RealTime IT News

HP's Printer Surprise Touches the Web

HP Photosmart Premium with TouchSmart Web
The HP Photosmart Premium with TouchSmart Web. Source: HP.
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Hewlett-Packard hopes lightning strikes twice. Twenty five years ago, the computer and printer giant released its first home printer, the LaserJet, the first of many products in what was to become a multibillion-dollar business.

Today, HP previewed what it's touting as the first "Web-connected home printer," a new kind of all-in-one printer that offers access to Web sites consumers frequently print from. At an event here today, the company showed off the HP Photosmart Premium with TouchSmart Web, a $399 printer set to be available this fall.

While bigger and more expensive than most consumer models HP (NYSE: HPQ) emphasized that it's bringing new functionality on top of traditional printing, and that the device could theoretically pay for itself fairly quickly. HP says the 4.33-inch touchscreen is the biggest on any all-in-one inkjet printer on the market. The Wi-Fi-enabled printer offers both wired and wireless connectivity.

One of HP's partners at the event, Coupons.com, said the market for digital coupons is exploding. The company today announced that in just over five months the savings printed on its digital coupon network in 2009 surpassed the $313 million in value printed in all of 2008.

More than 40 million people currently print online coupons, according to Simmons Market Research Bureau.

"People still need physical coupons," said Steven Boal, CEO of Coupons.com. "We don't see paper going away."

Vyomesh "VJ" Joshi, executive vice president of HP's imaging and printing group, said the convenience of previewing and printing coupons right from the printer without having to boot up a computer and search the Web could lead to more coupons being printed.

"You could save close to $2,000 every year," he said.

That's a lot of coupons. Of course, you can already print those coupons from any computer connected to the Web and an external printer. But with the new release, HP is mainly selling convenience.

HP plans to launch the printer with several consumer applications, including Coupons.com, the Fandango movie ticketing site, USA Today, DreamWorks Animation, Google Maps, Web Sudoku, WeatherNews and a Nickelodean site where parents or kids can print out coloring and other activity sheets.

The PhotoSmart Premium will also feature an HP Apps Studio full of different Web site services consumers can choose from. HP said users will be able to access HP's Snapfish photo service directly to print and upload photos.

In a demo for InternetNews.com, HP product manager Steve Smith showed how, with a few touches, you could watch a movie trailer with sound from DreamWorks. The printer relies on a "deep sleep" energy-saving mode that offers quick access at a touch of the display. If it's completely turned off, the start up time is closer to that of a PC.

Joshi said developers will have access to open APIs to bring a wide range of services to the printer.

"From the developer community, we want as many applications as possible," Joshi said. "We think this is going to change the way people think about printing and empower consumers to go to the Web and print more of the stuff they need every day."

He also said he expects prices to come down over the next few years as HP ramps up production and component costs drop.

"Eventually in the next few years, it'll be available at $99," Joshi said.

Beyond the printer

Analyst Ben Bajarin said $399 is a high price that probably is only going to attract the high-end, early adopter slice of the consumer market. But he thinks HP would be smart to extend its technology -- like the simple one-touch access to commonly used Web services -- to other hardware.

"What's interesting is that HP is approaching this from a platform standpoint," Bajarin, analyst with Creative Strategies, told InterrnetNews.com. "They could have similar applications on HP notebooks or netbooks where you could quickly scroll to different promos or Web services and extend the use case for this easy access to commonly used tasks.

"What they've done here with this first release is eliminated the complexity of the PC with a robust touchscreen as part of the printer," he said.

If and when HP gets the price down to $99, Bajarin thinks it could have broad consumer appeal.

Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) chief technology advocate, Michael Jones, said the PhotoSmart Premium meshes with Google's goal of organizing the world's information.

"Accessibility and utility both factor in and here you have a portal into the entire Internet that lets you take what you might want later with you," he said. "It's the ultimate fulfillment of cloud computing -- something you can touch."

Jones said about 30 million people print from Google Maps every day, and he envisions a time when every device has touchscreen access for printing maps other content far more conveniently than having to go through a PC or notebook.

And as much as he likes maps, Jones said that on a personal level, he's looking forward to using the Sudoku app so he can he can print out a "really hard Sudoku puzzle" to take on his daily commute.