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Analysis

Mobile meets Print: HP's Mobile Printing Ambitions
Louella Fernandes By: Louella Fernandes, Principal Analyst, Quocirca
Published: 15th February 2011
Copyright Quocirca © 2011
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The exploding popularity of smartphones and tablets has driven expectations for access to information at any location, anytime, anywhere. Consumerisaton of technology means that mobile devices, whether rolled out by IT or brought in through the back door, are already a critical component of business communications. Despite the device management and security risks that this poses for IT, mobile devices undoubtedly boost employee productivity. The fast adoption of mobile computing is reshaping the need for business applications that have the flexibility to work on a variety of platforms, and this particularly applies to the printing market which is seeing the emergence of applications and services to enhance productivity for mobile workers.

The complexity of the print and mobile worlds
Increasing mobility brings both opportunities and challenges to printer vendors. With printed material still pervasive across most businesses, the opportunity to enable mobile workers to print reports, emails, maps or web content directly from their smartphones or tablet devices, irrespective of location or printer device, is certainly an aid to productivity. However, one characteristic that the print and mobile environments share is complexity. A disparate array of mobile devices with proprietary platforms such as Nokia’s Symbian OS, Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and RIM’s BlackBerry OS is matched by a myriad of printer devices that share no real common standard when it comes to software or drivers. Printer vendors must therefore develop support for each mobile platform, as missing support for one of these platforms means potentially missing a huge chunk of the market.

For mobile workers who wish to print from a laptop to any device that may be available at a given location, universal print drivers are available. However, for smartphone users the options are not so simple. Printer drivers can consume anywhere from 60MB to 240MB of memory and can drain battery life, meaning that it is not always feasible to build and maintain embedded printing capability for each platform. Consequently, printer vendors such as HP are turning to cloud services to deliver print capabilities, requiring the emailing of documents from a smartphone to a registered printer.  The exception to this is Apple’s AirPrint, which provides direct support for printing from iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches through an embedded operating system function—but only to HP’s range of AirPrint compatible printers.

HP’s ePrint
HP’s main offering for mobile workers is based on its ePrint technology. HP ePrint Enterprise allows printing from any networked company printer, and any mobile device via their organisation with the HP ePrint enterprise server software enabling a “private cloud”. With the ePrint mobile app on their BlackBerry smartphone, the user can easily search for, and print to, any printer within their enterprise that they have permission to print to. And if the company wants to enable non-BlackBerry users to print, they simply email a document from their corporate email account, sending it to an enabled printer’s individual email address. The solution is printer agnostic. An employee visiting a new office location could send documents to printers in the corporate network as well as to public HP ePrint locations. HP ePrint Enterprise is currently available as part of an HP managed print services (MPS) agreement. Mobile workers can also use ePrint to print securely as it can be integrated with “pull printing” capabilities which require user authentication such as company ID swipe cards to release printed documents.

In addition, for workers who frequently travel or work remotely, HP ePrint is available as a free app for BlackBerry smartphones. With the HP ePrint mobile app, BlackBerry smartphone users can quickly search for and print to select public HP ePrint mobile print locations, such as copy retail stores, hotels, airport lounges and more. In the US, for instance, over 1,600 FedEx Office locations across the U.S. now offer mobile printing services powered by HP ePrint.

HP is not alone in offering a cloud service approach for mobile printing. Xerox’s Mobile Print Solution supports any of its Extensible Interface Platform (EIP) enabled multifunction peripherals (MFPs) while Ricoh’s HotSpot printing enables printing from mobile devices to Ricoh HotSpot compatible printers. With few organisations operating a standardised print environment, the lack of standardised mobile printing between vendors means enterprises could end up evaluating multiple solutions to meet their smartphone print requirement, which begs the question—do smartphone users really need to print?

The mobile print opportunity
Certainly, there are benefits to providing capabilities to print on the move, at different office locations or coffee shops, hotels or airports—but only if a range of printers are supported and, currently, this is not possible across mobile platforms. But when it comes to the office, do businesses really want to give their employees free reign to print from their mobile devices? As is the case with any IT service, which can either drive user productivity or be a major overall cost, a business has to navigate the fine line between permissiveness and control.

There is always the possibility that permitting printing from mobile devices could lead to unwarranted printing. Fortunately, many printer vendors are actually helping their customers minimise wasteful printing through centralised controls such as establishing print quotas, rules and policies. Quocirca therefore recommends that mobile printing solutions are deployed in the context of an overall print policy or managed print service that aims to avoid escalating costs from wasteful mobile printing in the office.

Mobile printing is clearly at the embryonic stages, but as workforce mobility increases, it certainly provides printer vendors with additional opportunity to capture further pages. Increased enterprise mobility will further drive the need for enterprise applications to support mobile platforms which could in turn increase the opportunity for mobile printing from such applications.

Future directions
So what is the future for mobile printing? This will probably come from closer collaboration between the mobile platform developers and printer manufacturers. Google is currently in beta development of its Google Cloud Print service which allows enabled apps to print from any web-connected mobile devices such as those running Google Chrome OS and other mobile operating systems, without the need to install drivers. Printer drivers are effectively located in the cloud, on Google’s servers, and the ideal approach is for printers to have native support for connecting to cloud print services. This requires what Google calls “cloud-aware printers” that, unfortunately, don’t exist yet. If Google does successfully engage with printer vendors in this initiative it promises to provide the most standardised print experience for mobile users, irrespective of platform or printer.

HP is particularly well positioned to capitalise on any potential opportunity from bringing the mobile and print worlds together, given its presence in both markets. Its acquisition of Palm has already spawned a range of WebOS-based web-connected printers for the consumer market, and Quocirca expects to see further innovation around future offerings that leverage its mobile device, software and printing expertise. 

Ultimately, three factors will probably serve to expand the opportunity for mobile printing—firstly, mobile sales showing no sign of abating; secondly, business enthusiasm for remote and mobile working continues; and finally our preference for printed documents will remain. As the communications habits of consumers and enterprise workers continue to evolve, and digital content continues to proliferate providing print functionality for devices such as smartphones and tablets can only further enhance the mobile user experience. 

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