There was once a segment of the print industry often referred to as "the imaging business." This was a mix of data centers and service bureaus that printed "images" on a page, typically bills or statements. This was back in the day when laser printers like the IBM 3800 were offering new ways of producing transactional documents and when documents were commonly archived as images on microfiches. Long ago and far away.
In our digital age, though, image means many things. This is not lost on Canon, which used "We Speak Image" as the tagline for Canon Expo 2010, held September 2-3 at the Javits Center in New York City, that showcased an astonishing array of displays, demonstrations and seminars.
Most people probably tend to think of Canon as a camera company, and with good reason. Its DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras are increasingly the tool of choice of pro photographers' and Canon is expanding into pro video. This cachet and technology trickles over to all kinds of consumer cams.
Meanwhile, Canon and Sony are battling for the high ground on a range of consumer and professional video cams. Capture, quality and control of the image is everything in these applications, and Canon is getting stronger with every new model.
Next, most consumers might think of Canon as a purveyor of copiers and printers, from home and desktop devices to those in offices and quick print shops. Most people are unaware of the acquisition of Océ and its big continuous-feed toner and inkjet presses, yet that venture is a big part of the company's strategy to carve out more market share in print.
Then there's a host of industry specific areas, such as medical imaging. At the Expo, there were 3D imaging technologies that looked like something from the special effects teams at George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic. I overheard one Canon employee from the photographic division as she left the medical portion of the expo say to her co-worker, "This stuff is so cool! I never knew! I wonder how I can change divisions?"
Two things struck me at this event. First was how different Canon is than the other companies playing in the print industry today. The company is all about the image, regardless of how it's captured. And the company focuses on optimizing and producing these images in every way possible.
The second takeaway is the idea of images as information. All-digital-all-the-time images can go in any direction on a host of different media. Some will never land on a page, existing in purely digital form on 3D imaging systems or pixel-rich screens, while others will be printed on monochrome and color printers of all sizes and types. And Canon naturally showed support for printing a huge range of images, no matter how they are captured.
Of course, Canon's competitors in the printing world are also pretty savvy when it comes to images and information, offering up a host of amazing and innovative technologies. Market leadership is going to be a fascinating battle to watch. Yet it's the buyers and users of all the technology who stand to benefit. In this digital age, the craftsmanship that once drove press output has moved back upstream to the image creator. This is a good thing, in my opinion, and it enables print providers to leverage the software and print engines--no matter who makes them--to support the integration of images and information. The ones that do this best will be the market leaders.