HP: The Future of Printing is in the Cloud

By Marlene Orr, Senior Printer Analyst, June 8, 2010
HP kicked off Internet Week NYC with a news conference broadcast live via the Web. Appropriately, the theme was harnessing the power of the Internet to customize and simplify the printing experience. In his introduction, Vyomesh Joshi (VJ), president of HP’s Imaging and Printing Group, noted that since the advent of Web 2.0, there has been an explosion in the amount of available content on the Web. In fact, HP's research shows that by next year, Internet printing will surpass printing from word processing programs.
VJ said that while creating the content has become easier (think of the countless social networking and photo-sharing Web sites), capturing and printing that content has not always been so easy.
Addressing the shift last year, HP introduced its first Web-connected printer (the Photosmart Premium All-in-One), which let users download software to the AiO so they could access and print Web content from the control panel. Since then, the company has paid close attention to customer behavior, learning that about 70 percent of users downloaded applications to allow them to capture and print content without turning on their PC. 
To keep up with what it says is a growing customer need, HP will Web-connect every new HP printer with a purchase price greater than $99. But it’s not just about the software applications anymore. Cloud printing (untethered/wireless printing, whereby data is sent over the Internet to a selected printer) is nothing new, but HP is taking it to the next level by allowing users to print from mobile devices with no additional software or drivers required. As VJ said, “If you can e-mail it, you can print it.” With ePrint technology, users can print a document by using nothing more than the resident e-mail program on a device to send it to the printer. So, not only can users download apps to access and print content without turning on their PCs, they can now print from mobile devices (like smart phones and tablet PCs) that have traditionally had inherent limitations to printing.

There’s an App for That…
Because the new Web-connected AiOs will be “cloud aware,” users can access the Internet and download applications to support printing of their selected content whenever they need it, without even turning on their PC. Through the HP ePrintCenter, users can view printer status and add or remove software apps via a standard Web browser, regardless of the printer’s location. By downloading the apps, users can find, view and print any number of activities/games/puzzles, news stories, weather reports, theater tickets and even coupons right from the touch-screen of the printer without the need for a PC or other Web-enabled device. By partnering with Google, HP has made it possible for users to view and print Google Docs, maps, photos and calendars directly from the printer. Other partnerships include Yahoo!, Nickelodeon, PBS Kids, Crayola, Snapfish, Disney and DreamWorks.
New Hardware for Home, SOHO and SMBs
The four new inkjet multifunction printers offer varying levels of features and functionality for home users at the low end and could conceivably suit the needs of SOHO and SMBs. All models use four individual ink tanks and include 802.11b/g/n networking standard. Here is a quick breakdown of features, price and availability:
•           HP Photosmart e-All-in-One ($99) – Includes print, copy and scan functionality, with a 2.4-inch touch-screen; draft print speeds are rated at 29 ppm in black and 23 ppm in color; USB interface is also included standard. Expected to be available in North America in June 2010.
•           The HP Photosmart Plus e-All-in-One ($149) – Includes print, copy and scan functionality, with a 3.5-inch touch-screen; draft print speeds are rated at 32 ppm in black and 30 ppm in color. Expected to be available worldwide in August 2010.
•           The HP Photosmart Premium e-All-in-One ($199) – Includes print, copy and scan functionality, with a 4.3-inch touch-screen; draft print speeds are rated at 32 ppm in black and 30 ppm in color. Expected to be available worldwide in September 2010.
•           HP Photosmart Premium Fax e-All-in-One ($299) – Includes print, copy, scan and fax functions, a 50-page automatic document feeder and a 2.4-inch touch-screen interface; draft print speeds are rated at 34 ppm in black and 32 ppm in color; wired network interface is also included standard. Expected to be available worldwide in September 2010.
What About Security?
According to HP, ePrint provides industry-standard spam filtering and transforms e-mail and attachments to a print-only format to reduce the threat of viruses or harmful content. A special HP Web site also allows users register the printer and create a “protected” mode, limiting access by creating a “preferred sender” list of addresses that can e-mail print jobs to the registered device. While this is probably sufficient for home and small office use, it remains to be seen what additional security measures will be incorporated into higher-level products and workgroup/enterprise-level devices.
The Bottom Line…
HP plans to remove some of the traditional limitations of printing from the Web and mobile devices by placing “the cloud” at the center of the printing ecosystem. This combination of Web-connected printers, partnerships and software apps promises users instant access to printing, which presents almost limitless possibilities for consumer printing.
Giving users the ability to print from smart phones seems like a logical step for HP, given its recent acquisition of Palm, but the jury is still out on how relevant printing from phones will be to general business users because of cost and security concerns. At present, HP has announced only low-volume inkjet devices, e-mailed documents print automatically and passwords are not required for HP’s ePrint technology, though HP claims that the devices can be put in a protected mode, e-mail addresses are obscure enough to avoid spam, and future security developments are surely in the works. I, for one, am anxious to see how this technology will fit into the future additions to the portfolio on the LaserJet side of the house, where security would be an even greater concern. 
Stay tuned for future updates on the cloud printing revolution and, of course, BLI’s full-scale hands-on review of some of HP’s new Web-connected printers.
This article was originally posted on Buyer’s Laboratory.