As part of an ongoing strategy to keep printing relevant as the business world becomes more mobile and Web-driven, HP Labs has developed a system that allows users to print from any available printer -- anywhere in the world.
The New York Times reported Monday that HP researchers spent several months developing the system, dubbed Cloudprint, which uses cell phones and PDF documents to defeat a long-standing gripe among business travelers. Because computers need a specific driver to use a given printer, the easiest way to print on the road has been to transfer data to a PC already set up to use the local printer -- an inconvenient and insecure process.
With Cloudprint, users virtually print their documents to HP servers. Cloudprint then generates a code for that document and text-messages it to the user's cell phone. Then from a computer set up to use the local printer, the user can log on to the Cloudprint Web site, enter a phone number and the document code, and receive a PDF ready for printing.
Future or a Nice Demo?
Patrick Scaglia, director for Internet and computing platforms at HP Labs, told the Times that Cloudprint would be something of a killer app. "The world is going to flip. We want to ride the wave of the Web," he said.
But Jim Lyons, an imaging industry analyst who spent close to 25 years at HP, said he found the announcement decidedly underwhelming. "These things provide a nice demo for an executive to point to," said Lyons, noting that he doubts the business world will respond to the service. "The take-up on these things is very low," he said, adding that most printing still happens in the office or at print and copy services like FedEx/Kinkos.
Lyons conceded that some specialized professions might take advantage of the service. "It might be a lifesaver in some cases, but I'm concerned when it's just so difficult to explain" -- the process involves uploading, checking for an SMS message, logging onto a Web site, and downloading.
HP's Print 2.0 Vision
The service -- which is available at http://cloudprint.hpl.hp.com -- fits into HP's larger Print 2.0 strategy, Lyons said. Launched at the end of May, Print 2.0 is a "pretty cohesive message about a new way to print," Lyons said. As part of that initiative, HP acquired Tabblo for its software to improve printing Web pages; partnered with Six Apart so that bloggers can add a "Print" button to their pages; and hooked up with European map-provider ViaMichelin to improve online map printing.
In launching Print 2.0, Vyomesh Joshi, an executive VP in HP's imaging and printing unit, said that 48 percent of home printing comes from the Web. "We want to make sure we can print from all the Web sites," he said.
With Apple's iPhone, consumers and business users have a miniature computer sporting a true operating system and Web browser. Compared to a laptop, the iPhone also has a very small screen, which might provide even more impetus to print from the Web and to transport documents in one's back pocket. Indeed, Scaglia told the Times, Cloudprint emerged from thinking about the iPhone impact on HP's business.
"I'm sure someone's going to explain that iPhone represents a huge printing opportunity," Lyons said. "It's optimistic, it's painting a vision for the future, but who knows ... maybe these good ideas take a lot of time to stick."