What You Should Know – The State of Mobile Printing

1959 – IBM 1403 Line Printer

Many years ago, mankind invented computers. This created the need to produce hard-copy output for communication and archival purposes. The first printers were directly cabled to gigantic expensive mainframe computers and virtually nobody besides a systems administrator had access to either of them.

1981 – IBM Personal Computer 5150

Then, along came the personal computer and the ability for most office workers to have their very own computer system right on their desktop. These were the “good old days” for printer manufacturers because it created a demand for a one-printer-per-one-personal computer scenario. Regardless, many computer users had to put their files on floppy disks and beg borrow or steal to use a printer that was connected to someone else’s computer, or trudge down to a managed customer reproduction center (CRD). This was commonly referred to as a “sneaker network,” as users padded around the office with floppy disks looking to share and print files.

Next, the personal computer local area network (LAN) came into vogue and users were able to share both files and printers and sneaker networks eventually retreated into the dustbin of history. However, the first road warriors with their new-fangled “portable PCs” (later to morph into laptop PCs) were still faced with “I can’t print” when they were on the road attempting to do business.

1987 – Compaq Portable III 2660 (closed)

Compaq Portable III 2660 (open)

Compaq Portable SLT/286 1903 (1990)

1990 – Compaq Portable SLT/286 1903

This resulted in a major expansion of hotel “business centers” and the Sir Speedy’s of the world, oases where road warriors could go to get their documents printed while they were out and about. Somewhat later, upscale hotels even provided printers for in-room use.

An early in-room printer.

One of the last steps on the march towards mobile printing as we now know it came with the advent of wireless networking. There were several iterations of wireless networking before the dust settled in 1997 with the latest and enduring standard: the IEEE 802.11 wireless local area network (WLAN). This provided the ability to share files and printers as well as print wirelessly to printers that were connected to a wired LAN. Next, printers began to rapidly incorporate native Wi-Fi wireless capabilities that allowed them to eschew the hard-wired LAN connection, and could thus be installed anywhere within range of Wi-Fi routers – albeit they still required proprietary print drivers installed on a PC and were essentially installed similar to as with a legacy wired network printer.

Linksys WRT54GS Wi-Fi Router

In essence, the rest is history until the emergence of wireless smartphones and tablets that had neither the physical ports to connect to a printer nor an operating system that supported the use of the print drivers. In other words, they couldn’t print to most printers without the use of proprietary printer “apps” and/or considerable configuration on a local network. This made it excruciatingly difficult to print from a mobile device when one was away from their home or office. Moreover, in the managed-print world, print security, authorization, and tracking was virtually non-existent.

In response to the explosion of mobile devices and the potential of a decline in printed page volumes (and ink and toner sales), printer manufacturers scrambled to simplify and standardize printing from mobile devices. As time went on, methods and standards emerged that enabled print authorization and tracking.

Two Types of Mobile Printing

  1. Mobile Printing – Wirelessly print to a local printer.
  2. Remote Printing – Wirelessly print to a printer in a remote location.

Different Methods of Mobile Printing

  • Wirelessly print to an Apple AirPrint-enabled local printer from your mobile smartphone or tablet or to your laptop/desktop PC. This is the least secure solution, as it is possible to print to nearly any AirPrint-enabled printer without tracking or authorization.
  • Wirelessly print to a Google Cloud Print-enabled local printer from your mobile smartphone or tablet  or to your laptop/desktop PC. This method is a bit more secure than AirPrint, as the printer must be activated from within a user’s Google account.
  • Wirelessly print to a local or remote network printer from your mobile smartphone or tablet using a proprietary mobile app. Once again this method is somewhat insecure as users may be able to print to unsecured printers using the app’s “printer discovery” feature. However, many advanced proprietary apps from office-printer vendors provided print authorization and tracking.
  • Wirelessly print from your laptop/desktop PC to local or remote printer installed on a LAN or WAN (Wide Area Network) using IT skills and the traditional print-driver system. This method is secure as print tracking, authorization, and rules are available.

Remote Printing

With remote printing, you are not in the same vicinity and/or logged into the same network as the printer. Plus, the target printer must be installed on a LAN/WLAN and have an Internet connection. Although the printer can be programmed to include and exclude email sender addresses, the email with the unencrypted print file can be hijacked at numerous points along the way. Moreover, there is a greater chance of printed media type and size mishaps.

  • Wirelessly print to a remote printer using a proprietary mobile app on your smartphone or tablet, or via a service installed on your laptop/desktop PC.
  • Wirelessly print to an Internet-connected remote printer from your smartphone, tablet or laptop/desktop PC by attaching a document to an email and sending it to the email address of the printer (such as HP ePrint and Epson Connect).
  • Wirelessly print to a remote Google Cloud Print-enabled printer from your mobile smartphone or tablet or to your laptop/desktop PC.

Wi-Fi Direct Printing

  • Wi-Fi Direct Printing works by wirelessly sending print data directly to the printer and eliminates the need for a network connection altogether. However, it is somewhat difficult to set-up on both ends (the mobile device and the printer). We can say this because we have tried to do it and are highly experienced, but instead “took the easy way out” and used the simpler Google Cloud Print instead. Don’t believe us? Take a gander at HP’s Wi-Fi Direct Printing Center. Since it can be protected by a PIN and a network connection is not required, Wi-Fi direct printing is one of the more secure methods of mobile printing.

NFC (Near Field Communication) Tap-to-Print

  • With NFC Tap-to-Print the user “sends” a print job from an NFC-enabled mobile device to an NFC-enabled printer, then moves their mobile device into close proximity to the NFC-enabled printer. Then, the Bluetooth or WiFi direct communication channel is established and communication of the print job commences. Like Wi-Fi Direct, it eliminates the need for a network connections and is also more complex to implement than most other mobile-printing solutions. On the other hand, NFC Tap-to-Print offers a simple and effective security alternative – the user must walk into close proximity to the NFC-enabled printer and/or touch the printer with their mobile device. Any on-board print-job logging software will record details on the mobile device that sent the job, which will be sufficient to identify its source and the ability to manage, track, or charge them back to the user.

Mobile Printer Compatibility

Nearly any printer can support mobile printing and there are various means of support. Generally, the newer the printer and the more mobile printing standards it natively supports (such as AirPrint, Google Cloud Print, HP ePrint;, and Wi-Fi Direct Printing) the easier it is to implement.

Legacy USB or Parallel Port Printer

  • Install an optional network connection upgrade or a wired/wireless network dongle on the printer’s parallel port. Then, you can use a majority of mobile-printing services that are described above. You can also use hardware solutions such as the easily managed Lantronix Print Server.
  • Use Google Cloud Print Classic. This works with a printer that is directly connected to any up-and-running PC that is connected to the Internet and running Google Chrome.

Wired Network Printer

  • Install the wired network printer on a WLAN and then you can use a majority of mobile-printing services that are described above.

Wireless Network Printer

  • Install the wireless network printer on a LAN or WLAN and then  you can use a majority of mobile printing services that are described above.
  • If the printer is capable, use Wi-Fi direct or NFC Tap-to Print. A LAN/WLAN connection is not required.

Convenience of Mobile Printer Solutions – Ranked (Best to Worst):

  1. AirPrint enabled printer
  2. Google Cloud Print enabled printer
  3. Remote eMail capable printer
  4. NFC Tap-to-Print enabled printer
  5. Wi-Fi Direct Printing enabled printer
  6. WLAN Wi-Fi-connected printer
  7. WLAN wired-connected printer
  8. Wired LAN-connected printer
  9. Sneaker network printer

Security of Mobile Printer Solutions – Ranked(Best to Worst):

  1. Wired LAN-connected printer
  2. WLAN wired-connected printer
  3. WLAN Wi-Fi-connected printer
  4. NFC Tap-to-Print enabled printer
  5. Wi-Fi Direct Printing enabled printer
  6. Google Cloud Print enabled printer
  7. Remote eMail capable printer
  8. Sneaker network printer
  9. AirPrint enabled printer

Manageability of Mobile Printer Solutions – Ranked (Best to Worst):

  1. Wired LAN-connected printer
  2. WLAN wired-connected printer
  3. WLAN Wi-Fi-connected printer
  4. NFC Tap-to-Print enabled printer
  5. Google Cloud Print enabled printer
  6. Remote eMail capable printer
  7. Wi-Fi Direct Printing enabled printer
  8. AirPrint enabled printer
  9. Sneaker network printer

Summary

Fortunately, today’s low-cost contemporary printers, All-in-Ones, and MFPs – such as the HP Officejet Pro 8720 – typically cover all of the bases when it comes to mobile printing. The key for the user or enterprise is identifying which method of mobile printing is best for them – based on their cost of ownership, convenience, manageability, and security needs.

HP Officejet Pro 8720 ($199.99) with HP ePrint, Apple AirPrint, HP Wireless Direct and Wi-Fi Direct Printing, NFC Tap-to-Print, and Wired Ethernet/Wireless 802.11b/g/n networking.

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