Samsung launches into colour laser space

Toronto-based Samsung Electronics Canada Inc. on Wednesday launched its 2004 printer lineup, which includes mono laser and multi-function printers (MFP), as well as its first colour laser solution.

Highlighted during the media briefing was the firm’s CLP-500 colour laser printer, which comes in a networkable model and features automatic duplexing. The printer also has a large imaging drum and fixed toner cartridges — part of its noiseless optic imaging system (No NOIS) technology which the company said reduces printer noise because of fewer moving parts than in traditional colour laser drums.

The firm’s executive director of IT sales and marketing, Greg Milkovich, said the barriers to small and medium business (SMB) adoption of colour laser printers have traditionally included high price, low reliability and the need for ongoing support.

“The price has been a little too high (in the past),” he admitted, “but we believe today that we can reach a price point that’s attractive.” Samsung’s price point is in the under-$1,000 range, he said; the CLP-500 has an MSRP of $999 for the standard model and $1,199 for the networked model.

At the launch, Bill Fournier, senior market analyst with Evans Research Corp. in Toronto, painted a picture of customer adoption of colour laser printers, and talked about how vendors like Samsung are trying to meet customer needs at a desirable price point.

“Everyone expected huge growth in the colour laser market, but it hasn’t happened,” Fournier said, adding that out of the 2.7 million printers shipped in Canada in 2003, 21,646 of them were colour laser units.

Although colour laser shipments were up 27 per cent from 2002, “that’s a very small proportion of the overall market — it’s smaller than dot matrix,” he said.

Fournier agreed with Milkovich that price has been a barrier to SMB adoption, adding that functionality has also been lacking in lower-cost colour lasers. Up until now, a business user could technically go out and buy a colour laser unit for $1,000, but if it’s not networkable and doesn’t have duplex functionality, it’s not that useful. “There has been nothing attractive in the sub-$2,000 or (sub)-$1,000 range, nothing that (would make) the…user say ‘I need one of those.’”

In addition, lower-cost colour lasers typically work with four drums — there are more moving parts to worry about, which means businesses have to factor in the cost of ongoing support and reliability.

However, with the drop in colour laser prices, along with the increase in functionality and the reduction of moving parts, “we are now going to start to see growth” in the SMB and SOHO space, he said.

Larger enterprises have traditionally been the greatest adopters of colour laser printers, Fournier later told IT World Canada. But he cautioned that just because larger firms have the money to pay for fancier machines doesn’t mean there aren’t any challenges associated with buying and maintaining the units.

“In the enterprise there is much more of a process getting (the printer) in. There are the IT and operations people who are involved. IT has to know what’s going on and operations has to know what it will cost them.” Typically, a larger enterprise will not just buy one, but several printers. “That involves a much more thorough evaluation into what the total cost of ownership will be and the patterns of their colour printing.”

Then there’s the challenge of dealing with numerous vendors who are “all telling you what is best. You really have to do due diligence, even if you’re buying at a branch level.” That will make the growth of colour laser adoption in the enterprise space “naturally slower” than in the SMB space, he said.

Reliability may be a bigger issue for enterprises than for smaller organizations, Fournier added. “You can factor in support and service contract costs, but not the cost of reliability.” If the machine breaks down, “you still have to get it fixed,” which means downtime for a potentially vital piece of machinery.

He said organizations must ask themselves how mission-critical their printers are and how breakdowns will affect the work process. They have to have plans in place to deal with breakdowns, whether that means having back-up units or sending jobs off to a print shop. “For the most part, larger organizations have more worries when it comes to downtime….Fewer moving parts and faster speeds — in that sort of technology there is much greater interest” among enterprises, he said.

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