Inkjet printers today are well-entrenched and dominant in the sub-$200 price band, ceding higher price points to single and multifunction lasers. It’s true that inkjet’s active user base continues to generate extremely profitable consumable sales, but slowing hardware sales to consumers could pose a risk to future supplies revenue. And, emerging trends including a decline in home photo printing and the explosive growth of mobile device use are certainly concerns for consumer inkjet (though capturing digital content also presents an attractive opportunity).

While personal inkjets are not about to disappear, the best growth prospects for the inkjet industry exist with businesses. IDC’s latest quarterly hardcopy report confirms this view, showing that while soft consumer demand led to a 14% inkjet unit decline (YoY), the drop would have been worse if not for ‘solid inkjet growth’ in the higher-priced business segment. Yet despite this solid growth, business inkjets have been unable to successfully penetrate higher price bands and continue sell with an average checkout price of $225 (US e-commerce channel).

The failure of inkjet devices to capture a larger share of the business market can be attributed to several requirements that have not been met. In general, inkjets fail to deliver the reliability, durability, and speeds required by businesses, especially those printing at high volumes. IT managers balk at the idea of installing inkjets that don’t conform to the security and manageability requirements fulfilled by laser devices. In fact, installed inkjets are often the first products to be targeted for replacement by lasers in MPS engagements. And lastly, few desktop inkjets offer the combination of large ink tank yields and paper capacities to keep device intervention at an acceptable rate.

However, despite a fairly long list of obstacles, inkjet technology also offers a few attractive benefits over competing laser devices. Perhaps the technology’s single largest competitive advantage, inkjet printers are inherently more power efficient than lasers since there is no fuser – these fusers require a considerable amount of electricity to heat up and remain warm throughout the workday. While improvements to energy consumption are ongoing, and breakthroughs feasible, the basic physics of heating a fuser to bond toner to paper suggests that laser will only see incremental gains in energy efficiency. Given the right circumstances, the cost savings realized by a business that switches from laser to inkjet printers could be significant. And, it’s no secret that businesses are targeting energy reduction in an effort to improve their bottom line as well as their ‘green’ image.

In addition to energy savings, inkjet technology can also deliver a lower cost-per-page (CPP) and acquisition cost than some competing lasers. Inkjets incur less maintenance over the course of their lifespan than lasers, as they lack parts such as drums and fusers that must be periodically replaced (admittedly, most inkjets probably get replaced before they reach the threshold that would require a comparable laser to need maintenance). Lastly, depending on who you ask, inkjet printers are often preferred by users seeking high quality color prints.

When you consider inkjet’s possible advantages – measurable energy savings, lower acquisition and print cost, fewer maintenance requirements, comparable or better color print quality than laser – the technology’s value proposition is clear. Yet, for so many years, businesses and the dealers and VARs who sell to them have shown a strong preference for laser.

Enter HP’s PageWide technology and the Officejet Pro X.

Building on momentum generated over the past decade with successive “Officejet” and “Officejet Pro” launches, HP’s Officejet Pro X is the first desktop inkjet printer from a major brand to feature a page wide array printhead. The printer’s new printhead delivers extremely fast color print speeds of between 36ppm and 42ppm at a resolution of 2400×1200 dpi. And because the new printhead is stationary, these single-pass devices are much quieter than conventional inkjets and reported to be more durable and reliable.

To the surprise of many, HP has positioned the first batch of Officejet Pro X printers very aggressively – single-function models are priced between $449 and $599, while MFPs are currently priced between $649 and $799. At these levels, the Officejet Pro X series looks to recapture price bands that HP’s “Officejet” devices have not occupied since the Officejet 9100 series that launched in mid-2004.

Targeting color laser business installations, HP’s Officejet Pro X printers not only boast print speeds that best all similarly-priced lasers, but they also address most of the shortcomings commonly associated with inkjet technology. Durability now meets the standards of most SOHO and small workgroup customers, with a recommended volume of up to 4,200 pages per month. A single-pass paper feed, along with a new pigment ink formulation and new technologies such as active/passive nozzle substitution, mean that users should expect more reliable operation and consistent print quality.

HP also includes several manageability and security solutions with the Officejet Pro X series, features that are must-haves for most IT managers. Supporting printer-based languages and solutions such as Embedded Web Server (EWS) and Web Jetadmin, the Pro X levels the playing field against competing business lasers, and in some cases offers significantly more options.

In terms of energy consumption, the Officejet Pro X delivers noteworthy performance with typical energy consumption (TEC) of 0.6 kWh/week and active printing consumption of 70W. TEC values are often not listed by laser competitors and the methodology for reporting energy consumption can vary by brand; however, in general even the most efficient SOHO or small workteam color laser will use between two and three times the energy of the Pro X series.

When HP announced its new PageWide platform in the fourth quarter of 2012, it stated that the first printers to use the technology would offer “twice the speed at up to half the cost of color lasers.” In early February, the company posted its ink pricing and cartridge yields, which revealed that HP made good on its claim. At current prices, best cost-per-page figures are $0.013 B&W and $0.068 color, about 56% lower than the average CPP of competing color laser MFPs (both B&W and color). The same low-cost, high-yield inks also ship with estimated page yields of 9,200 color and 6,600 black, figures that match or exceed most laser competitors and will keep device intervention low.

Despite a strong set of specifications, HP still has to convince resellers that its new inkjets are durable and reliable enough for their customers. And just as important, resellers need HP’s assurances and incentives that they will see similar returns on the Officejet Pro X and its supplies as they have made selling toner for so many years.

With such a strong (and surprising) leap in inkjet technology, HP has given itself and the inkjet market the best chance to move upstream and gain share among SMBs. HP has extremely high hopes for its new PageWide technology and believes that the launch of the Officejet Pro X series is the first generation of a new platform that will eventually target larger managed business accounts.

For the inkjet industry, which has operated through significant duress in recent years, evidenced by the recent exit of Lexmark and Kodak, HP’s investment in its PageWide technology should be seen as a major vote of confidence. Though barely on the market, the Officejet Pro X series likely represents the first wave of PageWide-based inkjets from HP. The Pro X launch should also provide a tailwind to drive acceptance for page wide array options from Brother and Memjet. Time will tell if high-speed inkjets will succeed in demanding business segments and channels, but at this point the Officejet Pro X is certainly the best catalyst the industry has to legitimize ink’s role in the office.