It’s Not Just the PC Industry That’s Being Hurt by the iPad

February 16th, 2012

The conventional wisdom, apparently confirmed by flattened PC sales, is that the iPad is cannibalizing sales from traditional personal computers. Apple admits that even Mac sales are being hurt somewhat, but the greater impact is to the Windows PC, since they still have a far greater market share. But Apple, of course, considers a sale a sale, even if a customer switches from one product to another.

This is certainly quite logical. After all, the iPad performs many of the functions that are traditionally handled by a PC, and a greater and greater percentage of people are therefore using it as another “screen” or device, or just giving up on PCs entirely.

The corporate world has embraced the iPad. According to Apple, most of the so-called Fortune 500 companies are either testing them or deploying them to employees. But there has been another side effect, one that may not have been anticipated. If the trend continues, both printer makers and paper companies will have lots to be concerned about.

According to a survey from Morgan Stanley, the investment bank, tablet users are printing less. As reported in a recent AppleInsider story, according to a survey of 700 tablet users in the U.S., some 33% indicated they were printing “somewhat less” while 13% indicated they are printing “significantly less” after using iPads.

These figures are certainly understandable. It’s easier to just download a corporate document and other material on an iPad, and read it through iBooks rather than print and collate loads of copies.

Now this development is somewhat surprising, since we’ve all heard about the “paperless office” for years, almost from the arrival of the first personal computer. After all, if you can read the document on the screen, why waste trees and ink printing copies? But it never turned out that way. As more and more personal computers were set up in homes and offices, more and more printers were sold with them. It started with impact printers, and later laser, inkjet and other formats. Printer makers have made huge profits selling you ink and toner to feed those printers, and paper companies are only too happy to fill the demand.

Certainly the printer makers are encouraging you to use there products as much as you can. They tout faster output, photo quality prints. Why take your photo files to the local supermarket or drug store to get prints when you can do it yourself? If it doesn’t look right, print another copy. Not to worry. If you run out of ink, the local office supply store will refill the cartridges or sell you consumables from the original manufacturer. And don’t forget the paper.

Indeed, the local Office Max stores in my area have a special deal if you buy two 500-sheet packs of paper. If they forget to remind you about the offer at the checkout counter, you are entitled to a free soft drink. How can you miss?

But most of those printed materials, other than family photos, will either be filed away or thrown out. What a waste!

Software companies have long given you electronic documentation. Some car makers are even considering paperless options for those thick manuals. When you buy the luxury Hyundai Equus, for example, you get your owner’s manual — and it’s a big one on such vehicles — on a spanking new iPad. But don’t expect a free iPad for low-end compact just yet. The Equus, which starts at $59,000, is clearly expensive enough to absorb the price of an iPad. You won’t see one on Hyundai’s $12,545 Accent, or any of their more affordable vehicles (unless they go with a cheap Kindle), but you can see the trend.

Now I’ve only gradually become accustomed to living with as little paper as possible. I read a fair amount of research material on my 27-inch iMac and iPhone. I still print schedules for the radio shows, but I find that more and more documentation is left on the screen. The office printers aren’t used near as much as they used to be, and I do not have to be near as concerned about the budget-busting prices of consumables. When the Office Max cashier asks me if I need some paper, I can just say no and mean it.

But it’s taken a long time for me to reach that point. Over the years, I have done a fair amount of desktop publishing work, using QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign, which required checking the printed output for color accuracy and the precise placement of text and artwork, functions that seldom work as efficiently on a computer screen.

From a business standpoint, not having to constantly feed a printer can be a huge cost savings over time. It might even help fund the purchase of more and more iPads. But the companies who build printers aren’t going to be so happy how things have changed. Maybe they’ll cut the prices of those costly consumables to try to encourage you to continue to get hard copy.

My response is this: When you watch a sci-fi movie showing our future, such as “Star Trek,” when was the last time you saw them actually printing something?

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2 Responses to “It’s Not Just the PC Industry That’s Being Hurt by the iPad”

  1. Bregalad says:

    A few years ago I bought a Lexmark colour laser printer. It was a huge networked beast, but I got a really great deal and figured it would allow me to print 8×10 photos at “stick them on the fridge for a few days” quality relatively inexpensively. It also wasn’t likely to get clogged if I didn’t use it daily like inkjets seem to require. As it turns out I didn’t print very often, even for the fridge, because my kids own artwork tended to fill that space. After a ridiculously low number of pages the printer started showing low toner warnings. First it was magenta, then both cyan and yellow, despite never printing a single colour page after the magenta warning first appeared. It turns out that the printer uses toner every time it’s turned on and it uses toner when it does some re-calibration every hour. So just sitting there doing nothing the printer was pulling toner out of the cartridges and dumping them into the waste toner box.

    After years of disappointment with endless cleaning cycles and print head replacements on ink jets and facing the prospect of spending over $100 per colour for toner that will slowly but surely dump itself in the trash I’ve decided that the entire printer business is a scam that I can live without. My enormous colour laser is effectively a B&W printer now and it’s primary use is to make hard copies of electronic tax returns every year.

    The printer business wasn’t always like that. I’ve used many Apple and HP B&W laser printers over the years and none of them dumped toner in the bin just being turned on. My HP lasted so long that the drum of the toner cartridge went bad. I’d have simply bought a new cartridge, but the printer itself only had parallel and LocalTalk ports. I had an Ethernet to LocalTalk converter, but it wouldn’t run above 10Mb meaning I needed an old Ethernet hub in addition to my router and then Apple dropped all LocalTalk support in Snow Leopard.

    At this point I can’t imagine ever buying another printer.

  2. Al says:

    Every time I shell out a ridiculous amount of money to purchase new toner and ink I mutter a short curse against HP and Epson.

    I had a Laserjet 4MP whose $65 toner cartridge lasted 4 years. My current HP Laser’s $70 cartridge lasts about 6 months. I would gladly pay full price on the machine to escape getting held up every 6 months. I look forward to the day when my printer use shrinks to virtually zero. Serves them right for greedily pricing themselves into a diminished future.

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