Across The River In Cambridge, HP's New Project Could Cast A Shadow

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This year's AIIM/On Demand Expo, which brings together hundreds of companies in the document capture, printing and imaging market, is in Boston and kicks off in the middle of a nasty Nor'easter, the Boston Marathon, and a rain-soaked Patriot's Day.

As of Monday morning, the noises of forklifts, production printers and typical pre-convention bustling is inducing more than a few headaches from here on the show floor. Vendors, who have been duking it out in the copier, printer, MFP and consulting markets are coming together this week under the leaky roof of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (there are actually trash cans placed throughout the building to catch drops of rain coming through).

Konica Minolta is here, ready to demonstrate its latest product line. Xerox, Sharp, Ricoh and Canon are setting up, as are smaller companies like Solimar Systems, Presstek and scores of others. Hewlett-Packard will have a limited presence this year, but from an office in Cambridge, four miles away, its work could eventually be felt by many of its competitors here on the other side of the Charles River.

Last month, HP announced it had agreed to buy Tabblo, a Cambridge, Mass.-based provider of technology that lets you print stuff over the web. Arrange your family photographs into a book, and order one or two printed up for the family reunion. Using a web-based wizard, upload a photograph and print a poster for your uncle's retirement party in July. That sort of thing. But last week, Pradeep Jotwani, senior vice president of supplies for HP's Imaging and Printing Group, couldn't hide his excitement in describing his company's plans for Tabblo.

Jotwani, toward the end of an hour-long meeting on other topics, smiled broadly when asked about the company's strategy for buying Tabblo, when it already owns Snapfish, a web-based photo-sharing and printing service. The two are different, Jotwani said. While Snapfish is a service HP will maintain for the specific purpose of allowing customers organize and share photographs, Tabblo has a much broader purpose.

HP plans to take Tabblo's core technology, and find a way to embed it into every web site it can. Customers can turn their favorite online stores into hard-copy catalogs. A blogger can embed Tabblo technology into their site, for example, and allow readers to turn their blog into a small, printed magazine. Newspapers can give subscribers the ability to print out the sports section at home, with a traditional layout, and read it on the train.

A more robust print-on-demand?

"That's exactly it," Jotwani said. "A more robust print on demand."

In a market where everyone is reaching for ways to grab increasing amounts of "page share," HP has seen the future and it is the web. It may be banking on this idea: Where once you couldn't run a serious business without a web site, in the future you won't be able to run a serious business without robust print-on-demand capabilities from a web site.

The technology doesn't appear to be fully ready now. But in a year or two, when AIIM/On Demand opens in Boston and there are no rain showers or leak buckets, HP's shadow could be even longer.

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