June 22, 2007
PC Magazine Contributing Editor M. David Stone Closes Out Printer Pundit Week With Panache
By Databazaar Blog
Printer Pundits: M. David Stone on the Inkjet Versus Laser Debate, Impact of Memjet, Prognosis for Dell's Printer Division, and More
Name a major product or technology in the imaging industry and you can bet that M. David Stone has covered it top to bottom. After 25 years, more than 4,000 articles, and a dozen books, this award-winning journalist and consultant has developed a well-deserved reputation as one of the imaging industry's most respected experts.
David works at PC Magazine as a Contributing Editor and Lead Analyst for Printers, Scanners, and Projectors. He also writes for other publications, including Wired. His breadth of knowledge and clear, engaging style receive high marks from casual readers and industry experts alike. After reading the interview below, you should make a beeline for David's recent PC Magazine cover story, Buying Guide: More Printer For The Price, as well as the companion piece, The Future of Ink Jet Printing?, his in-depth analysis of Memjet.
David's interview constitutes the fifth installment of our new Printer Pundits feature. We couldn't have asked for a better ending for Printer Pundit Week. We thank David and hope all of you have enjoyed these interviews.
Databazaar Blog: Will inkjet printers someday replace laser printers in the office?
M. David Stone: A provocative question. (But you can just as easily ask if lasers will someday replace inkjets at home.) As both technologies stand today, each has some advantages over the other, with lasers having the clear edge overall.
That said, there are plenty of examples of one technology taking over from another even if it doesn't match it on all fronts. I've yet to see any printer — not even the old, noisy daisywheel printers — that can match the text quality of a Selectric typewriter with a carbon ribbon. But switching to computers gave so many advantages over using a typewriter that there was no contest.
Likewise, early laser printers didn't have the same quality as daisywheel printers — the output looked like poor quality, third generation copies. But they were so much faster and — probably more importantly — so much quieter, that daisywheel printers didn't have a chance.
So the question really boils down to whether inkjets can give us features that lasers can't, somewhere down the road, and whether offices will be willing to give up some of the strengths of lasers to get those features.
Today's inkjets' only real advantage over lasers is that they're better at photos. That's not important in most offices, and lasers are closing that gap in any case. Lasers on the other hand have lots of advantages.
Lasers as a group are faster. HP's Edgeline printers and the Memjet prototype printers demonstrate that inkjets can catch up on this score, but lasers at any given price are getting faster too. It remains to be seen whether actual products based on inkjet technology will close the gap compared to lasers in the same price range.
Even if inkjets catch up in speed, there's still a quality issue. Lasers let you use almost any quality paper — from cheap copier paper to more expensive laser paper — without worrying about things like the paper curling from too much ink on the page or the color or sharpness of edges being affected from being absorbed by the paper.
A related issue is water resistance. Unless you use special paper, ink smudges if it gets wet. That can easily happen if, for example, you're drinking an iced coffee at your desk and there's condensation on the glass. Pick up the glass, turn the page, and you suddenly have a smudged document.
The point is that lasers can give you more professional looking output with less expensive paper. I don't see inkjet technology catching up on this score any time soon, and I don't see any advantages inkjets can offer to outweigh this disadvantage. On the other hand "someday" is a long way away, so I won't say it will never happen.
Databazaar Blog: If Silverbrook openly licenses its Memjet technology as currently planned, what impact, if any, will that have on the major players in the industry?
M. David Stone: I'm not sure anyone knows the answer to this yet. It's going to depend a lot on when the actual Memjet products show up in the market and what they look like — how well they perform, how much they cost, how good their output quality is, and so on.
If they don't deliver on all their promises, today's big players may not be affected at all. On the other hand, if they do deliver, they'll make a big splash, and the major manufacturers will have to consider licensing the technology themselves — or rushing their own new technologies to market at competitive prices, faster than they had planned. It'll be interesting to watch.
Databazaar Blog: In your recent cover story, Buying Guide: More Printer For The Price, you listed two Dell printers that you like (Dell Photo All-In-One 966 and Dell Multifunction Color Laser Printer 3115cn). Dell entered the printer market late in the game. And other computer makers, such as Apple, departed years ago. What's your prognosis for Dell in this industry?
M. David Stone: I think that Dell has done a good job to this point of delivering quality printers. In some cases the Dell models have been better than similar models from the actual manufacturers, if only because of rewritten installation routines that improve on the original. In addition, based on my experience calling tech support, Dell seems to be better at actually giving support than many vendors I've dealt with (although I don't make enough calls to qualify as a statistically valid sampling). As long as those two things remain true, I think Dell will do just fine. (But keep in mind that this is coming from someone who never understood why Lotus 1-2-3 held the top spot for spreadsheets for so long.)
Databazaar Blog: Can you share with us some of the more interesting feedback you received about the buying guide from readers and perhaps manufacturers?
M. David Stone: Aside from Jim Lyons getting in touch to tell me that he liked the piece and had mentioned it in his blog, I haven't gotten much direct feedback, but I have noticed a distinct rise in the number of readers writing to me about their printer problems in general. I'm guessing they saw my name and decided I was the right person to write to.
Most of the letters refer to problems with ink prices and ink usage. Probably the most interesting — because it reflects people's assumptions about printers — are the ones that complain about using up color ink when almost everything they print is black and white. People really don't understand why the color ink disappears from house keeping functions or why inkjet and laser printers often wind up printing in composite black and using up their expensive color ink or toner. They also expect a "grayscale" choice in a driver to print in black only — which is true in some cases, but not all.
All this tells me that the industry needs to make an effort to educate users on the subject and make a point of including a "black only" option in drivers that's unambiguous and easy to find.
Databazaar Blog: What are the three biggest changes you've seen in the industry since you started covering printers?
M. David Stone: Coming up with a list of big changes is easy. Picking the three biggest is harder. Focusing on the technology, I'll go with:
1. Noisy impact printers (daisywheel and dot matrix) have been almost universally replaced by quiet printers (laser and inkjet) in the office.
2. High quality graphics, photos, and color have all gone from nearly non-existent to the expected norm.
3. We've all gotten spoiled about speed. An 8 page per minute laser printer was once considered a network printer and a 20 page per minute laser was blazingly fast. Now personal laser printers are north of 20 pages per minute.
Databazaar Blog: Which printer(s) do you use at home and at work?
M. David Stone: I do most of my work at home, so I have the luxury of using the same printers for both home and work. I won't mention brands, but ever since I graduated from daisywheel printers, probably 20 years ago, everything I've bought for home or office has been a laser unless it's for photos. I currently have a monochrome laser for printing faxes and emails, a color laser, a 4 by 6 inkjet photo printer, and a supertabloid size inkjet photo printer.
About Printer Pundits
We spend most of our time here at Databazaar Blog on printer gear, but this impressive technology doesn't just appear by magic. With Printer Pundits, we bring you interviews with some of the luminaries in the printer industry — senior executives, analysts, journalists, inventors, and others. Of course, in today's world everyone is a pundit so please share your insights below.