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Lexmark web-enabled touch screen with SmartSolutions – why is it revolutionary?

Issue #0932/1 – More details have also emerged since the publication of last week’s article (New Lexmark inkjet range looks very promising for homes and businesses), regarding Lexmark’s inkjet AiO web-enabled touch screen configuration and its capabilities, particularly with regard to the SmartSolutions. Directly targeting remote fleets belonging to companies with outbound and tele-workers, the inkjet models with the touch screen provide some remarkable facilities and functionality for both remote worker and office-based IT staff. Truly revolutionary!

Bringing some of the large MFP functionality to desktop inkjet All-in-Ones, the touch screen is both attractive and highly functional. It performs two major roles: firstly, as an intuitive and interactive interface between the user and the device itself; and, secondly, as a control panel for workflow-related functions that use both network and internet to good effect as well as the facilities available within the device.

Fitted to only three models in this first generation of new Lexmark inkjet devices, the touch screen primarily belongs in the high-end consumer and business AiO markets, being mainly business productivity and workflow oriented, in contrast to Hewlett-Packard’s implementation which is largely consumer driven.

Models involved are the Interact S605 (high-end consumer), the Prestige Pro805 and the Platinum Pro905 (high-end business). However, as the technology develops and third parties are able to access the Software Developers Kit in the future, anything is possible and the technology could be relevant to the entire market space. Consumer-oriented functionality currently allows users to connect to Flickr and print directly from that web site and users can use the touch screen as a digital photo frame.

From the purely consumer angle, Lexmark’s implementation is very similar to Hewlett-Packard’s but it extends much further with a software platform that is flexible and versatile.

Lexmark SmartSolutions AppsLexmark SmartSolutions Apps

So, leaving basic functionality aside as a given, systems are delivered with a set of 16 apps (rather like iPhone apps) preloaded – and shortly to be joined by a 17th. These apps range in functionality from the basic Copy and Scan-to-File, Scan-to-Email and Scan-to-Fax functions, through some imaginative applications like Business Card Scan and EcoMode, to RSS feeds for Apple News and RSS Headlines.

Any user can access this suite of 16 apps and modify them to suit their own purposes and needs. The machine can handle a maximum of 75 apps and users can shuffle the order in which they appear on the touch screen so that their most frequently used apps appear on the launch screen. Other apps are then accessed by flicking the touch screen sideways as with an iPod Touch.

Adaptation and creation of new apps is via a web-hosted ‘work centre’ that a user creates, logs into and uses as the development, installation and management platform. The printer is added to the work centre rather like adding a new network printer in the printers portion of a PC control panel.

Once set up, apps can be copied from the Solution Library into the work centre, where they can be modified. Clicking “Save and Sync” will download the selected and modified apps to the printer.

At this point though, we come across what is probably the most remarkable aspect of SmartSolutions.

Advanced document workflow functionality

Quite simply, SmartSolutions is designed for fleets of devices just as much as it is designed for a single device. What this means is that IT staff in a company or enterprise is able to select, adapt and manage the apps that are required by that organisation on every one of its SmartSolutions capable devices, regardless of where they are located, completely remotely and without the individual user needing to be involved at all.

A typical scenario for this amazing functionality might be a company with an outbound sales force, working from home, never needing to visit the office but with sophisticated document requirements. The IT staff can not only keep the device up to date with the apps that the company needs to operate efficiently but can also update the device with new drivers or firmware, as available.

So, for example, if the company needs a signed document to be: faxed to the customer; emailed to the Sales Director; stored in an accounting repository; and archived on the salesman’s laptop, it can all be achieved in one go with the press of the SmartSolution button on the AiO device. This is advanced document workflow functionality that has only been accessible on high-end MFPs up to now.

Although these Lexmark devices, with their SmartSolutions loaded, are standalone AiO/MFPs, there are certain functions that they cannot perform without access to their host computer – most commonly the computer owned by the AiO owner.

While potentially being a frustration and a hindrance, the reasoning behind this limitation is simple and ensures that the hardware is not at least twice as expensive to buy. In order to keep the price down, inkjet printers are host-based like many of the low-end laser printers and do not hold any printer languages (e.g. PCL or PostScript) on-board. This means that the computer does all the image processing work, converting the document into a data stream that can be printed immediately by the printer without further processing.

For instance, the AiO needs the host computer to convert a document into a PDF in a scan-to-PDF operation. Similarly, scanning a document to a file in a folder on the network requires the host computer even if the folder is not contained on that computer. In broad terms, any function that requires specific processing power will be undertaken on the computer.

It is largely for this reason that the touch screen is not able to browse the internet, which is exactly the same as the Hewlett-Packard TouchSmart implementation. The AiO would require considerable processing power to be able to perform this action.

Accessing the internet to excellent effect, though, is the new app that has been announced but is not available yet – stamps.com packages. This app allows (US only) users to fill in a shipping form for USPS on the AiO touch screen and have the device print a shipping label and charge the postage to direct to the user’s USPS account.

Lexmark ’stamps.com’ appLexmark ‘stamps.com’ App

To conclude, Lexmark’s web-enabled touch screen with SmartSolutions is designed to be easy to use, easy to manage and easy to customise. No tools are required other than an account on the SmartSolutions web site. It is designed to be flexible and versatile, allowing users and business to achieve exactly what they need to achieve with as little effort as possible in order to maximise productivity and workflow efficiency – locally or remotely.

I think Lexmark actually has one up on Hewlett-Packard here!

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