Designer style combined with cutting edge technology design are the pillars on which the new Canon PIXMA brand and range stand, but will it be enough to land a market-leading position?
Printers, scanners and multi-function or all-in-one devices are the Cinderellas of the photo imaging world. Spectacular press launches are almost always reserved for cameras, but last month Canon shipped several hundred EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) journalists to Cannes in order to witness what could be regarded almost as the rebirth of the company's ink-jet based product lines. As Katsuichi Shimizu, Canon's head of inkjet products operations, said: "My mission when I became chief executive of the printer division was clear: revitalize Canon’s Multi-function and printer products."
Lavish launchPierre Cardin's house made of bubbles
The lavish launch event was held at the surreal home of design and fashion guru, Pierre Cardin. You may know that Canon brands its thermal ink-jet technology 'Bubble Jet' and one annex to the Cardin mansion overlooking the Cote d'Azure is made entirely from globular structures that resemble, well, bubbles. A handy outdoor auditorium just around the corner, capacious enough to seat all the gathered press and PRs, was pretty handy for a noisy and slick multimedia proclamation of the arrival of PIXMA.
PIXMA is a wide-ranging family of new ink-jet printer-based solutions that will be rolled out over the next two months, starting today with the announcement of four printers and four new multi-function solutions. We'll explore these in just a moment.
Canon has a lot of catching up to do
It's rather interesting that Canon has placed so much emphasis on the launch of PIXMA, especially when you look at the market data for ink-jet printers and multi-function products. IDC currently ranks Canon third in Europe as a whole behind HP (1st) and Epson (2nd) in terms of ink-jet printers and fourth behind HP (1st), Lexmark (2nd) and Epson (3rd) in the fast-growing multi-function market. Indeed, according to IDC's Phil Sargeant, who is a senior research analyst, Canon's fourth spot is under threat from multi-function newcomer, Dell, who sell re-branded Lexmark products. It's even worse in the UK market, where Dell has already demoted Canon to fifth in the multi-function stakes.
Sargeant told dpnow.com that Canon has a lot of work to do in order to make its channel strategy work better. Here at dpnow, we're great fans of Canon's ink-jet technology, print speed and generally excellent quality of the hardware design and construction. But comparatively high retail prices and relative difficulty in obtaining consumables is a problem we and many others have experienced and Sargeant agrees.
Will PIXMA make a difference?
So, will PIXMA make a difference? There is no doubt that the new styling and innovative features offered by the various PIXMA models are impressive. But style and innovation wasn't the problem for Canon in the first place. Performance and quality improvements were also demonstrated to us and, once again, it has to be said that this wasn't an area of great weakness for Canon either.
Retail price is definitely one of the keys to success. Let's see how the new models compare:
MP110 and MP130 entry-level multi-function solutionsCanon expect some customers to use their MP110s in the kitchen
PIXMA MP110 and MP130 models have class-leading 2pl small ink droplet sizes and USB 2.0 Hi-Speed computer connectivity. These stylish units only lack PictBridge compatibility for printing direct from cameras. Canon expects the MP110 and MP130 entry-level multi-function models to sell for £99 and £119 respectively – which is impressive and easily a match for the competition. So far, so good? The only catch is that you won't be able to get your hands on these until next year.
iP1500 and iP2000 entry-level printers
The PIXMA iP2000 is compact enough to be shelf-mounted
Next up are the iP1500 and iP2000
entry-level PIXMA printers and this time shipments are expected starting in September. At £49 for the iP1500, the price is, once more, on the nose as although the unit is a barebones budget model, it benefits from features like 2pl printing, fast plain paper handling and borderless photo printing. This model does not feature PictBridge support.
For only £20 more, you can opt for the £69 iP2000. With the choice of front or top paper loading, the compact unit can even be placed in the tight confines of a shelf. Or you can use both paper feeds at the same time, with one for photo paper and the other for plain paper. You also get PictBridge compatibility.
iP3000 and iP4000 mid-range printers
The PIXMA iP3000 and PIXMA iP4000 (left) will also be available from September 2004 for £89 and £129, respectively. These are the first of the radical new-look PIXMA models. When not in use, these printers look like enigmatic high-tech boxes. Sides either fold down or pull out to reveal the paper feeds and paper rests – you really have to see it in action to appreciate it. Again, 2pl printing is the norm, as is PictBridge support and the iP4000 adds a photo black ink cartridge to the standard pigment black cartridge for better photo reproduction, though light cyan and light magenta photo inks aren't part of the deal. However, the iP4000 does provide a parallel port for legacy support.
Both models feature support for printing on printer-ready CD-Rs. The iP3000 price looks good, but the iP4000 is 45% dearer and we can't really see the justification, on paper at least. For this money you can buy an Epson R300, with memory card slots and a colour preview monitor for direct, PC-less, printing that benefits from a full set of enhanced photo inks.
MP750 and MP780 SOHO multi-function solution
CD printing with the MP750
Finally from this batch of PIXMA releases, we have the MP750 and MP780
multi-functionals, both featuring automatic document feeders (ADFs) for the scanner component. The main difference between the MP780 and MP750 is that the former includes a Group 3 compatible fax modem and functionality. Both are PictBridge compatible and can print onto CDs, but neither has memory card slots for direct printing without a tethered camera. At £219 for the MP750 and £259 for the MP780, we don't doubt that with features and quality factored in, the prices represent good value. But these two are up against the likes of Dell's A960, which has all the key features of the MP780 for £100 less.
Canon say they want to be number one
We came away from Cannes feeling buoyed by the highly professional launch marketing machine and by genuine admiration for the technology and design that PIXMA embodies. But now we have seen Canon's initial pricing we're not sure if the formula is quite right for the kind of market success that various senior Canon managers so passionately pledged to achieve – to be number one, no less. We'll just have to wait and see…
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