How The Other Half Lives (Printer-Wise)

A recent briefing with a Sharp executive shows what developments we can expect in the high-end market, some of which may trickle down to the desktop market.
A recent briefing with a Sharp executive shows what developments we can expect in the high-end market, some of which may trickle down to the desktop market.We recently mentioned the new Sharp A3 workgroup color laser printers with a color touch-screen interface reminiscent of a smartphone. With prices starting above $10,000, these units don't quite cook breakfast for you, but they will staple, fold, and saddle-stitch your output with a resolution of 1200 by 1200 dpi, all but putting you in the publishing business.

"If you are making 6,000 to 8,000 pages a month, you need this device," said Shane Coffey, director of product management for document systems products for Sharp, in Mahwah, NJ. "If you are doing 1,000 pages a month, this is not the machine for you."

Such machines are often seen in the offices of doctors, dentists, lawyers, and accounts, shared by workgroups of eight to ten, he added. They are typically leased for several years, making their purchase price less of a shock. The refill toner is priced by the dealer as part of the lease, and usually amounts to less than a penny per page for monochrome and less than 5 cents for color, Coffee said. (Refills for entry-level desktop units are typically three or four times that.)

Their large touch screens (10.1 inches, measured diagonally) will display pop-up menus that walk you through procedures, and let you edit scanned material in terms of removing unwanted marks and material, and rotating it by right angles, he said. If you scan from a book and there is a shadow where the mid-line gutter was, you can remove that, he noted. It can proof material to the extent of showing you where the staples are going to be when the machine binds it, he added.

Each user can have their own interface with their own selected icons and customizable function names, with 24 languages available. All aspects of the screen can be customized, and there is a software development kit for integrators, to integrate the machine into a custom application, he said.

One of the units has a Web browser which Coffey said was similar to that on a smartphone, meaning it can navigate to certain pages and display them, and display PDFs, but can't do animations.

And then there are new security features, which Coffey indicated were added in response to hackers boasting of retrieving personal information from the hard drives of MFPs. A standard feature on these machines is 256-bit AES encryption, and the ability to optionally overwrite your data one to seven times when you're through. There is also an end-of-lease mode, where all personal data and settings are erased and the machine restored to a like-new condition. (I trust no one does that accidentally.)

How long before all this reaches the desktop? Coffee did not have a clue, but the relentless trend is for electronics to get more powerful. It's inevitable, in other words-except for the stapling, folding, and saddle-stitching. We probably won't see that on the desktop.

(A3 printers, incidentally, refer to machines that can handle double-letter sizes, of 11x17 inches. A3 machines are actually bigger than A4 machines, which can handle regular letter or legal paper. A3 also refers to a standard European paper size equivalent to letter size. Coffey acknowledged that the nomenclature situation is a little ridiculous.)