HP Fills iPad Hole and Makes Printers Relevant Again

 One of the interesting things that seem to happen when the industry undergoes a change is that the owners of the prior technology seem to do everything they can to validate the move rather than resisting it.  

IBM blessed Client/Server early on and prematurely obsoleted the mainframe in in the ‘80s, the UNIX folks blessed Linux early on and that helped kill Sun, and the concept of “the Cloud” seems to be on the same path.   The exception may be printers where HP is putting up a fight against the move to eReaders and Tablets by enabling web printing on them.   Let’s explore this.

People Don’t Like Change

One of the primary reasons Apple has been successful with the iPad and Microsoft failed with the Windows Tablet was that Apple understands what it takes to get people to move to something different.   They didn’t start with PCs they started with smart phones when they introduced a touch interface and they designed the User Interface so it wouldn’t work well with the thing they wanted to displace, the mouse.   This forced people to use something new and become comfortable with it.  

Microsoft, on the other hand, made few modifications to the mouse based interface, used clamshell designs that favored a touchpad or mouse, and never migrated touch to monitors which often were connected to laptops and tablets.  As a result folks went back to using mice and touchpads and the tablet PC largely failed.  

This showcases that, when given a choice, folks will generally gravitate back to what they are comfortable doing; and most are more comfortable reading paper.   

The HP Problem

HP was faced with a problem, people were getting less and less excited about printers and more and more excited about devices like the Kindle and iPad which didn’t use them.  They could have, like many of their predecessors, agreed that tablets and eBooks were the future of printing but they evidently learned from IBM’s mistake.   This doesn’t mean they won’t do a tablet; one is coming, but that they will fight the trend and protect their dominant position on printers and printer accessories.   In effect they are instead embracing and integrating the tablet knowing that most people will still want to print things to read and pictures to share rather than using a tablet for this function because that is what they are more used to and more comfortable doing.   

The HP Fix and iPad Help

So what they did was make their new printers internet aware and this means you can, at the very least, email your print jobs to them and, at the most, use them as a print terminal to access things like eTickets and electronic boarding passes without using a PC.   This was a god send for iPad users who didn’t have a print solution and it is likely the next generation Kindle will be able to use this capability as well as Amazon moves to create a competitive response to the iPad.  

I expect they will later develop iPad and HP Tablet applications to take even more advantage of their web enabled printers and assure their long in a market that is clearly eventually going to eliminate printing.   These moves will simply move that elimination out years if not decades.  

They had an earlier web enabled printer and they told me that printer on average was used several times more than a traditional printer because folks simply found it more convenient to print off of it.   They still need to embrace the tablet because when the market does move they’ll want to be a major part of it, but by updating the printer they have a assured it a much longer life and these things generate a ton of cash for HP.  

Wrapping Up:  Lessons Learned

What people building new products seem to forget is that most consumers hate change and will resist it for as long as they can.   The FAX machine was effectively obsolete in the 90s but it is still active in many businesses and the analog phone should have been replaced by it internet counterpart (VOIP) years ago because VOIP is vastly cheaper and more flexible.    There is a huge business in keeping people who don’t like change happy and HP is embracing that group by giving them printers that are advanced enough to meet their new needs and address their fear of change.   The lesson to learn from Apple is that change takes steps and you have to sneak up on folks.  The lesson learned from HP is that there is a ton of money to be made from the majority of folks who don’t like change.  

 Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts. Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them. Currently, he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.