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 user 2009-12-14 at 11:03:02 am Views: 59
  • #23210


    Apple improved music
    players with the iPod, and revolutionized the cell phone with the
    iPhone. So why shouldn’t it do the same thing with printers?That’s the
    question a Macworld editor put to me when describing the slideshow look
    at Apple-built printers over the years. I’m not sure if the editor was
    joking, but it took me a while to stop laughing before I could remind
    him why some things are better left in the past.Frankly, there’s no
    money in printers, only in printer supplies–and you can only get that
    revenue if you make the printing engine. Apple never did.

    discussed in this overview of Apple’s printer business, the company sold
    printers throughout the 1980s and 1990s because it needed to be sure
    that high-quality printers were available for its computers. You may
    forget that the “Windows monopoly” didn’t really consolidate until
    around 1995-1996. In the ’80s there were lots of computer makers; in the
    early ’90s, the operating systems were so fragmented that every
    application supported its own graphic printer drivers. Consider yourself
    lucky if you don’t remember the days when PC owners had to check every
    application to see if it was compatible with their particular printer.

    operating systems with their own printer drivers helped reverse that
    trend, but far more gradually than you may realize. The Classic Mac OS
    had no “printing architecture.” Each printer driver implemented
    everything, from the ground up, including figuring out how to emulate
    every hack that every application had used to get better results from
    the ImageWriter and LaserWriter drivers. (My favorite: Until about 1998,
    unless printer drivers set a specific address to non-zero while the
    Finder was printing, the Finder refused to print icons.) QuickDraw GX
    hoped to change that, but died under pressure from application
    developers who didn’t want to rewrite their printing code.

    By the
    late 1980s, HP and some other innovative printing vendors had done the
    thankless work of figuring this out; they started shipping their own Mac
    printer drivers. By the time Steve Jobs returned to Apple, there were
    plenty of high-quality Mac-compatible printers available from a wide
    variety of manufacturers. When the company had to winnow projects to
    focus on the basics, lower-margin printers were an easy cut to make.If
    you long for the days of Apple printer innovation, you should know that
    Apple never made its own printing technology. The print heads in its dot
    matrix printers came from C. Itoh; the inkjet engines from Canon or HP;
    the laser engines from Canon or Fuji-Xerox. Early on, Apple built some
    printers itself with OEM parts, but by the end, StyleWriters were merely
    rebranded HP printers built with Apple’s logo. The innovation, at the
    time, was in the drivers. Thanks to CUPS in Mac OS X, printer drivers
    are no longer nearly the black art they used to be. There’s finally a
    real printing architecture open to everyone.

    That’s all
    background to the main point–there’s no money in printers. Macworld’s
    own comparison pricing site lists a 4800-by-1200-DPI color HP DeskJet
    printer, capable of 20 pages per minute, available new for as low as
    $30. HP’s annual report says that the money in printing is in
    supplies–some specialty papers, but mostly ink and toner. Lexmark’s SEC
    filings describe no fewer than six restructuring programs since 2006
    and detail the company’s efforts to focus its products on “high-usage”
    markets–the ones that consume the most supplies.

    companies have been trying to protect the fat margins on their printer
    supplies with everything up to and including smart chips that only
    accept digitally signed supplies, leading to lots of lawsuits and
    consumer enmity. And those margins remain under pressure as consumers
    look for lower-cost ink, with new services such as Costco’s on-site
    inkjet cartridge refill service emerging to put even more of a squeeze
    on printer manufacturers.

    Even if you want to ignore those
    problems, you’d still face the dozens of extra parts Apple would have to
    add, stock, and track for supplying and servicing any printers it made.
    Apple’s retail stores would need additional repair space and staffing.
    And printers introduce a large class of technical support problems that
    Apple currently avoids. And after all that, unless Apple made the print
    engine, it wouldn’t make the ink, and that’s where all the money is.

    are hundreds of printers available to today’s Mac users at no cost to
    Apple, and no money to be made by competing with them. Unless Apple has a
    game-changing printing technology hidden in its labs somewhere–and
    there’s no indication that it does–then printing is a game Apple can’t
    beat. The only winning move is not to play.