Thumb Culture: Six billion mobile phone subscribers and counting...

By Steve Weedon //


We are bombarded today with an influx of information at every waking second which we then feel compelled to acknowledge, reply, diagnose or discard constantly throughout the day, until our handheld devices are finally nested in their cradles to recharge and cool off, ready for the next morning when the incessant information flow starts all over again in a seemingly unending cycle.

On the MTR underground railway system in Hong Kong recently, it was a revelation studying commuters coming and going, all with Samsung Galaxy devices at their ear or in their palm, clicking away furiously. Hoards of people were crowding the MTR stations like fans leaving the biggest football match ever, all determined to get to the next platform quicker than anyone else so that they could find that elusive polished metal seat that is as hard as nails and not at all comfortable.  They all wanted to be on the next train so that they could tap away at their iPhone or Galaxy looking important and busy in more comfort.  I stood holding the strap and swayed about as the trains rocked through the tunnels at great speeds, noticing the TVs playing the latest world news and the replay of last night’s European champions league results. All around me, packed liked sardines in a tin, everyone was on their phone either chatting, surfing the web,  tweeting, emailing or simply just playing games.

I noticed a family of four get on at a very busy cross-change station. As the carriage cleared, I noticed a young girl of about 8 or 9 running to claim the only empty seat with her parents and older brother not far behind. Dad took over her seat and she was not amused. The girl squeezed onto a little corner of his seat and took out her Galaxy and started playing a game. While dad looked on, mum started playing on her Galaxy and her brother did the same. No one said a word. Dad then saw his daughter stumble with her game and took over. Initially, she expected him to fix the glitch and hand it back but he started playing and became engrossed. The girl started pulling all sorts of faces and tried to grab hold of her game, but dad held on and the girl finally gave up, deciding to look unimpressed instead.  Two minutes later, it was their station and they had all been so engrossed that they made it to the doors a little too late to exit together. Mum and brother made it but Dad and daughter did not and had to go on to the next stop and take the train back to their correct station.  The MTR trains run like clockwork and take no prisoners. When the beep-beep noise starts to warn of the doors closing, you can’t even think about going for it; they close instantly and the train moves out. The next one is just 30 seconds behind but just as packed, full of more people totally engrossed in their games or emails like the last one.

With seven million people that cling to the edge of a few small islands and a very small corner of Mainland China, Hong Kong is a microcosm of how we live today.  It is absolutely amazing that just in my lifetime (and I still feel like a spring chicken) the world has changed so much. Black and white TVs evolved into color and now HD Ultra thin LED are wall-hung jobs with 250-plus stations. Whatever happened to just BBC, ITV and BBC 2 for those who thought themselves posh?  Or nasty, smelly Gestetner stencil machines and coated paper copiers to Liquid toner transfer copiers in bright orange colors and fire extinguishers that hung next to every Xerox copier in case a paper jam ignited?  Or copiers so big you had to climb inside to fix them?  Good engineers could always tell exactly what was wrong from the cluck-click of relays and switches before they even put their tool bag down. Where have all the copier engineers gone?

At the end of 2012, there were 6 BILLION mobile phone subscribers in the world. That is equal to 85% of the current world population and soon it is predicted that subscribers will outnumber the world population. It’s staggering. But you can’t stop progress.

In business, it certainly quickens things up. Instant orders require instant responses. The same enquiry goes out to all your competitors, so who’s the quickest on the draw and responds fast closes the sale, or it’s lost. We now have a mobile phone either at our ear or in our palm at every waking hour. And when no one seems interested in calling, emailing, tweeting, face timing or texting, it seems we play games on it to “relax”.  

Try taking the iPhone away from your teenager. It gets their attention fast when all else fails, and gets them to tidy up their room or do their homework or eat their dinner. Nothing else works as effectively.

Business life is now a 24/7 occupation. The world is one big marketplace that never sleeps and everyone is a potential customer, contactable by phone, email, text and social media site. Companies are reaping the benefit of employees now working many more hours, answering emails whilst traveling, at home or on the weekends. On the go, all the time. But the opportunity for success has never been this good and every young person believes they can become the next successful entrepreneur, and that is a good thing.

It is said that the young person leaving university today and entering the workplace will have 7 different careers before they retire. Such is the pace of life now. Technology that is successful today fails tomorrow when better technology becomes available. It’s a fact of life.

Sometimes, living in our own little bubble, we don’t always see what is going on around us. We don’t see the new developments, new inventions, new products that make life better or make that improvement we all need, which in turn helps us serve our customers better and win more business at the same time.

Take color laser cartridges for example.

Our industry has only 8-10% of the color laser market. Why?

The performance of the remanufactured cartridge simply isn’t good enough for discerning end-users. When it comes to color, every print is important, otherwise why print it in color? But the cartridge is only as good as the toner being used.

Improvements in color toner has stymied over recent years. It’s as good as its gets, we are told. But if that was right, why do we still have only 8-10% market share? Polymerized color toner has never been that close when compared to the OEM original. We generally need more grams per fill to make OEM stated yield. Color match to OEM is off, getting close to OEM transfer efficiency is widely off the mark, waste toner can still be a problem, fusing is not always the best, TAB (Toner Additive Buildup) on the blade and PCR is a major problem, caused by the toner and not as some people think, the PCR.  So, there is lots of room for improvement, but we have seen no breakthroughs for some years.  That is until now.

Imagine a new polymerized color toner that has the same fill weights as OEM, same transfer efficiency, no TAB, can be used in a wider range of applications, works great with virgin PCR’s and doctor blades, great color match to OEM, has no waste toner issues, no back ground, has perfect fusing and is glossy just like the OEM. Oh, and is cheaper than the polymerized toner you use today. Well, it’s already here.  Now, we can get on and grow the market share; now we can satisfy those discerning color customers and give them what they want. Suddenly, the world of color looks exciting again.  

The point is that someone out there is developing a better mousetrap because the best mousetrap has yet to be invented.

It is often said in this industry that the future of cartridge remanufacturing is color and I believe that is true. Now we have new toner products that can take us to the next level. If the performance is measurable--measure it.  I have and it’s a paradigm shift that creates a huge catch-up challenge for existing toner manufacturers wanting to hang on to their future business.

Life is never dull is it?


Steve has had a varied career in the imaging industry since 1973. He has held senior management positions with companies such as, Nashua, Kalle Infotec, Katun Corp, and Gestetner, before starting The Recycler Trade Magazine in 1992 and the first European cartridge remanufacturing trade show that same year.  

In 1994, Steve joined Static Control to head the European operations. After 18 years with Static Control, Steve has now moved on to become CEO of his own global imaging supplies company, Discover Imaging Products Limited.



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