HP Takes Business Ink Into New Territory With Officejet Enterprise Platform

by Robert Palmer

On March 24, Hewlett-Packard announced the latest in a series of groundbreaking ink-based printing products targeted at business users.

The new Officejet Enterprise Color products are targeted specifically at large businesses and workgroup printing environments, which is an area of the market that up to now has been served almost exclusively by laser-based imaging technologies. According to HP, the Officejet Enterprise Color series represents the “industry’s first inkjet devices designed to truly meet the complex needs of today’s large businesses.”

That is a bold statement, and one that could be argued against given the fact that other competitors have been selling inkjet-based machines aimed at workgroups and enterprise customers for quite some time. But that is a part of the story that will be addressed later in this article. For now, it is necessary to focus on the important elements of this product announcement, and there is a lot of ground to cover.

Clearly, it is the features and capabilities of the products themselves that make this announcement so significant. The Officejet Enterprise platform is by far the most sophisticated Officejet product that HP has ever introduced. That is an essential point to make because some experts have argued that inkjet would never be successful with office customers due to the unfavorable comparison to traditional consumer-class products. But to quote an overused cliché, “this is not your mother’s inkjet printer.” Indeed, the Officejet Enterprise platform breaks new ground in areas of performance, usability, and operating costs — not just for an inkjet machine but virtually any product targeting the high end of the office-printing market.

Legacy imaging technology

The heart of the Officejet Enterprise platform is its page-wide array imaging technology, which is clearly what separates it from traditional consumer-class inkjet printers and MFPs. Utilizing a page-wide array means that the new machines have a single inkjet print head that spans the full width of the printed page. During the printing process, the print head remains stationary while the paper moves underneath at rated engine speed, which is basically the same imaging process as a laser-based device.

Of course, this imaging technology is not new for HP. In fact, the Officejet Enterprise products are based on the same print head architecture as that used in HP’s Officejet Pro X series products, a family of high-speed business inkjet machines introduced last year that are aimed at SOHO and small business environments. But this same imaging technology can actually be traced back further than that.

In early 2006, HP unveiled its Edgeline technology., which represented the firm’s first venture into page-wide imaging for inkjet-based products. At that time, HP planned to use Edgeline in numerous products, including office-class printers and MFPs, retail photo printing kiosks, and commercial production printing machines. In 2007, HP launched its first Edgeline-based MFPs, which were segment 4/5 office machines that sold for more than $20,000. For reasons that have been discussed and debated by many in the industry, the Edgeline-based MFPs never achieved the success that HP had hoped for and some had predicted. Nevertheless, the page-wide imaging platform survived and now serves as the foundation for HP’s latest foray into the enterprise segment.

While HP is quick to point out that there are several differences between the Officejet Pro X series and the new Enterprise platform, it readily admits that the imaging technology is unchanged. In fact, HP stresses the fact that the print head architecture is based on “proven fourth-generation technology” that has been deployed in numerous products ranging from desktop devices to inkjet web presses.  This speaks not only to the credibility of the platform but also market acceptance. As HP puts it: “more than 60 billion pages have been printed using HP PageWide Technology.”

Fast speeds and low operating costs

As it did with the Officejet Pro X series, HP markets the new Officejet Enterprise products using a simple but effective value proposition: twice the speed and half the operating cost of laser. With a maximum print speed of 72 ppm in general office mode (42 ppm in full color mode), the new machines certainly deliver from a performance perspective. Meanwhile, the Officejet Enterprise platform has an operating cost that is unrivaled among competitive laser-based devices.

In full color mode, which basically means high color saturation for better print quality, the Officejet Enterprise has an operating cost of 5.5 cents per page for color. In general office mode it has an operating cost of 4.4 cents per page for color. Meanwhile, the new machines offer monochrome printing at a cost of only 1.1 cents per page. This certainly puts the Officejet Enterprise products among the most cost-effective color products on the market, but it is the tiered color pricing that HP offers for MPS customers that is perhaps more intriguing.

As it did when it first launched the Edgeline MFPs, HP will offer its MPS customers the ability to print “highlight color” or “spot color” pages at a price equivalent to monochrome, or 1.1cents per page. This is an important feature because in contractual arrangements, customers typically pay a set price for monochrome pages and a higher price for color pages regardless of the amount of color coverage. So, a color page with only a single line of highlight color would cost the same amount as a page with 50 percent color coverage. HP says that a highlight color page equates to any page with up to one-half square inch of total color coverage. Examples might include letterhead with a single color logo or a page with a single line of hyperlink text in blue.

Inkjet product designed like a laser

The operating costs and tiered pricing model address certain barriers that have stymied the growth of color pages in the office — namely the price premium for color printing. Meanwhile, the new Officejet Enterprise products offer several other features that help to set them apart. To begin with, the new machines are designed to look and feel more like an HP LaserJet device than an inkjet printer. As HP puts it: “all the benefits of our office ink technology married with a fully-loaded LaserJet feature set.”

To explain, the new Officejet Enterprise models use the same FutureSmart formatter as HP’s enterprise-class LaserJet products. Likewise, the MFP versions feature an 8-inch touchscreen control panel, embedded NFC technology to support card readers and simplify printing from mobile devices, and a workgroup-class scanner/ADF.

Unlike the Officejet Pro X series, the Officejet Enterprise platform is designed to be a serviceable product, which is important for enterprise customers who typically acquire their machines under a service contract. Yet compared with laser-based devices, the new Officejet Enterprise platform requires significantly fewer interventions — something that MPS customers and providers alike will find very compelling. The print-head mechanism, which lasts for 115,000 pages, is the only serviceable item. This means that HP can offer service response times similar to those for its LaserJet products, with same-day, on-site service.  

Unlike many competitive laser-based products, the ink cartridges for the Officejet Enterprise platform are user replaceable, which means that service technicians are not required in order to replenish supplies. This is another significant advantage of inkjet technology. Combined with other attractive elements of inkjet technology, such as lower energy consumption and reduced waste, the Officejet Enterprise products would seem to provide businesses with a very compelling alternative to laser.

HP will offer the Officejet Enterprise in both single-function printer and MFP configurations. There will be three different Officejet Enterprise Color MFP models, including a Flow MFP version that comes equipped with an integrated keyboard and embedded capture/workflow capability identical to that offered with HP’s LaserJet Flow MFPs. The MFP versions will range in price between $1,999 and $2,7999. Two Officejet Enterprise Color X555 single-function models will sell for $749 and $1,199. All models are expected to be available worldwide on April 1.

Summary

In an era when there is so little true innovation occurring in printing hardware, it is somewhat refreshing to see HP breaking new ground with its page-wide inkjet technology. As pointed out earlier, HP is not the only company now targeting page-wide technology at the office market.

Xerox, for example, has achieved significant success with its solid ink-based machines, marketed over the years as Phaser and ColorQube products. Interestingly, Xerox’s solid ink technology has rarely been compared directly with consumer-class inkjet devices, primarily because it has always been deployed in a page-wide imaging system that made it more compatible with laser-based devices aimed at the office space. Meanwhile, vendors such as Brother and Memjet continue to push page-wide technology for both SMB and workgroup environments, while others such as Epson are rapidly expanding their serial inkjet technology into business applications.

All of this activity signals one very important trend that should not be ignored. Inkjet for the office is not just a flash in the pan—it is here to stay and will continue to disrupt the office printing landscape. HP’s new Officejet Enterprise is an important part of that story because it represents the first inkjet product from HP to be truly positioned as an everyday workgroup color machine.

In reality, the Officejet Enterprise could be the most cost-effective workgroup printer because it provides color at unmatched operating costs, but also provides very attractive monochrome pricing for a color machine. The quoted operating costs on the surface are very intriguing, but think about how HP might be able to negotiate even better pricing with its MPS customers.

Meanwhile, the disruptive nature of inkjet means that further inroads into the office printing market are likely to happen — and probably sooner rather than later. The technology is simply more efficient than laser, providing for lower acquisition costs, lower operating costs, reduced energy consumption, and less waste. Some continue to argue that office customers are simply too biased toward laser to ever give inkjet the time of day. But HP has proved that theory wrong time and again in the SMB space, with business inkjet now growing at double-digit rates.

Are office workgroup and enterprise customers too sophisticated to take advantage of the benefits of inkjet? It seems highly unlikely. Most research indicates that users care little about the imaging technology used in their devices — they just want dependable products that meet their needs. Indeed, it could be argued that what office workgroup customers have been waiting for is an inkjet-based platform that provides the proper combination of durability, capability, and price. HP’s Officejet Enterprise clearly delivers in all three areas.