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David’s Industry Predictions – 2014

2014We are getting close to the end of 2013 so it seems to be a good time to start looking forward to what is likely to happen in our industry in 2014.

Here are some of the things I expect to see during the next twelve months.

Industry Consolidation

After the big Honeywell/Intermec deal that was finalized during 2013, it is hard to see anything of that size happening next year. So far it seems to be very much business as usual at both Intermec and Honeywell, but that is going to be changing for sure – we can expect to see some pain within those organizations as things work themselves out.

While I don’t expect there to be any blockbuster deals during 2014, I’m sure there will be some smaller ones. Who’s left in the barcode scanning business that’s still an independent? Janam is the only one that come to my mind.

I believe we are also going to see startup companies in areas such as Internet of Things (IoT) get snapped up by some of the bigger players and I bet Zebra Technologies will be in on this somehow.

Hmm, nice segway into the next prediction;

Internet of Things (IoT)

As we’ve moved through 2013 there has been a lot of IoT chatter, largely led in our industry by Zebra Technologies. 2014 I feel is a year where IoT is going to finally get to be a reality and I expect some of the work Zebra has been doing with making their printer products be IoT compatible to start to give some results.

As the concept starts to become mainstream, it isn’t going to be without issues. While a huge network of connected devices seems to be able to enhance a lot of different applications, there are going to be data privacy and control concerns and the first malicious worm that targets small Linux based devices has already emerged.

With so many devices, often running older versions of Linux (with no way to be updated) 2014 is going to be tough on IoT from a security point of view.

Thermal Printers

It has been a long time since there was any real innovation in the world of thermal printers. 2014 will see the introduction of some new models (the Zebra ZT400 for example) that are evolutions on previous models, but there is really nowhere to go with the basic concept.

Expect to see more mobile printers come with iOS and Android capability to reflect the gains that these systems have made over traditional Windows based handhelds.

The market for stationary thermal printers in North America will continue to show only limited growth. Manufacturers are going to be offering the usual trade-in deals and also new plans for resellers to try and grow at the expense of their competitors.

Colour Label Printing

Being able to produce high quality colour labels on demand has been an impossible dream for a long time. During 2013, that started to become reality as the various Memjet based models started to become available.

I’m expecting to see this trend continue in 2014 with good growth for Memjet printers and (hopefully) more companies coming out with competing models.

RFID Label Printers

Zebra has finally launched their compact RFID label printer and I think it could do well – especially for low volume applications such as with small DoD contractors.

Will the trend for item level tagging for retail continue? I had doubts about that from the beginning, but it does seem to have some traction. Will be interesting to see what growth is achieved in 2014.

Barcode Scanning Devices

It looks as though imagers finally won the battle with laser based scanners for the handheld scanner market. The arrival of the LI imager devices from Motorola was the final straw. Will lasers make a comeback in 2014? No!

In the next year we’ll see continued growth of iOS for a lot of retail devices and Android will grow at the expense of Windows in the rugged device business.

I must have a dozen or more barcode scanners kicking around my office, but the only one I use regularly is the QuickMark app on my phone!

Back to Symbol Technologies

Am I the only one still confused by the Motorola Mobility/Motorola Solutions split? Since the most well known (to the public anyway) part of Moto is now with Google (and finally coming up with some decent smartphones!) maybe it is time for the data collection part of the business to revert back to being Symbol.

Probably a long-shot, but I still think of Symbol scanners, not Motorola – it would make a ton of sense to me and remove the confusion.

Compliance and Regulatory

With Wal-Marts PTI Mandate coming into full force at the beginning of 2014, PTI labeling for produce will become the norm.

We are also going to see medical device companies get going with labeling for the FDA’s new Unique Device Identification Rule which was finally published in 2013 and will be starting (for some types of product) in 2014. The new pharmaceutical labeling rules should get through congress and the President in the near future as well.

For businesses producing chemical products, it will be time to get into compliance with the GHS labeling rules. I think every company in the US has gone through training on the new OSHA/GHS rules – we just did. It’s time to get all your Pictograms sorted!

Pressure on Pricing

The labeling and marking industry is going to continue to be super competitive. End user customers are (rightly) looking to get the maximum value out of any investments they make.

I believe that in 2014, customers are going to be more concerned than ever with the value of the purchases they make – not just the purchase price, but the value they really get for the dollars spent. Companies that provide real value are the ones that will be successful in 2014 and beyond.

If you are in the labeling or AIDC business, how do you see 2014 working out? Do you agree with my thoughts? Have I missed something obvious?

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