Back to School Buyer’s Guide: Mobile printing

by Reads (5,120)

Thanks to today’s smartphones, travelers can carry directions and a map with them digitally wherever they may roam. With the rise of cloud-based storage, you now have access to your documents without the need to carry a stack of papers in your briefcase or backpack.  And with Facebook, Flickr, Picasa and countless others, it’s easy to share photos with friends and family without printing pictures or developing film.

The Internet and the growth of web-connected devices have clearly made printing less of a necessity than it once was, but there are still times when you find yourself in need of a hard copy – a shipping label, a boarding pass, an important work document or a photo – and a printer. Thankfully, the Internet has also made printing easier and more flexible.

“By next year, there will be more printing from the web then from word processing,” said Vyomesh Joshi, executive vice president of HP’s Imaging and Printing Group, at the launch of the company’s new line of web-connected printers featuring the equally new ePrint technology earlier this summer. These printers go beyond the simple networked printer, which let clients on a local network access it. Instead, with HP’s ePrint platform, each new HP printer has its own email address, which lets you send a print job to it from any web-connected device, wherever you may roam.

If you can email it, you can print it, according to the product managers at HP.  The mobility doesn’t stop there, though; all of HP’s web-connected printers allow users to download apps right to the printer, much like shopping at Apple’s App Store on an iPhone. With the HP ePrintCenter, you can download apps that let you print recipes, calendars, greeting cards and wrapping paper, maps and directions, crossword puzzles, coloring pages, and so on directly to the printer without the use of a computer.

There are plenty of advantages to HP’s new e-All-in-One printers. For starters, you can set up your printer without the need to download and install a print driver; you simply plug it into an outlet and then connect it to your network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi. Once up and running, the new printers save you time because you don’t need to download a local copy of the document you wish to print before printing it. You can arrange for a job to be sent to your printer from within your browser or directly from your Blackberry, iPhone or Android phone. And the most obvious benefit is the flexibility of sending a print job to any ePrint printer. As the technology spreads, you’ll be able to send print jobs from your phone to the printer at the hotel where you’re staying or a friend’s house. Or set grandma up with a Photosmart e-All-in-One and you can send her printouts of the latest photos of the grandkids directly to the device (just make sure granny keeps it stocked with photo paper and knows how to change an occasional ink tank).

With all of this talk of web-based functionality, you had to know Google is involved to some degree. Sure enough, HP shared the stage with Google at the Internet New York Week event in June, where Google execs demonstrated the ease and flexibility of sending a print job from Google Docs to an HP ePrint printer. In fact, Google plans to launch a service called Google Cloud Print this fall along with its Chrome OS.

Google Cloud Print promises to let you print from any application from any device to any printer. Google sees a future of cloud-aware printers that can accept print jobs from the cloud without the need for a local host with its own software drivers. You would simply choose to share a printer, much like you would share a document in Google Docs, and then the printer is registered to your Google Account and will await print jobs.

Google also has a plan for the millions of legacy printers, where Google Cloud Print will act as a proxy. Install a small piece of software on the computer connected to a legacy printer, and the computer will pass along print jobs received from the cloud to the printer. Future versions of the company’s Chrome browser will also include the Google Cloud Print proxy, making it a snap to turn an old printer into a cloud-aware printer.

Alternatively, you could grab a Pogoplug. What’s a Pogoplug, you ask? A Pogoplug is a small network device whose primary purpose is connecting external hard drives to the cloud. The company announced earlier this summer that it will soon roll out a web-printing feature that will let you email print jobs to semi-recent HP and Epson printers (those models from 2005 and onward).

HP and Google aren’t the only companies, of course, making moves in the mobile print space. Several of HP’s print rivals – including Canon, Epson, Kodak and lexmark – have announced their own wireless print initiatives over the past year. Canon released Easy-Photo Print last year, a free app you’ll find in Apple’s App Store that allows you to print to select Canon Printers from your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. And just last month, it announced that Easy-Photo Print now supports Android phones.

Epson released an app called iPrint last year for Apple devices, and Kodak has a wireless print app for Apple and Blackberry devices.

Lexmark has released several web-connected printers with SmartSolutions Technology.  Like HP’s ePrintCenter, lexmark has their own application site for users to download apps directly to their printer for easy computer free prints of photos, maps, headline news, creative projects, etc.

There are also a couple of wireless print apps for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad from small, third-party vendors that have garnered high praise. Air Photo, a free app from Past River Corporation, will print photos (and only photos–not Web pages, maps, or other documents) to any brand of printer on your local Wi-Fi network, once you install software on the computer connected to your printer and your iPhone or similar device. EuroSmartz has a pair of apps, the $4.99 Print app and the $8.99 Print n Share app, that let you print a variety of documents–emails, web pages, contacts, and images–from your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad over Wi-Fi or remotely via 3G.

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