Twenty years ago, offices simply didn’t function without printers, scanners or the trusty office fax machine. But these days, it’s unusual to see an office heavily reliant on them to the point that it’s kind of novel.
So what happened to these old office heroes? Are they modern dinosaurs, or do they still play an important part in people’s productivity?
In this article, we’ll dive into the history of printers, scanners and fax machines, exploring why they were popular, what happened, their modern alternatives and how they compete against online faxing.
The Phase-Out Of Traditional Fax Machines
The fax machine was first invented in the 1800s, but it didn’t become a staple of modern office life until the first commercial fax machines were released. One of these machines, the Long Distance Xerography (LDX), was produced by the Xerox Corporation in 1964.
Xerox’s 21-kilogram Magnafax Telecopier followed the LDX in 1966. This machine was the trendsetter those working in big businesses at the time might remember.
This machine, and the fax machines that followed, could interpret the contents of a document (even a handwritten one) and transmit them to a receiving machine over a phone line. This allowed people to skip the lengthy process of sending documents by mail, and consequently, recipients got documents within minutes.
This isn’t exactly revolutionary today, but it was game-changing at the time.
Traditional fax machines are less popular today, but they are far from obsolete. There are still 46.3 million fax machines in operation worldwide. Around 17 million of these are likely in the United States, and a significant (but unknown) number are likely from Japan.
Japan is one of few countries where people actively embrace the fax machine. As of 2021, a third of households still owned one and 25.8%, 40%, and 38.9% of people in their 40s, 50s to 70s, or 80s still use one, respectively.
Still, even in Japan, sales of new fax machines are declining.
In 2018 (the latest year on record), Japanese people bought 21,260+ fax machines — down from 37,150+ machines in 2013 (though it’s also a small increase from sales in 2016 and 2017 when fax machine sales really dropped).
So, what is replacing the once-loved fax machine?
Online Faxing Benefits
Internet technologies like email, instant messaging and collaboration tools are the obvious culprits, but they aren’t the only answer.
Since its release in the late 1990s, many businesses have slowly started switching to online faxing. Online faxing (or “digital faxing,” “efaxing,” or “internet faxing”) doesn’t require phone lines or a clunky fax machine to work. Instead, online faxing transmits digital documents and files over the internet via protected servers.
Businesses have increasingly adopted online faxing because:
- It’s more cyber secure. Anyone who wants to can steal a fax from a fax machine by plucking it from the tray or taking it from the fax storage space.
- It doesn’t require space. Office fax machines need phone line connections, desk space and a powerpoint. Online faxing works through your computer or phone.
- It’s portable. Remote workers, field workers and commuters can send and receive faxes from their smartphones. This freedom to fax gives people the power to fax at their convenience, rather than when they are near a machine.
- It’s environmentally friendly. Online faxing doesn’t require ink or paper (both of which are massive drains on resources like oil and water).
- It’s cheaper. You only need an online faxing subscription and a device to fax, whereas traditional faxing requires a machine, machine repairs, ink, paper and line rental fees.
- It’s faster. Online faxing works with only a few clicks — similar to sending an email or instant message.
- It’s less prone to errors. Online faxing is more foolproof, as paper jams, line errors and ink problems simply don’t impact digital faxes.
Proof of traditional fax’s market share loss to online faxing comes from the tales of satisfied online faxing users, but also Google trends data. Compare, for example, the Google trends data for searches of “fax machine” and “online faxing” worldwide from 2004 to now.
The Phase-Out of Scanners For Smartphones
The first modern scanner came into existence roughly 50 years ago as a companion for the fax machine. Before that, the concept of scanning came from the fax machine’s inventor (Alexander Bain).
Scanners really grew in popularity as their own device once computers first entered offices, as people wanted digital copies of printed documents.
That said, scanners weren’t exactly reliable. You had to be very careful with your document to ensure it didn’t end up wonky, and if the scanner’s lid broke, the light would seep through, and the document wouldn’t scan correctly.
Scanners are still prevalent in some industries, and the market for them is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 4%. From 2020 to 2021, the market grew 3.42%, and from 2019 to 2024, it’s expected to jump to $USD1.28 billion.
The new trend in scanners is high-speed scanning, something governments and organisations that process hundreds of documents simultaneously need.
Otherwise, many small businesses and individuals have started to favour their smartphones over a scanner.
So, how does scanning actually work on a smartphone?
Scanning in New Smart Phones
Though taking a photo and creating a scan may seem like the same thing, they are slightly different.
Scanning apps use your phone’s camera to take a photo. Then, the app automatically repairs tears in the photo and corrects the colour so it resembles a digital document. Some scanning apps also use Optical Character Recognition (OCR). OCR takes written content (even handwritten words) and turns it into digital text that you can edit or search.
You can save scanned documents as images or files on your phone, depending on the settings you choose.
Apps That Use Scanning
iPhones have an inbuilt scanner inside the Notes app. To use it, follow these steps:
- Open the app.
- Select the camera button (located on the bottom of the screen).
- Choose “Scan Documents” and use your fingers to drag the box to the size of your document.
- Select “Done” or “Keep Scan” to save your scan.
Android devices have scanner functionality through the Google Drive app. Follow these instructions to use it:
- Open Google Drive.
- Select the scan icon and take a photo of the document.
- Press the crop icon and adjust the scan area to crop out the background.
- Select “Save” once you’ve finished.
If these apps don’t work for you, apps like Lens (from Microsoft), SwiftScan and Adobe Scan can also take scans for you.
Many apps, from productivity apps to games, use scanning technology. For example, many accounting apps like QuickBooks let you scan receipts to upload them to your software easily. And, of course, many apps have QR code scanning functionality.
So, what about online fax apps?
How Document Scanning Works With Online Faxing
Online fax apps let you send digital faxes from your smartphone instead of your computer. Online faxing stores documents in the cloud, so you can access them on your smartphone by logging into your faxing service.
Online fax apps like eFax’s mobile app, for example, don’t usually have inbuilt scanners. Instead, they work with your smartphone’s storage system, so you can use them to send faxes you’ve already scanned.
Here’s how to scan and send a fax through mobile:
- Use the Notes app or Google Drive to scan your document (or another app, if you prefer).
- Open your faxing app.
- Press “New Fax.”
- Type your recipient’s fax number.
- Select “Attach” and choose your scanned document or file.
- Fill out the cover sheet with anything else you’d like the recipient to know.
- Press “Send.”
The Phase-Out Of Printers
Unless we someday process all documents digitally, printers are likely to continue to remain popular for decades (if not centuries). Printing has a very long history, but digital printing in an office context can be traced back to two devices — the Indigo Digital Press and the Xeikon Digital Press.
Since their invention in the 1980s, printers have been a staple of office life. Today, many businesses have gone digital and moved documents online, but printing is still required regularly.
Between 2021 and 2026, the global printer market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 4.55%, with brands like HP, Brother, Epson, Canon and Xerox dominating sales. In 2020, the global market brought in $USD42.35 billion in revenue (though this figure includes multifunction machines).
Printers haven’t really “phased out” as scanners and fax machines have. Instead, their use has morphed. Big businesses have started to use printer technologies like 3D printing, and people have switched to more compact, environmentally-friendly printers at home.
While, yes, online faxing can do many things you would normally use a printer for, the two technologies are more complementary than anything else. Online fax services like eFax even have inbuilt printer functionality. If you’d like to print your fax with eFax, simply open the document and press “Print.”
What About Multifunction Machines?
Now, we’ve already covered printers, scanners and fax machines, but what about multifunction machines?
Multifunction machines (often dubbed “MFDs” or “Multifunction Devices”) that included the three technologies we already covered (plus copiers) became popular because they were more convenient than having separate devices.
The MFD market has declined slightly over the past few years, but it’s still going strong. In 2021, people spent $USD30.55 billion on MFD devices — down from $USD33.71 billion in 2016.
MFDs are mostly popular with large companies that need to process a high volume of documents. This is partially because they are costly but also because most small businesses and individuals can complete all the same functions of MFDs with a smartphone, a cheap printer and online faxing.
Put a Fax Machine In Your Pocket With eFax
If you’d like all the functions of a fax machine in your pocket, eFax is for you. eFax can transmit your faxes securely in seconds and works on computers, phones and tablets.
eFax is a leading fax provider you can trust. eFax sends your faxes through protected servers and stores them in cloud-based storage away from prying eyes.
eFax currently works with over 11 million customers worldwide and offers many features for smarter faxing. This includes email faxing, large file transfer, multiple recipient faxing, an address book, multiple user functionality, unlimited storage and more. eFax is NBN compatible and future-proof.
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