Scanners, scanning, and disappearing paper [TUPdate]

Inertia simultaneously saves and disrupts technological transformation. Scanners and printers with integrated scanners have been at the heart of the paper to digital change. So much that was paper is now electronic. The “paperless office” has been a hyped cliché for decades, and yet is truer with each passing year. Although electronic signatures have been legal for over 20 years in most countries, and digital copies are increasingly acceptable in many cases, the migration from paper to electronic lumbers along gradually. Consumers and businesses alike continue to need to convert hardcopy documents and images into electronic form.

Standalone Scanners Subsiding

Scanning is still alive, although standalone scanners are only being used by a relative few.

The regular use of a standalone scanner has sagged across a range of countries, as we found in research results from the MetaFacts TUP/Technology User Profile survey. Our TUP 2019 survey of 11,625 respondents in the US, Germany, and China show that only a small percent of online adults use a standalone scanner.

There are a range of standalone scanners available, as distinct from the scanners included in MFP (Multi-Function Printers).  Standalone scanners with ADFs (automatic document feeders) are well-suited to converting large batches of documents into a digital form, either for archiving or for wider use in a new electronic form. Flatbed scanners are useful for incidental scanning. Specialized scanners, such as business card scanners, are also useful for specific tasks. All these types of standalone scanners are included within these numbers, reflecting their niche use.

Standalone neither young nor old

Younger generations, many referred to as digital natives, have not embraced standalone scanners. Neither are older adults the major users of paper scanners. The share of age 18-24 and 25-34 are effectively the same as among age 55-64 and 65 and older.

What the young do

Younger Americans – especially age 25-34 – have a unique scanning profile. As compared to any other age group, they are above average in using standalone scanners to scan personal documents, personal photographs, work documents, and work photographs. Americans age 55+ stand out in being well above average in scanning personal documents. These older are adults are also well below average in scanning personal photographs and work documents or photographs.

Difference of One or Many among Young and Old

Older Americans that use standalone scanners use flatbed one-document-at-a-time scanners at a much higher rate than younger Americans. While 78% of American scanner users age 65+ use a flatbed scanner, only 26% of adults age 18-24 do so. Instead, a higher share of younger adults use a multi-document scanner, with 61% of standalone scanners age 18-24 using one and 54% of age 25-34. Neither younger nor older Americans are primarily using a portable/business card scanner. Among these least-used devices, there’s a slightly younger skew.

More ways than one

Many online adults use computer printers for scanning, choosing either those with single-sheet platens or automatic document feeders (ADF).

Use of printers for scanning is more widespread than use of standalone scanners. Roughly ten times as many adults regularly use their primary printer for scanning as use a standalone printer. The percent of online adults in the US is 36%, 35% in China, and 46% in Germany. These rates are down somewhat from 2015 through 2019 in the many countries we surveyed.

Printer scanning for elders

When using a computer printer to scan, a much higher share of scanning is among older than younger Americans. Half (50%) of online Americans age 65 and higher use their primary printer to scan photos or documents. Among online Americans age 54 and younger, only 35% or fewer regularly use a printer to scan.

One at a time

Over three-fourths (78%) of Americans who scan using a printer only scan one document at a time. Almost half of that number, 37%, only scan multiple items using an automated document feeder. Another half of that number, 16%, regularly do both.

Looking ahead

The silent substitute competition for scanners is near at hand – smartphones. Although arguably smartphones don’t handle the highest demands for scanning, they’re more than adequate for many purposes. Archiving large batches of documents or photographs will continue to be a job for high-end standalone scanners. To take a quick scan of a document, though, to share with others, is well within the capability of nearly every smartphone, and that’s even before the use of specialized scanning or deskewing apps. Add smartphone apps like Microsoft Lens, CamScanner, or the many others that include OCR (optical character recognition) and most needs are covered well enough.

Yet another substitute for scanning is also silent – paperless statements. The majority of banks, brokerages, creditors, utilities, and other suppliers continue to encourage their customers to move from paper to electronic statements. Also, tax and other governmental authorities are increasingly digital, both sending and receiving documents electronically. This reduces the demand for customers to scan paper documents that they can simply download and send to whoever needs a copy.

These trends don’t mean that scanning will completely go away. In fact, most of the decline has already happened for scanner use and scanning with printers. These devices and activities have dropped to the realm of being a niche and are likely to remain so.

About TUPdates

TUPdates feature analysis of current or essential technology topics. The research results showcase the TUP/Technology User Profile study, MetaFacts’ survey of a representative sample of online adults profiling the full market’s use of technology products and services. The current wave of TUP is TUP/Technology User Profile 2020, which is TUP’s 38th annual. TUPdates may also include results from previous waves of TUP.

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