The evolution of the internet into mainstream society is going to see a massive change in the way consumers use their printers in the digital home of the future.
Speaking to PC Dealer at Lexmark's headquarters in Lexington, Kentucky, Dennis Straub, general manager of internet printing, said the combination of high bandwidth availability and internet TV will be the catalyst for higher demand for consumer inkjet printers and printing applications.
'We know that most PC users increase their printing volumes when they connect to the internet. As devices such as set-top boxes (STBs), internet phones and hand-held PCs become mainstream, there will be an explosion in home printing,' he added.
Lexmark EMEA director Richard Perry said the target audience for internet connected printers in the future would be households that do not own a PC.
'Europe has 117 million households without a PC or a modem, and 125 million with TV. This is a huge market,' he argued.
With competition among providers stimulating demand in the STB market, Perry predicted that STB's will reach 11 per cent, or 13.4 million, of European homes by the year 2002.
In the UK, he stressed the importance of understanding the telecomms and franchise system when forming partnerships.
'The various levels of cable coverage are vital. Cable & Wireless has 18 per cent of the market, but is limited to a 28 per cent share so it is a case of finding the partners you want to work with,' Perry added.
Lexmark is also looking at the possibility of bundling its printing technology with digital cameras and is seeking partners. According to UK consumer printer director Tony Hall, Lexmark is 'in constant talks' with vendors, including Olympus, Casio and Fujitsu.
Pat King, Lexmark's general manager for photo printer products, said: 'The digital camera market is heavily hyped but quite slow moving. But despite the problems with digital cameras, there is a significant market for printers that are built for photos rather than text.
'Eventually, consumers will be buying printers that look more like a consumer electronic good as opposed to a computer peripheral,' he added.
But industry experts are sceptical about Lexmark's ability to penetrate these markets.
'The problem is that people don't think of a having a printer without a PC,' claimed Ben Lake, printer analyst at Romtec.
'All consumers have heard for two years is PC, PC, PC, and because of that it will be extremely difficult to market a printer as a standalone product,' he argued.
'Also, Lexmark doesn't have a presence in the digital camera market so it will find it difficult,' Lake added. 'But if the (digital camera) market really takes off, there will be a place for it.'
But Peter Maude, senior analyst at Context, was more upbeat about Lexmark's prospects in the emerging markets.
'These are concepts that have been talked about for a year or more and they do open up a whole new area of printing and printing applications,' he said.
'Lexmark has always been a conceptual company and I predict a great deal of demand for printing images from a digital camcorder,' Maude added.
Hall remains confident that Lexmark is in an ideal position to take advantage of the emerging opportunities.
'We are investing a lot of time in these areas because they are going to be big. In addition, we are in a great position to talk with vendors in these markets because they know we aren't going to poach their business,' he claimed.
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