Multifunction printer prices tumble

Lowdown

Why do I need one? If faxing, scanning, copying and printing are part of your day, an MFP might make sense.

What's the biggest advancement this year? Falling prices. A good MFP for desktop use costs less than $200.

Can they be networked? Some can be, but for heavy network-printing demands, large, networkable systems are probably best.

Must-know info? Microsoft Windows, especially its XP varieties, is the friendliest operating system with today's MFPs.

Walk around most midsize to large enterprises, and you'll likely see what I see: networked copiers and printers hooked up to scanners and faxes, mixed with all-in-one devices that make the same functions accessible from a desktop PC.

The chief reason for this setup is convenience. Users enjoy having multifunction tools at or near their desks.

Combine the convenience of multifunction printers with falling prices, throw in the likelihood of price drops for consumables, and you see a trend emerging.

The market for multifunction printers, or MFPs, is rapidly growing, said John Lamb, a senior marketing manager at Canon USA's research and development center in Irvine, Calif. Functionality seems to be the main appeal to enterprises, with price drawing in small offices and individual users.

The new color models feature readers for most memory card options. These devices can speed photos into a computer system or into print.

Document scanning in small- or midsize volumes is another improvement, particularly on laser models where automated document feeders predominate.

Networking capabilities are another convenience. Although small MFPs aren't designed as enterprise workhorses, having access to a given printer from time to time has its advantages.

Users can expect increased functionality, dropping hardware prices and, over the next few years, more price competitiveness across warranty services and consumables, said Brooks Gray, a senior analyst with Technology Business Research in Hampton, N.H.

Mark Kellner is a freelance technology writer in Rockville, Md. E-mail him at mark@kellner.us.

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