Distributed Printing and MPS Fueling Migration to A4-Size Hardware

by Robert Palmer | 8/4/14

Recent announcements from several vendors underscore the growing importance of A4-size hardware in today’s overall product mix. Canon USA, for example, recently launched its imageRUNNER ADVANCE C350iF and C250iF color multifunction office systems. The new models can print and scan letter-sized documents in color or monochrome at speeds of up to 36 and 26 ppm, respectively. Both models offer a standard paper capacity of up to 650 letter- or legal-size sheets, with the ability to expand to 2,300 sheets utilizing optional paper cassettes.

These new models are among the first A4-size MFPs from Canon to support for the firm’s Multifunctional Embedded Application Platform (MEAP) architecture, which allows for seamless integration with available software applications, including Therefore and uniFLOW. This provides a cohesive platform for businesses deploying various Canon solutions across their entire fleet. With embedded MEAP support and a user interface similar to that used in Canon’s A3-size machines, the imageRUNNER ADVANCE C350iF and C250iF models offer operational and solutions consistency through the imageRUNNER ADVANCE platform.

Canon ir350iF

The Canon imageRUNNER ADVANCE C350iF and C250iF are two of Canon’s newest A4 MFPs

In addition, Canon says that the imageRUNNER ADVANCE C350iF and C250iF models are customizable and easily configurable to meet a variety of office user needs. The devices also introduce Canon’s V2 Color feature, a new color profile that Canon claims produces more vivid and vibrant images and expands the color reproduction range of each model.

The new machines provide Canon with a formidable alternative for customers looking for the robust features and functionality of an A3-size MFP, but with the compact size and small footprint of an A4-size product. At the same time, Canon has introduced an A4-size platform that is significantly less expensive compared with A3 models in comparable speed segments. The imageRUNNER ADVANCE C350iF and imageRUNNER ADVANCE C250iF have suggested retail prices of $4,400 and $3,600, respectively. Both models are available as of early August through Canon authorized dealers and Canon Solutions America.

Our Take

Canon continues to grow its A4 product line in an attempt to keep up with changing business demands. Of course, it is not alone. Most of the Japanese MFP vendors have been strategically altering their A4 product mix for the past several years — a trend that is only reinforced by a rash of other announcements. Along with Canon, firms such as Toshiba and Sharp have recently introduced A4-size products, and most of these new machines are designed with fully integrated support for embedded solutions and cloud connectivity.

At a press and analyst briefing earlier in July, Konica Minolta noted that it has been “behind the curve” a bit when it comes to bringing new A4 products to market. Nevertheless, the firm stated that it planned to double its A4 business in the U.S. over the coming year; a fairly aggressive target, even if Konica Minolta’s share in the A4 market is still relatively small.

The continued migration to A4-size products is driven by a number of factors. Of course, the transition began several years back with the convergence of the traditional copier and printer markets, when printer companies such as HP and Lexmark began to target pages normally reserved for A3-size copiers and MFPs. Traditional copier companies responded by introducing A4-size products of their own, and the term “balanced deployment” became commonplace.

Today, however, A4 hardware plays a much more strategic role in the overall deployment of devices across the enterprise, fueled by the continued penetration and acceptance of managed print services. The transition to MPS helped to uncover significant over capacity and underutilization of A3-sized machines as businesses sought to reduce costs and optimize device utilization. Most studies indicate that A3-size pages account for less than 5 percent of all pages printed in the office. As a result, businesses are moving to A4-size workgroup devices to distribute printing closer to the user while leveraging A3 for centralized or departmental installations.

At the same time, A4-size MFPs offer a very compelling value proposition compared with A3-size devices in comparable speed segments: lower acquisition costs, fewer service interventions, reduced service costs, and smaller footprint. These attributes are particularly attractive when it comes to MPS deployments. As vendors continue to introduce A4-size MFPs with advanced feature sets and support for embedded solutions it is expected that these machines will continue to encroach on traditional A3 territory. Indeed, it is expected that A4-size hardware placements could reach beyond 70 percent of the total office page printer and MFP market by the end of 2016.

Robert Palmer is chief analyst and a managing partner for BPO Media, which publishes The Imaging Channel and Workflow magazines. He is an independent market analyst and industry consultant with more than 25 years experience in the printing industry covering technology and business sectors for prominent market research firms such as Lyra Research and InfoTrends. In December 2012 he formed Palmer Consulting as an independent consultancy focused on transformation, mobility, MPS, and the entire imaging market. Palmer is a popular speaker and presents regularly at industry conferences and trade events in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. He is also active in a variety of imaging industry forums and currently serves on the board of directors for the Managed Print Services Association (MPSA).