HP has radical plans for the future of consumer printing, promising an end to printer drivers and the introduction of devices that just don't care what you're printing from — Windows, Linux, iPhone or your washing machine.
ZDNet UK talked to Antonio Rodriguez, the chief technology officer of HP's consumer-printing division, about the fundamental changes it wants to make to low-cost output.
First, what do you define as consumer? Increasingly, we're finding enterprises buying 'consumer' equipment.
That's an interesting dynamic. For me, it's a question of: who's buying it? If the people buying it use it, it's consumer. If it's being bought by people three stages away from the people who use it, it's enterprise.
What's the thinking behind what you're going to do?
Twenty-five years ago when the inkjet was invented, it looked fantastic compared to the quality of screens and nothing else could touch it. Now, lots of people have caught up with inkjet technology, and screens are a lot better. It's an incredible technical process squirting a billion droplets onto a sheet of A4, but it's commonplace.
There's a move to authoring and editing digital content, so we want to focus on ways to do that which keeps printing relevant. And we're excited that while people are used to thinking of printers in terms of feeds and speeds, they're forgetting that printers these days have networked computers built in. We're going to make a lot more use of that.
There's going to be a change in the way printers are named, too. Today, if you go to the store, there are more characters in the model number than there are letters in the alphabet. That's before you get into driver hell.
What does that mean in practice?
You'll take your printer home from the store and plug it into your network. It'll register with our servers over the internet and you can link that registration with your various accounts.
We have ways to make that easy. When you print, you print to our servers and those send the output to the printer. Or you'll be on a web service, tell it what and how to print.
It doesn't matter what you want to print from, it's a web service, so you can print from your computer, or your iPhone, or whatever. If you're printing from Google Docs, for example, it really doesn't matter what you're using to access the web service. It could easily be a post-PC device.
But you can print locally if you want?
You will be able to use it locally too: we support local discovery via Multicast DNS.
Are people going to be comfortable with this change to web-based printing?
The way that I see it, we have to deliver on a set of core printing experiences. People print as keepsakes, photos, collage, on-demand printing. They want to keep a memento. We know that's a base human need.
Where will it take place? Ten years ago, it was all desktop clients — Adobe, Office, etc. Now the data collecting is taking place on social networks. What we've done is gone to people like MySpace and said: "We will provide a set of web services that lets you expose more complex products", so users can select photographs and have them delivered as collages, or formatted as cubes you can cut out of the paper. Then there's utility printing — a map or a recipe is going to be...