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 user 2007-02-27 at 12:14:00 pm Views: 77
  • #17537

    A closer look at Kodak’s new ink tech
    AFTER THE dog-and-Shannon show introducing Kodak’s Easyshare all-in-one inkjet printers wrapped up in New York City, the invited press got a chance to see carefully scripted demos of the new hardware and ask questions of Kodak engineers.

    The Easyshare external looks are in this season’s colors of white and off-white, so they look equally stylish next to a PC or a Mac. No blacks or darker colors. One reason why Kodak’s ink is cheaper is because they’ve moved the most expensive part of the cartridge – the replaceable print head – into the printer.Instead, the print head is a MEMS device embedded in the device. In other devices, you end up buying a new print head every time you buy a $30+ ink cartridge.

    Kodak executives talked up the fact the printer hardware is “more expensive” than other options on the market and say that they don’t expect everyone to go buy their stuff. Their sweet spot seems to be a print-happy Soccer Mom that likes to crank out photos of every event for the family scrap book and to mail off to the relatives. I think people are going to make the decision that they need to get a Kodak printer based on how much money it might save them over their existing print costs, be it at-home on a competitor’s champagne ink-drinker or compared to what they might pay at a department store for digital prints.

    All hardware on display was pre-production, with production models scheduled to appear in Best Buy in March and May. The low and mid-end models ($149 and $199) will appear in March with the high-end with fax and document feeder appearing in May. Best Buy has a 90 day exclusive on the printers.

    Consumers who select Kodak can expect to see one type of ink cartridge for a long time. Executives feel comfortable with the five color pigment selection for photos, plus a dedicated blank ink cartridge for documents and don’t want to get into the cycle//inventory/shelf problem of rolling out a new ink cartridge every time they roll out a new printer. No answer on if you can simply bin the empty plastic cartridges into the recyclables pile, but one would hope so.
    Improvements will be made in hardware, adding more features – one could guess wireless and networking support – and improving the MEMS print head and other print mechanisms. Philip Faraci, President of Kodak’s Consumer Digital Imaging Group, said the company already has second and third generation products on the drawing board and is following a “multi-year plan.” The company hopes to secure 10 percent market share of (what I assume is the consumer market) by 2010
    Consumables packaging is one area where Kodak has put in serious thought. The company has put together grab bags containing a stack of 4×6 inch photo paper, a color cartridge, and a black cartridge for under $20. You can get 180 prints on “standard” for $17.99 or go upscale to thicker paper, but only 135 prints for $19.99. The $17.99 package delivers prints at 10 cents U.S. a copy while the $19.99 package breaks down to 15 cents U.S. a copy.

    Interestingly, the printer has a built-in scanner to determine the type of photo paper inserted in it, and adjusts accordingly. The Kodak photo paper is subtly coded on the back to indicate the difference between standard and thick/premium paper – the code is simply the space between the logo lines. If the printer doesn’t see Kodak logo lines (i.e. you put in non-Kodak paper, it goes into “generic” mode and slows down printing a bit. Conspiracy theorists will say Kodak does this to encourage you to use their paper; the engineers say they need to slow down because they’re not sure if the unknown-type paper will suck up ink as fast as Kodak-product. I’d give them the benefit of the doubt on this.

    It should be noted that both Faraci and Kodak President//CEO Antonio Perez were both with HP for decades (and left prior to any pretexting issues), so they aren’t getting into the inkjet biz lightly. Faraci worked on the first HP inkjet printer circa 1980. The project was greenlighted in June 2003 and has been successfully kept under wraps until the product launch – Steven Jobs may be taking lessons from Kodak on how to keep secrets.

    Another theme that both Faraci and Perez underscored was the vast amount of technology Kodak had developed over the years but had failed to bring to market in products. Faraci said there were a group of core technologies that the company hoped to make money with, including OLED and its commercial high-speed printing technology. Kodak may have another surprise or two in the works, but if they do, I doubt we’re going to hear anyone at the company talk about it before they’re ready to show product.