Gone are the days when users were tethered to their desk in order to complete their work. Now armed with smartphones and tablets, they roam casually from place to place accessing information, downloading data, and communicating with co-workers and customers. However, the change has made printing quite challenging.
When they try to print a document, mobile workers encounter a variety of problems. A visitor to a corporate location cannot connect to the network printer. A smartphone user receives an email attachment, but cannot print it. A laptop user has incompatible hardware and software when trying to connect to a public printer. A road warrior needs a hard copy of a crucial business document, but has no way to print it.
Solutions to these problems are available, but they involve jerry-rigging a number of different elements that may not be easy to put in place. To print information, businesspersons need to work up from the physical to the application layer and find the right components. Often, that means working in a piecemeal fashion, which can be tedious and time consuming. Cloud based printing systems present the best long term solution, but they are immature at the moment, so printing remains a compromise of some sort.
After users start working with mobile devices, they inevitably will need to print information, such as a sales report or a customer order. Printing is much better defined for traditional systems than for mobile devices, noted Henning Volkmer CEO at Cortado AG. Microsoft Corp. Windows Servers comes with several thousand print drivers, so printing often is as simple as clicking on an icon. With mobile devices, the needed infrastructure has only recently begun to take shape, so the process is much more complicated
To print directly from a smartphone or a tablet begins with finding a common physical connection. Older cell phones may have a Bluetooth support. A number of printers from Canon, HP and Polaroid support such connections while almost all new consumer and business based inkjets support Wi-Fi.
When making such a connection, users may need to consult their manuals to configure the wireless settings properly. The tweaking could take a few minutes or more than an hour, depending on the printer’s features and the user’s experience.
Once the physical connection is made, software is required to format and send the information to the printer. There are huge gaps in the software infrastructure needed to enable users to print from their mobile devices, noted Jared Hansen, CEO at BreezyPrint Corp.
One trick to help narrow that gap is sending the document via email. Here, the printer will have an email address on the network and the file will be sent as an attachment, opened up, and printed. This process could take a few seconds or a few minutes depending on the document’s complexity and printer’s capabilities.
Users then need to be concerned with what type of file they are printing. Drivers are needed for each type of file: email, photo, PDF, or Microsoft Office files (Excel, Word, PowerPoint). Many printer vendors have developed mobile apps to ease the process for their systems. Because the apps are new, some support only a few file types while others are more extensive. In general, the apps do a mediocre job of printing information users find when surfing the Web.
HP offers the ePrint app, which supports the printing of Microsoft Office, PDF documents, web pages, photos, email attachments, and text files. The lexmark Mobile Printing app lets users print PDF and image files, such as JPEGs. Brother offers the iPrint & Scan application, which searches networks for compatible printers, and print notes, index cards and photos.
Ideally, users would like such features built into the phone’s OS and gradually, that change is occurring. In iOS v4.2, Apple included AirPrint, which supports Wi-Fi connected printing of Safari, email, photos, iWork, and PDF files; the software also lets users line up and manage multiple print jobs. Support for Apple’s work started arriving in printers in the fall of 2011, but is still limited to more consumer based models at the moment.
Cloud computing has the potential to solve some of the problems. Rather than the user being concerned with putting all of the building blocks in place, the onus falls on the vendor.
Consequently, a number of start-ups have emerged. BreezyPrint has focused on offering print services for mobile devices; its services range in price from free to $49 per month. Cortado’s ThinPrint service encrypts information as it travels from the user to the printer and relies on barcode scanning at the printer to authenticate the user.
Mobility raises new printing issues: a person on the road does not carry a printer. PrinterOn enables users to print at 10,000 locations. It is used in businesses, universities, libraries, American Airlines Admirals Club and Delta Sky Club in airports, cafes, and hotels, such as the Doubletree Embassy Suites and Hilton. After submission, a secure release code is sent to the user; documents are not released until the user enters the code on a keypad at the printer.
Mobile devices provide users with needed flexibility but are only learning to print well, at least for the moment. To some, mobile printing may seem like a trivial issue, but it is one that is of growing importance to corporations, concluded Cortado’s Volkmer.