Multifunction Printers vs. Fart Apps

Multifunction Printers vs. Fart Apps

Tuesday Feb 12, 2013

I can’t begin to count the number of people who ask me for advice. Often it’s technology-related: computers, TVs, media players, smartphones, tablet, software, email service providers, ERPs, CRMs, cars, gaming consoles, but I also get questions about the best chiropractor, golf clubs, cheese, beer…the list goes on.

Currently, I spend most of my days in the print, multifunction printer, and document management world, where I’m mainly asked about these technologies from a business perspective. In fact, as I type this, I am in the lounge at a Xerox event in Ontario’s wine region. (Oddly enough, I’m drinking a beer, but I digress.) Xerox has asked that I hold a series of competitive training sessions for their reps showing the strengths and weaknesses of Xerox vs. the competition. The focus is the office products space (put simply the sub 75 ppm printer and multifunction market). In this arena there are lots of players; my focus here is Xerox, Lexmark, and HP but the list could have easily included Ricoh, Canon, Kyocera Mita, Konica Minolta, Samsung etc.

This got me thinking… Who does make the best MFP and why?

Let me step back. I use a Windows Phone, at least I currently do. Over the past 2 years I’ve used iPhone4, iPhone 5, Blackberry, WP7, WP8, Android (multiple); it could be that I have an addiction, but I prefer to think of it as market-testing. When asked about phones, people get passionate. For me it’s simple. I like trying new things and I’m not concerned with fringe apps, so I can flip back and forth with ease. Let me define a fringe app by describing the key apps I use: Phone, Email, Contacts, and Calendar. Everything else is a fringe app. I don’t need twitter, weather, news, or things that make fart noises. Do I enjoy them? Sure (especially the fart apps). Do I really need them? No. And what’s more, I shouldn’t base my decision on any technology based on these apps alone. The tool I use needs to do the core functions really well and be more about the steak and less about the sizzle.

With this in mind I looked the market place for printers and MFPs. It’s funny because I often flippantly say “everyone makes a good piece of plastic” when referring to just about everything. You only survive in any market by having something that can at least compete. After taking a more extensive look at product specs and comparisons over the past few years, this comment holds true. HP’s product is fine, a bit lackluster but it does the job. Lexmark’s interface is nice and it’s speed great, but the web-based configuration hasn’t changed since I worked there 10 years ago. Xerox has a good interface and great colour, but needs work on consistency of features between products.

So, who makes the best unit? Everyone, and no one. They all do the same things, and all do it reasonably well. Sure, you can nitpick each product, but it boils down to the same comments I made about PCL vs. PS: Who cares? Does it get the job done? If so, it’s perfect.

Assuming you don’t like my comments so far because you actually want my opinion on who really does make the best gear, I will come at it from a different angle. Who makes the simplest gear? And not simple from an IT management perspective or reduced feature set, but from an angle that actually matters, that of the user. Whose interface is the simplest and easiest to navigate while creating the least amount of training requirements for users? This is very subjective, to say the least. If I just look at the current offerings from Xerox, HP, and Lexmark, Xerox takes the lead. Not because they account for some revenue to Ballistic Echo, but when you factor in user interface on the device and the driver, their entire package is just more obvious for the untrained user. Lexmark is a close second, and HP a distant 3rd. As for speed, colour quality, number of trays etc., whatever…they all match up reasonably well and unless you have some very special requirement all of them, from a “feeds and speeds” perspective, they are the same.

I could go into all my rationale but will leave the decision to you. In fact, I would recommend you sit your end-users in front of each device and ask them to do some simple actions such as make 5 copies of a document, print something in duplex, fax some piece of paper and email a document. The best product is the one that your users have the easiest time navigating and the least time standing dazed and confused looking for the start button! This will ensure they embrace, or at least tolerate, any decision to replace or upgrade the device they are currently using and are accustomed to.

This same philosophy holds true when buying anything. I’ve gone from the guy with the crazy competition-quality stereo in my car (I miss my Phoenix Gold Route 66 – but again, I digress) to the one who just wants to easily put on some tunes, regardless of audio quality. It’s sad but true, at some point you just want things to be easy.

Hey, and if you do want my advice on any other technology I will tell you what I tell everybody:

“Buy what your friends have, because they are going to be your tech support!”.