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HP Inc. moves into A3 copier domain – laser engines from Samsung

Although Hewlett-Packard/HP Inc. (HP) has long had one of the widest ranges of printer hardware on the market, the high end A3 and copier spaces have consistently evaded the company.  Coming in the spring of 2017, through (originally) an alliance with the Samsung printer division, which HP has now agreed to buy for $1Bn, together with development of its own A3 PageWide inkjet print head and engine, the company is attacking the A3 and copier spaces head on.

Having more or less ‘owned’ the A4 printer market for decades – with 40% market share – HP believes that now is the time tackle the A3 and copier spaces where it can currently claim a share of only 5%.  This means huge potential (market sector worth $55Bn) for HP to gain share and pages (which means consumables profit!), and to expand its MPS capabilities, as it drives for ever higher turnover and profits.

Claiming that it’s new A3 devices (both inkjet and laser) will reduce the Total Cost of Printing, this should prove to be HP’s success story in this previously unobtainable market sector.  In addition, it will give the company a very clear market lead in offering the widest array of print hardware by a very wide margin.

No other printer company can boast hardware ranging from: personal small format photo printers and A4 inkjet printers and All-in-Ones (AiOs); through SOHO inkjet and laser printers and AiOs; small, medium and large business inkjet and laser printers and AiOs; small, medium and large business graphics and engineering printers; enterprise inkjet and laser printers and AiOs; departmental inkjet and laser copiers; right up to some of the largest and fastest inkjet, liquid electrophotography (HP ElectroInk) and latex industrial, production and graphics printers and digital presses. And that’s not to mention the world’s fastest 3D printers!

One of the most significant elements of the Samsung purchase is that it will give HP in-house ownership of both inkjet and laser technology, something it has never been able to claim before.

Now, don’t misunderstand this! It definitely does not mean that Canon, as provider of HP laser engines for more than 30 years, and with which it has been in amicable ‘coopetition’ with all those years, instantly gets the sack.  HP has declared its ongoing loyalty to Canon for laser engines and we can certainly expect this to be the case for a number of years to come.

However, even though HP’s primary interest in Samsung at this point in time is its A3 laser technology, can we really believe that the A4 technology will be ditched just because HP has a long-standing relationship with Canon? The one really significant factor in this mix is that Samsung’s A4 laser engines do not have the best of reputations for quality and reliability (a concern that HP will never admit to publicly) – whereas HP has shouted reliability and quality loud and clear for its printers in its marketing over the years.

What we can be sure of is that HP will make no sourcing changes to its A4 LaserJet range in the next couple of years – indeed, we have been assured that Samsung A4 devices will continue under the Samsung brand for as much as a couple of years.

After that? That is the question on everyone’s lips right now!

By that time, HP engineers should have been able to haul the Samsung technology up to their own exacting standards, in which case we may well see home-grown A4 laser devices under the HP banner. However, there will still be certain technologies that HP is unlikely to be able to use in these new devices because of shared Intellectual Property issues with Canon – e.g. Instant-On fusers and ColorSphere 3 toner – unless some deal can be done with Canon for their release.

HP became interested in Samsung’s A3 technology at least partly because it is now third generation and, with HP engineers working alongside Samsung engineers, the company has been able to mould hardware development to its satisfaction and to meet its needs, building in its own software technologies.

With Samsung’s printer division having been somewhat in the doldrums over the last few years, and with HP’s less than admirable experience so far in the A3/copier arena, the other question has been raised as to whether HP can really pull it off this time. HP clearly believes that the HP branding on the Samsung hardware will make all the difference. Doubtless, the company’s previous experiences in A3 and lessons learned, recent experience with new technologies, more highly developed and flexible channel approach and increased focus within HP Inc. since the corporate split from the enterprise arm nearly a year ago should all contribute to a very much higher chance of success this time round.

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What is also clear is that HP’s design product teams have been working overtime to create some of the most forward-looking and aesthetically pleasing products almost right across the company’s product range. This is not restricted to printer products but also applies to Office & Leisure PCs, Gaming PCs, Laptops, mobile devices and even combined PC/sound systems developed in collaboration with B&O PLAY.

This new A3, Samsung laser-engined copier, is perhaps not the most beautiful of the new products but presents very nicely and coordinates well with the outward design of the new A3 PageWide inkjet machines.

These are definitely exciting times for HP Inc. and that excitement and enthusiasm shows in those who are involved in the new style company and new product lines.

How the Samsung purchase will pan out in terms of engines and product line-ups, we will just have to wait and see. But, I for one, cannot see a particularly comfortable relationship being established between the two engine sources.  Either HP will decide that it has to have the technologies developed jointly with Canon, and ditch the Samsung A4 technology or it may be able to buy a license for use of the joint Intellectual Property from Canon and incorporate it into its newly acquired Samsung technology – perhaps the best scenario for HP – but this would be a massive hammer blow to Canon’s manufacturing arm. What I do see as highly unlikely is that HP would abandon these technologies just so that it could focus on making the most of the Samsung engines.

All that said – this journey will be as intriguing and interesting for us to watch as it is exciting for HP.

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