On Monday, Hewlett-Packard unveiled the next generation of printers. ePrint printers are web-enabled, work in the cloud, and will print from e-mail. In addition, users can store documents or files in the cloud for direct printing on demand. Prices start at $99.
The HP printers are the first with the ability to talk to the Google cloud without needing a local proxy PC or web appliance. That means people can access Google Docs, photos and calendar directly from their printers. Companies like Yahoo, Facebook and Reuters are also making print apps that work with the new machines.
"This is HP making printers relevant again. Over the last few years, printers were increasingly irrelevant," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "People are living on the web and printers were an anachronism looking back to the past before we had the web. By integrating the web into printers, suddenly they are relevant again."
Relevant ePrint Usage
HP offers several "relevant" examples of how consumers can use the web-enabled printers with the ePrint platform. A mother and son can print drawings they created on the iPad. Or users can print from mobile devices like the Palm Pre or BlackBerry smartphone and pick up the documents at a FedEx Office store.
The HP ePrint printers come with a unique e-mail address that lets consumers print a document the same way they would send an e-mail message. Consumers can also send Microsoft Office documents, Adobe PDFs, JPEG images, and other file types using HP's ePrintCenter. Documents are sent to the ePrintCenter's e-mail address, which handles the image and sends it to an ePrint printer.
"As much as we talk about iPad and tablets, people don't move from one type of thing to another very quickly. In fact, we've been talking about the paperless office since the early 90s and we are probably no closer now than we were then," Enderle said. "HP is recognizing that a web-connected printer is where the market wants to be. Maybe 50 years from now it won't be, but we live in today."
An iPad Hit?
The first generation of the ePrint printers includes the PhotoSmart e-All-in-One, the Photosmart Plus e-All-in-One, the PhotoSmart Premium e-All-in-One, and the PhotoSmart Premium Fax e-All-in-One. Prices range from $99 to $299.
Along with the ePrint printer, HP also announced a new service called Scheduled Delivery. The service lets consumers choose content to be pushed to a printer at a designated time each day or week. Consumers might choose, for example, to have a customized news feed printed in time for a 7 a.m. pickup.
As with most things digital, there is also an advertising hook with the Scheduled Delivery service. For example, HP and Yahoo plan to launch a pilot program to help marketers consider ways to provide added value to their audiences by populating select print content from partners with customized messages, promotions and information like coupons or local services.
Enderle expects HP's ePrint to be a big hit, especially for iPad users. "The iPad doesn't connect to a normal printer," he explained. "That was a huge complaint from iPad users who browse the web and they want to print out a boarding pass or directions."
Mike Kent also contributed to this article.