The Current Situation
Ten years ago, scanners were incredibly pricey, and so they were only used by professionals to digitize images. Flatbed scanners were made accessible to the general public five years ago when a psychological price threshold was set at $150, which remains unchanged. Optical resolution was only 300 dpi at the time, but in general, this was perfectly adequate for most uses, such as web page illustration, optical character recognition (OCR), photo reproduction (without enlargement), etc. Today, the scanner has become a standard for processing graphics, even for the home user, and is probably the most important piece of equipment, next to the printer.
As in all sectors, competition is fierce! Manufacturers are constantly coming up with innovative features and making improvements in order to gain a greater market share. But not all of them have continued the fight; several have thrown in the towel. Who is to blame? Fierce competition is one culprit, and second is the very low profit margin, which, according to the manufacturers, is due to pressure from the chain stores to keep costs low. As an example, Agfa, one of the market leaders, announced last September that it was no longer going to compete in the mass market. No more scanners for them!
So, to get back to the subject at hand:
- Minimum resolution is currently 1200 dpi and may well increase to 2400 dpi by next year.
- All the models now on sale claim 48 bit color coding, implying accurate color-matching.
- The price range of the cheaper models remains the same (between $40 and $150).
- The advent of the USB 2.0 interface has substantially decreased processing time.
- The number of manufacturers currently on the scene is getting smaller by the month.
- The market has shrunk so that only the big names are still around.
But, far from being reassured by the fact that their position grows stronger by the day, the surviving manufacturers are on edge because multifunctional peripherals (combinations of printer + flatbed scanner) are about to push scanners out of the picture. The biggest optimists give them another five years, but the pessimists are talking about a period of survival of no more than one year... In fact, it would be hard to imagine individual users wanting to own scanners when the "all-in-one" machines are going to cost no more than $150, i.e. more or less the price of a scanner on its own.