INK Inc.

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INK Inc.

 user 2008-09-05 at 3:43:45 pm Views: 61
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    Ink Inc.
    ink is easy to hate. It’s messy and costly, and it runs out right when
    you need it most. Some printer manufacturers have tried to build more
    ink-efficient models; other companies sell off-label refill ink so you
    can reuse cartridges. But a start-up called Zink (short for “zero ink”)
    has a bolder solution: How about getting rid of the ink entirely?

    trick is to encode paper with billions of dye crystals. To produce
    pictures, a print head emits heat pulses that melt the dye crystals,
    rendering them into the desired colors. Zink is betting on the magic of
    that inkless process — a process protected by some 100 patents and
    pending patents. The company, based in Bedford, Mass., is so confident
    of its intellectual property that it isn’t even making its own
    machines. Instead, Zink is modeling itself on Microsoft and Intel,
    licensing its technology for use in other manufacturers’ devices. Why
    battle Canon, Epson and Lexmark when they could become your customers
    instead? “If Intel were captive to one brand, it never would have
    become the great brand it became,” says Zink ceo Wendy Caswell. “The
    same goes for Microsoft.”

    Like those two giants, Zink could see
    its technology used in a diverse array of gadgets — from digital
    picture frames to cameras to laptops. And that doesn’t even include
    cell phones, which Americans use to take about 10 billion pictures each
    year — only about 10% of which ever end up being printed. “This allows
    you to put printers where they have never gone before,” says Caswell.
    Zink could eventually be used by professionals in construction, real
    estate and other fields in which instant pictures are often essential.

    July, Polaroid, reborn out of the ashes of a 2001 bankruptcy, put the
    new technology to work, releasing PoGo, the first Zink portable
    printer. The $150 device is a little bigger than an iPod and prints
    sticker-backed miniatures 2 in. by 3 in. (5 cm by 8 cm). The PoGo
    connects to digital cameras through a usb cable and to cell phones
    through Bluetooth. Polaroid, which also makes digital cameras and
    picture frames, plans to incorporate Zink into some existing products
    and produce larger printers for commercial applications. “This is not
    going to be a one-hit wonder,” says Polaroid’s director of product
    development, Jonathan Pollock.

    Like many version 1.0 products,
    the PoGo has several failings. Photo quality is mediocre, and Zink
    paper costs $10 for 30 prints. The device isn’t as fast as you might
    expect: it takes a minute or two to transmit images wirelessly to the
    device and an additional 45 seconds to print. And the PoGo isn’t yet
    compatible with some popular devices like Apple’s iPhone. Jim Lyons, a
    columnist for the Hard Copy Observer, an industry newsletter, raises
    the concern that portable printers may have limited appeal among those
    who grew up in the digital era. “The question is whether younger
    consumers are content to share photos online without printing them. I’m
    inclined to think that there’s a generational shift,” says Lyons. “But
    even if printing takes place in a small subset of cases, that still
    means millions of prints.”

    Like most start-ups, Zink has
    wrestled with growing pains. When the company received its first set of
    paper packs from a packager, some had the wrong number of sheets.
    Rather than send the sets back, Caswell put 30 employees on an assembly
    line to weigh the 30,000 packages and fix the lemons. Chemists,
    engineers and others along the corporate ladder chipped in. “Everybody
    does the dishes here,” Caswell says. But if Zink technology catches on,
    the same employees could be dining out soon.