Can HP really drive PC and printer innovation?

Maybe it will surprise us with some clever melding of the PC and printer. Until then, HP merely looks like it's combining two businesses in decline.

HP Officejet 8600 Plus
I am a printer. Innovate me! (For the record, this is the HP Officejet 8600 Plus.) Sarah Tews/CNET

Hewlett-Packard says it's combining its printer and PC divisions partially because the move will drive "innovation across personal computing and printing."

Oh really?

Color me decidedly skeptical on that claim, which was touted in the company's announcement today. My mental block: What exactly are the touch points between a printer and a PC, and where does the innovation lie?

HP does have printing innovation. Its inkjet technology can be used for drug delivery, for instance. However, unless your PC is delivering doses of pharmaceuticals to you, it's a stretch to see the connection.

Sure, HP has printing apps. Sure, HP has ultrabooks. And tablets, eventually (again). How do you combine those parts into something that's going to wow the consumer?

The reality here is that PCs and printers are two fundamentally different businesses. Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu notes that consumers plop down money to buy a printer every three to five years. PC product cycles entice consumers in anywhere from one to three years.

In addition, the printing business is basically built upon the strategy of razor and razor blade. The printing unit lives and dies on ink sales. PCs are sold largely based on Windows releases.

That reality makes it hard to see how HP is going to improve the marketing strategy for PC and printer combinations. Improved go-to-market strategy was one of the selling points of the PC-printer combination. HP could copy Men's Wearhouse's buy one, get one promotion. Buy a PC, get a printer and ink pack for free. But it's hard to call a tech promotion that looks like a clothing sale "innovative."

With any luck, HP will surprise the masses with some huge innovation that melds the PC and printer. Until then, HP merely looks like it's combining two businesses that could just be in decline. PC sales look sluggish for the foreseeable future, given the love affair with tablets (read Apple's iPad). And many folks are simply printing less in the digital era.

Neither one of those developments help the case for a combined PC and printer unit.

About the author

    Larry Dignan is editor in chief of ZDNet and editorial director of CNET's TechRepublic. He has covered the technology and financial-services industries since 1995.

     

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