Lexmark scopes out market opportunity for wireless printers

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The future of printing is wireless, according to Jeff Willard, vice-president, worldwide marketing, consumer printer division for Lexmark International Inc.

To ensure that its wireless printing plan is successful today and in the future, Willard is adopting a strategic formula that has worked in the past.

The strategic formula is based on affordability, he said.

The cost of wireless MFPs is three times more than regular MFP printers, with the average price for wireless printers at more than $300, said Jeff Meredith, director, product marketing, consumer printer division for Lexmark.

The company released the X9350 wireless four-in-one printer to the channel in January of this year for $349.

Back in 1997, Compaq Computer Corp. and Packard Bell/NEC Inc., two leading PC vendors at the time, came out with the sub-$1,000 full-featured PCs. At the time, the average PC price was $1,642, while the average inkjet printer costs $255.

The PC market at the time hadn’t yet hit the mainstream. According to IDC, only 35 per cent of people owned a PC, while in across the pond only 17 per cent of people of France owned a PC.

“The big challenge was affordability,” Willard said. “These were full featured PCs, but really there wasn’t a lot of innovation in there, but it was disruptive because it provided affordability.”

By December of 1997, 30 per cent of PCs sold were sub $1,000 models. And, from 1997 to 2002 the vast majority of the new PC users came from the sub $1,000 category.

For Lexmark, the printer maker came out with a sub-$100 printer (a 300 dpi 3 ppm printer) in November of 1997.

“Customers were saying: ‘we want printers,’ but it wasn’t affordable and the formula was affordability along with easy of use with the new printer customers,” he said.

Willard believes that by implementing an affordable pricing formula for wireless printing will give Lexmark an edge over competitors in the market place.

Homes have also evolved in the past decade whereas in the past the PC with printer was tethered to a dedicated office space. With the notebook continuing to be the primary computing source for users, computing can be done in any room.

By 2010 IDC predicts that more than 93 per cent worldwide homes will be wired.

“Customers move around the house the same way they move in the office and they need the ability to work wirelessly,” Willard said.

“The primary benefits of wireless networks are that they focus on mobility and the second is sharing along with time savings,” Willard said.

Currently there are 55 million wireless homes in North America and Europe.

The barrier for wireless printing beyond affordability is complexity.

“We are going to make wireless printing affordable in 2007,” Meredith said.

From a laser perspective wireless printing is available from Lexmark, however there has not been a large demand for this functionality, said Julie Falconer, product manager printing solutions and services division for Lexmark Canada of Richmond Hill, Ont.

“Most companies have network printers installed. That is why there is not a large demand. We have not seen (wireless) as a trend in laser, except that there is the idea of printing from a PDA or Blackberry,” she said.

Lexmark does have a solution in this area called PDA printing.

Paul Patterson, manager of marketing and communications for Lexmark Canada, said that wireless laser solutions depend on the vertical market. “If a customer is looking for what works within healthcare, financial, banking we can provide it because we are strong in vertical applications and software. We can custom make solutions for more effective wireless printing,” he said.

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