establishes the standard for laser printers--without making any enemies
by Alan Zisman (c) 1995 First published
in Business in
Vancouver , Issue #294 June 13, 1995 High Tech
seem invisible--part of the environment. You take for granted that
the pedal on the right is for the gas and the one on the left is for
the brake. Imagine the accident rate if each car manufacturer set
its own interface standards.
the B.C. Building Code, have been legislated and others are codified
by industry groups. But often, standards are created accidentally
by companies which are successful in the
a decade ago, IBM's success in marketing its initial Personal
combined with its tolerance of those who made "clone" computers,
the informal IBM-PC compatibility standard which now accounts for
80 per cent or so of all microcomputers sold.
way, IBM slid
from holding the majority of the market to become merely one of many
vendors of "IBM-compatible" computers. In 1987, it attempted to regain
control of the standard, releasing a line of PS/2 computers using
tightly-controlled MicroChannel technology, but the result was a
shrinkage of market share.
the informal standards passed to chip-manufacturer Intel and
software-producer Microsoft. It's in the interests of both
companies to see as many companies as possible manufacturing PCs, and
while some feel those interests have slowed innovation, the result has
been the sales of over 140 million PCs worldwide.
other extreme, Apple has tightly controlled the Macintosh
While the company has remained profitable, its strategy has confined
it to a niche market. Recently, Apple has started to license clones
in an effort to break out.
so far managed to set de facto standards while avoiding the
fates of both Apple and IBM. Hewlett Packard, with its LaserJet
series, has about 80 per cent of the market for laser printers. It
hasn't done this with proprietary technology, either: LaserJets are
built around printing engines developed by Canon. Similar
are marketed by a wide range of HP's competitors, including Canon
use a printing language (PCL) developed by Hewlett Packard, but it
has been successfully cloned by HP's competitors, who are able to
market HP-compatible printers. And in any event, Adobe's
page-description language is widely regarded as superior, and is itself
the standard in the graphics and page-design industries.
that are solid and reliable, priced at a level the market regards
as fair, but that's also true of many of its competitors, who often
offer competing products with more features at a lower price.
HP has managed
to define the PC laser-printer market, and has kept that
for about a decade now. The first LaserJet sold for about $10,000,
and by today's standards was severely limited in capability. But at
the time, both price and print quality seemed almost miraculous. And
every two years or so, HP has offered newer models with the winning
combination of more features and a lower list price.
it's not the
very first to offer a particular feature, HP's printers have managed
to continue to be perceived as the standard--competitors are forced
to scramble to match HP's feature-set, and forced to sell their
for a lower price.
have seen the introduction of yet another generation of products from
Hewlett Packard, and its publicists have kept my fax machine busy
with multipage product announcements. LaserJet Series 5. New Deskjet
colour inkjet printers. Scanjet Series 3 scanners. More announcements
detailing price reductions on many models.
pressure on the competition, while HP holds its position as the
setter. At the same time, with controlled small price-drops, it has
managed to keep prices in its markets from taking the sorts of dramatic
plunges that have seen hard-drive prices drop to as little as 35 per
cent of what they were a year ago.
earlier era, a
business cliché stated that "nobody ever got fired for purchasing
from IBM." Their products weren't the cheapest, but they were solidly
conservative, and they set the standard. But at the same time, IBM's
market dominance created a generation of resentment and U.S. government
antitrust actions. More recently, Microsoft, the standard setter for
the current generation of PCs, has found itself the target of spiteful
gossip and government watchdogs.
dominance in several of its chosen markets, HP seems to have avoided
becoming a victim of its own success. By pursuing a strategy that
has combined innovation and reliability, and increased features with
slightly lowered prices, it has continued to define the market for
PC laser printers, while remaining well-regarded by both customers