Printer buttons are so last year.
Lexington-based Lexmark International introduced a new line of inkjet printers last week that includes models with nothing but a power button and a touchscreen.
They also are connected to the Internet, allowing people to do all sorts of things like scan documents and e-mail them, e-mail scanned photos and update online address books with scanned business cards.
And while printing giant Hewlett-Packard has announced a Web-connected printer that caters to consumers, Lexmark is clearly aiming at small businesses.
It's part of a number of changes in the printer line that are aimed at simplifying the printing process for customers.
Thinking (of the) outside (of) the box
Before you even see one of the new printers, you'll notice changes.
In developing the new line, which includes eight models, Lexmark redesigned its packaging "because that's what people will interact with first," said Todd Hamblin, vice president of worldwide sales and marketing for the inkjet division.
Lead designer Cavan Canavan said Lexmark examined its old packaging and found it to be a bit "verbose."
So the company has begun using icons to describe the products' features such as wireless connectivity or a warranty.
And it's also giving the printers names in addition to its normal numbering method.
Rather than just the X so-and-so, meet the Impact, Interpret, Intuition, Interact, Prospect, Prevail, Prestige and Platinum.
And they all have similar designs with unifying color treatments to "create a family look," Canavan said.
But what may be the most talked-about feature on some members of the new line isn't their names or boxes, it's the touchscreen panel.
Touch panels aren't new on printers, but Lexmark says the power a person can have with a Web-connected touchscreen is far beyond those on printers of old.
The panel's design began with the company examining how customers view a printer's features, all previously accessed by buttons.
"When they go to the store and see buttons, they see a bunch of features," Canavan said. "But when they take them home, these features become complexity."
So Lexmark threw out the buttons on some of the models and made the touch screen the way to access features. Rather than face 30 buttons that handle every aspect of scanning, copying, faxing or printing, a user sees a touch screen that invites them to pick one of the main options.
From there, they can dig deeper into menus that unleash all those options.
"Once you choose copy, those are the only options you have," said Lexmark spokeswoman Shannon Lyman. "It really cuts down on the errors and helps you focus on the information you need to get your job done."
It's a concept that was popularized, Lexmark noted, by Apple's successful iPhone.
"This is what the iPhone helped people recognize..." Canavan said. "It prevents frustration ... because you never see all the options at once. Hopefully it will save you time."
There's another icon on the touch screen menu — SmartSolutions — and that's what Lexmark says has the potential to really wow users.
The idea, Canavan said, was "What if we could let the users customize the operating panel for themselves?"
SmartSolutions allows users to go online and create what are essentially shortcuts for tasks like scanning a document and sending it as a group e-mail or picking settings for copying certain documents.
"We found with printers that default settings are nice, but you only get one set," Canavan said. "This system allows us to have hundreds or thousands of defaults."
And that matters in businesses where multiple people use the same printer, constantly changing settings, he said.
Each shortcut is given its own icon on the touchscreen's SmartSolutions menu for easy access.
"It sounds small, but it keeps me from going into the menu system every time to change those things," Canavan said.
Lexmark customers will create the shortcuts on a Web site instead of the 4.3-inch touchscreen, primarily because it's easier to just use a mouse and keyboard rather than use the smaller screen, said development manager Steve Rice.
By contrast, HP's Web-connected printer is primarily a way, Hamblin said, for users to bypass the Web. HP has said its printer will come with consumer-focused applications like printing coloring pages, coupons or movie tickets from Fandango.
"While it's similar core technology, the approach is very different," Hamblin said. "Ours is much more customizable."
Larry Jamieson of industry tracker Lyra Research said he suspects there's more potential in the long run in the business segment that Lexmark's eyeing as opposed to HP and consumers.
He said the Web-connected touch screen is a kind of leading technology where Lexmark will have to help people realize they need it.
"You need to have people out there in work places saying, 'Hey, I can use this and figure out how to,' " he said. "If you can come up with something for a small business and simplify some of their business processes, there can be some real opportunity."
Tom Carpenter, vice president and senior equity analyst at Hilliard Lyons in Louisville, told the Herald-Leader recently that a key to the printers being well-received will be Lexmark educating the salespeople at retailers.
"They've done a good job on the product side," he said, "and now they need to take it to another level and convince employees at the stores that their products are better."