The Good, Bad And Ugly Of Different Mobile Printing Solutions

The Good, Bad And Ugly Of Different Mobile Printing Solutions

Summary: From Apple's AirPrint to cloud services like HP's ePrint to powerful enterprise server software, I give a primer on the different ways you can print from your smartphone or tablet.


Mobile won't deliver on the dream of the paperless office, as I argued earlier this week. We'll read more on our tablets and even smartphones, for sure. But the ability to access and read those files on our devices also whets our appetite to print them, too.

According to a February 2011 InfoTrends survey, the biggest reasons why people didn't print from their mobile devices were 1) lack of access to a printer (48%) and 2) lack of support from a mobile device (32%). No need to print was third, at just 29%.

There are a lot of products that can make mobile printing smooth and easy. But there's a significant gulf between what's more suited for a home or small business, and what works best in a big organization or enterprise.

Take Apple's popular AirPrint feature. Built into iOS 4.2 and later, AirPrint enables an iPad or iPhone to print wirelessly to a nearby printer. That reportedly works with more than 200 printers.

AirPrint is a great solution at home or for smaller offices that are standardized on Apple, have recently purchased a wireless printer, and aren't concerned about a lack of control over print quality.

But Holly Muscolino, an IDC analyst, says that AirPrint's impact in the greater business world "has been minimal. Peer-to-peer local-type printing is not the same thing as enabling you to print from anywhere to anywhere. It's limited."

There are also third-party apps like the $20 PrintBureau and software like the donationware handyPrint (formerly AirPrintHacktivator) running on a Mac that is connected to a printer (any will do), to enable wireless printing via iPad or iPhone. You can also use the $20 FingerPrint, which runs on Mac and Windows PCs and which CNET loves.

There have also been clumsy attempts to directly integrate tablets with printers. Like this short-lived attempt by HP, the PhotoSmart eStation, which mated an Android tablet with an inkjet fax/printer/scanner:


Credit: Engadget

While some of these solutions can connect to a larger pool of printers or more types of mobile devices than AirPrint, they still suffer a major limitation - incompatibility with the sophisticated networks that are typical inside any medium-to-large-sized company.

Let's take two common scenarios - an employee with a BYOD device, or a tablet-toting salesperson or field representative visiting another organization. Any network administrator worth his salt will confine those devices to the guest network for security reasons.

But guest networks rarely have their own printers. And devices logged into them are blocked from accessing anything on the corporate network. Like printers.

If mobile devices DO get onto the corporate network, they may find still find it difficult to print, due to:

- firewalls that protect printers from spammers and paper-spitting malware;

- confusing networks with multiple subnets that make it hard to find the printer you want;

- group policies that parcel out access only to select devices in order to track costs and cut down on waste.

One attempt to sidestep the network issue is via public cloud-based print services. They include Google's free Cloud Print and Hewlett-Packard's ePrint. ePrint lets users print by sending an e-mail with a document attached.

ePrint is free. But you need an HP-branded, Web-enabled printer to use ePrint. And apart from being able to lock printers to accept e-mails only from registered e-mail addresses, there is little control for IT managers. As a result, ePrint has gained only some enterprise acceptance.

The great strength of Google's Cloud Print is its cross-platform ability. It can work with any brand of printer and any device type (provided they are running Google Docs or the Chrome Web browser).

On the other hand, Google Cloud Print gives users little control over how their print output looks. Only two choices are fully supported for all printers - single or double-sided print, and black and white or color pages. Printing booklets or using special paper sizes is not supported.

The bigger issue is that Cloud Print doesn't allow IT administrators to set policies such as black-and-white only printing (to save on expensive color ink), usage quotas, or encrypted printing. Nor does it allow IT administrators to control what and how much guest or BYOD devices are allowed to print.

For large organizations that need such features, ease of use and manageability - and are willing to pay - there are several enterprise-class solutions. There's the cloud-based Breezy. There's also PrinterOn, which comes as a public cloud service or internal server software. And there is PrintMe Mobile from EFI, which come as software installable on Windows or Linux servers.

EFI says it is the only vendor that can 100% solve the vexing problem mentioned above: enabling mobile devices on the guest Wi-Fi network to securely print to printers inside the firewall located on the corporate network. That would help visiting dignitaries, salespeople, partners and customers.

"Our solution is as easy as hitting File and Print," says Tom Offutt, director of business development for EFI. 

IDC's Muscolino warns that the market is still maturing, and that some solutions that promise to enable high-quality printing from any device to any printer may still fall short.

Nevertheless, she predicts that this mobile printing market will grow at a "hockey-stick-like" 71.2% Compound Annual Growth Rate to $1 billion in 2015.


Topics: ÜberTech, Android, Cloud, Hewlett-Packard, iOS, Networking, Printers, Tablets

Eric Lai

About Eric Lai

I have tracked technology for more than 15 years, as an award-winning journalist and now as in-house thought leader on the mobile enterprise for SAP. Follow me here at ÜberMobile as well as my even less-filtered musings on Twitter @ericylai

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  • Forgetting some major ones

    I hate to be the guy plugging his employer, but you didn't even mention Xerox Mobile Print!
    Damian Kumor
    • Yep, here's the site...


      Sounds similar to HP ePrint, but potentially more flexible:
      1) Email your doc to Xerox;
      2) Get confirmation code in return e-mail;
      3) Go to any nearby compatible Xerox printer/multi-function machine;
      4) Type in the code;
      5) Voila, your document is printed out.

      Sounds like the big hitch would be whether that office has one of these late-model Xerox copiers or printers:
    • mobile print---the underlying dirty little secret is...

      There's an underlying problem that is being attempted to be solved. Namely, neither my Droid nor my iPad has neither a printer driver nor MS Office apps. If the kids at Apple, Microsoft or Google got together, this could be solved already but.....

      So, getting an EXCEL spreadsheet to print correctly is virtually impossible. That's the core problem solved by the Mobile Print solutions. Xerox has a solution that works with any printer (HP, Xerox, Canon, Lex). It's mostly upside, really. There is a small fee to use (someone has to pay for MS Office stuff).

      60 Second video Print from anywhere to nearly any printer

      If you are even remotely serious about solving the riddle for a group, take a look at the video. There is a small fee but it frees your staff etc from the hassles of managing this mess and you can print to almost anywhere. (I work for xerox but I get $0.00 for this !)
  • It would be nice if Surface RT got this one right

    I have to admit that printing is not a big requirement for me (on either mobile or desktop) but that there have been occasions when I would have liked to have printed something from my iPad. I was unable to and I either sucked it up or I went to my desktop, brought up the same content (from either the web or email) and printed it there. Not convenient but like I said, not enough to make me want to go buy a printer compatible with one of Apple's proprietary protocols.

    From my reading and understanding, Surface RT will have built in printer drivers for "Surface RT certified printers". This suggests to me that instead of forcing printer companies to implement yet another proprietary protocol (like Apple has done) MS has instead simply provided drivers to popular printers. This is a far better solution.

    Printing was not one of the "make it or break it" features I was looking for when I ordered my Surface RT. However, I believe this is a feature I will get "for free" that was simply unavailable to me on my iPad. At worst, I don't lose anything and at best, I win the ability to print from my tablet.
  • I don't own a printer now

    I will make sure I get a printer supporting Air print if I am going to buy.
  • Send A Fax

    The oldest computer-printing trick in the book: send the page images to a fax number. Corporates rarely think of including the phone system in the firewall. Sure, it may only be monochrome, but you can still get decent greyscale when it's not coming from another fax machine.
    • Not a bad hack...

      ...but it does presuppose that

      a) You're using one of the free or free(mium) apps/services that let you send a fax from the Internet. I see a few possibilities - MyFax, Fax.com, Mobile Phax. Any one have any recs?

      b) You don't mind waiting some unknown amount of time for the fax to print (due to Internet/app latency, busyness of fax machine). Could be 5 minutes; could be 20.

      Maybe I'm being pessimistic. @ldo17 - have you tried this from your mobile device?
  • extend the problem above a step further and 'EveryonePrint' is unique...

    Add '*AND* be accounted for' to the above problem and EveryonePrint distributed in the UK by Altman Integrated Technologies is unique.

    I like this follow up article to the equally well written 'paperless office mobile isn't your saviour' piece. Both a good read.

    'enabling mobile devices on the guest Wi-Fi network to securely print to printers inside the firewall located on the corporate network.' AND be account for...'

  • ValueJet Status Monitor (VSM) system

    Mutoh continues to provide value beyond the box with its new ValueJet Status Monitor (VSM) system. VSM
    is a light-weight software exclusive to Mutoh. Use VSM to monitor your ink system, heaters and even check
    for the latest firmware. VSM also utilizes Mutoh’s ColorVerify process control system to monitor your color
    output for consistent color production print after print. http://mutoh.com/pdf/VSMsmall.pdf