Canon EXPO 2011 Shanghai and its Future Plans in Imaging and Branding

Canon EXPO 2011 Shanghai China

The Canon EXPO, held every five years, ended its four-city tour after New York, Paris and Tokyo last year to finish in Shanghai, China from 19 to 22 May 2011. Held at the Shanghai International Convention Center, the event was a showcase (or a reminder somewhat) of where Canon was (the very first 1934 Kwanon camera, 1956 Cine 8T 8mm camcorder and its first 1959 SLR camera the Canon Flex were on display) and where Canon is today.

We put up a short highlights video of the EXPO on HWZ TV last week, but in case you've missed it, here it is again:

Canon's very first camera, the Kwanon camera, was introduced in 1934.

International star Jackie Chan (third from right) is the image ambassador for Canon at the EXPO in Shanghai. He jointly opened the EXPO 2011 event with Mr. Fujio Mitarai (fourth from right), Chairman of the Board and CEO of Canon Inc.; Mr. Tsuneji Uchida (second from left), President and COO of Canon Inc.; Mr. Hideki Ozawa (second from right), President of Canon Marketing Asia Group and President & CEO of Canon China;  and partners.

While the bulk of the exhibition covered just about everything we know of Canon as an imaging company today -- yes, it started off with the IXUS and PowerShot booths, PIXMA and SELPHY printer series, EOS DSLR cameras and lenses (including the highly coveted and recently announced EF 200-400mm f4L IM USM 1.4x Extender telephoto lens), Business Office solutions (ImageRunner series as well as distribution/printing solutions (part of its acquisition of Dutch firm Océ last year)), Medical solutions (X-ray and ophthalmic equipment) and remote surveillance cameras (a network version, which allows you to remotely control and view via a networked portable device like a tablet is planned for 2012), the EXPO has revealed the company's future goals, at least in a sense of where it's charting its course. 

Showgirls paraded Canon's latest IXUS and PowerShot cameras on stage at the EXPO.

Canon demoed a remote surveillance network camera where users can control and view via a portable device like a tablet.

The Canon EF 200-400mm f4L IM USM 1.4x Extender telephoto lens has a teleconverter switch that allows users to convert the lens to a 280-560mm f5.6 lens.

For instance, at an EXPO segment called Imaging Future, the company demo-ed a prototype but functioning 4K 8-megapixel multipurpose camera that employs a 2/3-inch CMOS sensor and a redesigned electronically controlled lens drive system. Not only does it shoot 4K moving images in access of 60 frames per second, it has a 24-480mm zoom lens (35mm equivalent), 20x optical zoom and aperture settings of F1.8 to F3.8. It is also encased in a bio-based plastic instead of certain petroleum-based plastic.

A prototype but functioning 8-Megapixel 4K camcorder/camera by Canon.

The resulting videos and images we saw (displayed on both a professional grade 30" 8 Megapixel-supported LCD screen and a 4K-resolution projection screen (powered by four WUXGA WUX4000 LCOS projectors). Other future technologies we saw included the Mixed Reality showcases, where visitors donned head-mounted glasses and viewed an augmented reality world to interact with. Different experiential scenarios included entertaining dinosaurs, a 3-dimensional cut-out of a DSLR camera, photocopier and the ability to use a special pen and palette indicators to draw, mix and match a shape or object in virtual space. The applications for this is tremendous for the creative and education industries. 

 Canon showed the 8-megapixel video and still images on a series of professional grade 30" monitors. The intent is for them to be eventually introduced in professional design industries.

Canon also showed its Mixed Reality plans (or experiment). Basically users put virtual reality head-mounted glasses and is able to interact with their immediate environments in a sort of an augmented reality world. The idea works for industries dealing in graphic design prototyping, virtual storyboarding, theme park entertainment, education and many more. Pictured here are visitors watching virtual dinosaurs running around in front of them.

The Canon Cross Media Station has been making its demo rounds since last year. With a launch date planned soon (we hope), the device allows users to charge, sync and transfer images across cameras and camcorders to their systems wirelessly.

Beyond Mixed Reality and 4K imaging, Canon also showed some prototype devices that had some unusual designs. One of them is this futuristic looking zoom lens camera.

In our conversations and interviews with Canon executives, we learned that the company has no firmed plans for mirrorless technology-based cameras at the moment (something that's on everyone's minds however). What it does want to do is explore the possibility of making the DSLR camera body smaller and enhance features on existing imaging technologies like HD video recording and more intuitive navigation on cameras and camcorders.

The company is also embarking on an aggressive branding campaign across specific growth and emerging markets like China, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. According to Mr. Hideki Ozawa, President and CEO of Canon China (and President of Canon Asia Marketing Group), Canon should move beyond just being known as an imaging company. He wants users of Canon products and services to view Canon as a personable friendly persona. This shift in branding strategy beyond just products and services is perhaps the Japanese company's biggest challenge, in light of increased competition in mindshare among the various industries and countries it is in (or has plans to enter).

Towards a more personable, approachable Canon brand impression. Mr. Hideki Ozawa (center), President and CEO of Canon China (and President of Canon Asia Marketing Group) enthuses this philosophy during a Q&A session with Asian media. Pictured with him are Mr. Satoshi Kimura (right), President and CEO of Canon Singapore, and Mr. Kevin Kobayashi (left), President and CEO of Canon Hong Kong.

On the printer side, we learned that Canon does believe in wireless printing becoming more mainstream. What this means is that direct printing via the cloud, from portable devices like the tablet and notebook to the printer would become more prevalent and overtake printing from wired desktop systems. While no new products were announced at the EXPO, we have an inkling that this development will be something that's primary to Canon's product line-up soon.

According to Mr. Katsuichi Shimizu, Canon's Managing Director and Chief Executive for Inkjet Product Operations, the firm isn't too worried about product cannibalization among multi-function printers and single-function scanners and printers. According to Mr. Shimizu, he sees both as catering to the different spectrum of the market, and already, there are plans to begin production for additional inkjet printers at its second factory in Nakhon Ratchasima in Thailand this year. Canon currently produces about 20 million printers and scanners a year, and it is expected that the market for Asia will be 3-4 times that of America or Europe.

Mr. Katsuichi Shimizu, Canon's Chief Executive and Managing Director for Consumer Systems Products, such as its Inkjet & Projector Product Operations, believes that printing from portable devices, such as tablet, smartphones and wireless notebooks will eventually become mainstream.

In his keynote speech to hundreds of dealers, partners and journalists, Mr Fujio Mitarai, CEO and Chairman of Canon Inc., said that the company must now move to expand its business functions and transform its manufacturing strategy to encompass localized production over the next five years (Phase IV under its Speed and Sound Growth strategy).

In his keynote speech, Mr. Fujio Mitarai, CEO and Chairman of Canon Inc., explains the importance of China as a driving force for the global economy with high 2010 growth of 10.3% (the first time since 2007). For ASEAN countries, Mr. Mitarai expects them to grow at an annual rate of 6% a year as exports recover and demand increases. 

Since he became President of Canon in 1995 and later becoming CEO in 1997, Mr. Mitarai and his team have introduced various five-year plans to the company that changed the company inside out. While Phase I (1996-2000) saw the introduction of conveyor belt-based assembly and cell-based production systems in factories, Phase II (2001-2005) saw the beginning of product competitiveness in the form of 3D-CAD systems and in-house production of key components.

Phase III (2006-2010), which ended last year, was a strategy to reinforce its existing businesses in light of the shrinking global market due to the recession in 2009. The company is now moving into Phase IV (2011-2016), which will see the company expand its business domains and transform common manufacturing functions. One of these is to draw production closer to major consumption areas, including Europe and Asia, expand its range of products and adopt greater social responsibilities as a good corporate citizen.

Besides allocating management resources (people, goods and capital) to push growth in China and the rest of Asia, Canon will also set up a new research center in the United States to focus on cutting edge technologies while promoting diversification of business products via its new acquisition, Océ, the Dutch-based business printer solutions company.

For Asia alone, Canon Asia Marketing Group plans to grow into a US$10 billion company by 2012, and a US$20 billion company by 2015.