HP shoots for wannabe photo pros

Company to launch new consumer printers, cameras for shutterbugs who want expert quality. Video: HP rolls out new products

SAN FRANCISCO--Hewlett-Packard is trying to make it easier for the average tourist photographer to become the next Ansel Adams--or the newest member of the paparazzi.

The company on Wednesday announced plans to introduce more than 100 new consumer-oriented printers, digital cameras and related supplies by the end of the year. The new products focus on making it easier for home users to shoot and print pictures without having to attend art school or decipher complicated technical manuals, Vyomesh Joshi, executive vice president of HP's Printing and Imaging group, said at the Imaging and Printing Conference here.

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Video: HP's new imaging products
At Hewlett-Packard's Imaging and Printing Conference in San Francisco on May 31, the company promised new printers, digital cameras and peripherals.

Consumers don't "want to know more about technology. They just want to take pictures and share them," Joshi said. They also want to do those things right away, without having to wait days for their photos to emerge from a retail outlet or for an older printer to crank out the images, he said.

New photo printers unveiled Wednesday bring the fast performance of more expensive photo printers into inexpensive price categories. The D7360, for example, can print 4-inch by 6-inch photos in 12 seconds for $199, the company said.

Megapixels continue to get cheaper with the cameras introduced on Wednesday. The PhotoSmart E427, for example, has a resolution of 6 megapixels and a 5x digital zoom lens. It will cost $129 when it becomes available in September.

The added benefit of the new products is that they will stimulate demand for HP's printer supplies business, Joshi said. Supplies are an especially lucrative part of the printer market, as companies like HP generally don't make very much money on the sale of the printer itself.

But this cash cow has come under fire from makers of remanufactured cartridges or refilling kits, which make it far less expensive for consumers to keep their printers going. HP has chosen to combat these companies through the threat of legal action against those it thinks are infringing its patents and by emphasizing the quality and reliability of its printer supplies. "Our cartridges are 50 percent more reliable than cartridges you can buy from remanufactured or refilling companies," Joshi said.

HP photo products

Details on the products, including pricing, specifications and availability, are available at HP's Web site for the two-day conference, where executives and product managers plan to outline HP's vision of the digital imaging world and show off new products.

Joshi also reiterated his commitment to maintaining the growth and profitability of HP's printer business, which provides the majority of the company's profits. HP is shooting for the business to keep its current profit margins of around 13 percent to 15 percent, and grow revenue by about 4 percent to 6 percent each year, he said.

HP is trying to capture images, whether they are printed at home, shared through a PC or captured on a camera, said Stephen Baker, an analyst with NPD Techworld. With retail kiosks, home printers, and online businesses like Snapfish, HP has "a much more unified strategy than (most) other people," Baker said.

For now, that strategy has centered around moving printers and ink, and not necessarily cameras. HP hasn't had a great deal of success in the digital camera market, like many electronics companies that have tried to break into the digital imaging market, Baker said. "No company that didn't have a strong association with film has been able to break into that market," he said, but noted that getting involved with digital cameras gives HP an idea of the specifications it needs to meet with its printers.

Wednesday's event focused primarily on printers and cameras for the consumer, but HP plans to talk more about its business customers in the fall, Joshi said. HP recently launched a new series of laser printers for businesses as the company becomes more serious about reaching into the color multifunction printer market and providing businesses with a way to design and print marketing materials in-house.

Joshi did talk about one business product at the event. HP's Halo Collaboration Studio allows product development teams or marketing planners to conduct meetings using a sophisticated video conferencing system. Enterprise customers that sign up for Halo build soundproof rooms just for the video conferencing, and HP manages the networking traffic for them.

Halo rooms now cost $425,000, a reduction in price from the $550,000 quoted at Halo's launch event, Joshi said. It costs $18,000 a month to run these rooms, but businesses with operations all over the globe are interested in cutting down the amount of time executives spend on airplanes, he said.

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