that many consumers will need to be obtaining PCs for work and home and periodically refreshing. Leasing models are our friends.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    Rent a printer sure, rent a PC. No way

    Managed services are key to the printing business. I doubt we'll rent PCs anytime soon although there have been models attempted. The rent vs. buy argument has been waged in corporations forever.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Game over, really?

    Let???s get this straight, the game isn???t completely over yet and there is still a lot of room for PC and printer innovation, right?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    In niches, sure...

    But in mainstream business and consumer tech? What else is there? As I said in my opening argument, this is all just I/O. I don't even think my mom prints any more and she certainly has no use for high-end workstations. She just needs to get online, just like we all do. Nope, glorified internet kiosks don't count as innovative.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    Game not over

    I don't think the game is over. PC innovation is highly likely, but the printer faces more challenges. What's unclear to me is the path PC and printer innovation will take. However, that isn't all that surprising. We didn't see Facebook or the iPad coming either. Mainframes are still innovative so it's safe to assume that PCs and printers will develop too.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Greetings from San Francisco

    Chris and Larry, are you ready to begin?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    Yes, yes I am...

    Ready to meet my fate.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    Ready here

    Chris is doomed

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

  • Great Debate Moderator

    First and most obvious question

    Is commoditization a bad thing?

    Posted by Josh Gingold

    Not at all

    Prices go down, standardization goes up, everyone gets what they need. The latest gadgetry and techno whiz bang are always fun, but when it comes down to it, commodity products make it easy to outfit businesses and consumers with the tech they need to live their lives and ge their jobs done.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Look to the cloud

    I love commoditization!

    Commoditization is the natural progression in any industry. It's safe to say that PCs and printers today are commodities. However, commodities can also show innovation. Case in point: Dyson vacuum cleaners. Here's an engineering effort that took a tired product category and innovated. The PC and printer can be improved even thought they are commodity by any measure.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Too soon to tell

Talkback

58 comments
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  • Poll

    I have been hearing about the death of print for most of my 54 years.
    edkollin
    Reply Vote I'm for Too soon to tell
    • Poll

      I still print and don't see that stopping anytime soon. There are some things that a desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone just don't do well. And that's the ability to pickup a piece of paper, see it, gather what I need quickly scribble notes and move on. Far too many people today are thinking its dead and these are the same folks that thought laptops would end desktops. The PC and Print are here for the next 30+ years. Get over it.
      Rob.sharp
      Reply Vote I'm for Too soon to tell
    • I print less, but still print

      I print a lot less since I can do so much electronically - but I still print on occasion.

      - Some places I work with still do paperwork the old fashioned way.
      - It's a lot cheaper to print and display a picture on my wall than to hang a tablet on my wall.
      - If I need something quick to display outside (such as a garage sale sign), it's still easiest to use a printer.
      - I still create designs and take notes on paper.

      I will admit I print a lot [i]less[/i] than I used to, but it's still a non-zero amount. I haven't stopped printing altogether.
      CobraA1
      Reply Vote I'm for Too soon to tell
    • Printing won't die as the cost of its replacement is not practical

      or something most can afford.

      In Chris's world, anyone that needs to read must own a tablet, legal documents must be signed via an elaborate electronic signature system, my proof of purchase in everyone's hand but my own.

      Schools must hand out, maintain, and administer costly laptops or tablets for test taking for every student and teacher, with an electronic document system for grading, and the results emailed to the parents machine (if they own one), ect.
      Everything is $$$,$$$, $$$, with no thought on how to pay and maintain the systems needed to replace the one simple task of printing.

      He assumes that print is a backup for electronic, when in truth, electronic is a backup for print.
      William Farrel
      Reply Vote I'm for Too soon to tell
    • Unfortunatly...

      I work at a small community bank. Even though our MIS dept sets up applications to use less paper, we still go through 2 million dollars in toner per year and it keeps getting worse. So, ya, until big-brother implants a chip in your body, you're still going to have to use paper and actually sign that 300 paged mortgage agreement.
      Cagny
      Reply Vote I'm for Too soon to tell
    • We'll still be using inkjet and laser printing

      when I hit 80 years old, but not as often as we do today. We've also cut down on printing when compared to even 10 years ago thanks to the slow evolution of the PDF format.

      However, no matter what platform you're on, you generally can't pick up a PDF and a pen to scribble your notes, draw a happy face, underline content, or do the good-old hands-on editing that involves crossing stuff out or adding carrots and more info between the lines.
      Champ_Kind
      Reply Vote I'm for Too soon to tell
  • Freedom won't kill it. Market forces might.

    What's left to say?
    HypnoToad72
    Reply Vote I'm Undecided
  • What about everyone else?

    I print very little (aside from printable CD/DVDs), but how the hell am I supposed to stop printing period when everyone else insists on hard copies?

    I just had to submit a packet of about 50 pages to immigration. They have no facility to send it in digital form...it had to printed, some forms signed, and the whole thing mailed in. I actually had to scramble to find paper.

    I suppose if becomes too much of a PITA, I could just start going to Kinkos or The Office Despot and pay per page (this is actually what I have to do when I visit the Philippines where everyone wants hard copy, but nobody has copiers or printers!) But when a MFP costs only $100 or so, the convenience is not something I'd like to give up for good.
    jvitous
    Reply Vote I'm Undecided
  • PC Innovation

    I don't need the latest innovation; I need a PC that works well, and does what it's supposed to do with precision and without issue.

    I don't need it to order groceries for me, lock or unlock my doors, control my thermostat, start my car, or wash my dishes.

    I need the same thing from a printer. I need to print things at home now and then, so I need a printer that prints well and reliably.
    bb_apptix
    Reply Vote I'm Undecided
  • Printers and PCs

    I have had printers and PCs for at least the past 20 years, and even though I don't print as much now as then, occasionally I do have the necessity for a printed page, and the cost for printers is certainly affordable. We have lots of things in our lives that we don't use as much as when we first acquired them. I actually use my PC every day, and since I have an i 7 Lenovo with 8 gig of ram and a 27 inch HP monitor, it is very enjoyable to use. I'm sure that a wide number of PCs in the future will have a footprint much smaller than we currently use. Laptops are pretty small, but they have some disadvantages namely making repairs on them. I have a Lenovo Laptop too, and that is a great computer too, but I have the room for a fairly large desktop, so take advantage of it. I personally will have some form of powerful computer and some form of printer into the foreseeable future. If I want a cloud, I can always look up into the sky. Oh by the way, I am a home user, so my needs may be different than for a large business.
    rgeiken9
    Reply Vote I'm for Too soon to tell