When Google introduced its Cloud Print solution last year, consumers and device makers were left with more questions than answers. Fast forward to today, and Google’s cloud printing solution gets less foggy: HP’s ePrint-enabled printers now support Cloud Print. Printouts from a smartphone, computer or ChromeOS netbook can be sent to these web-connected printers through supported Google apps now, and third-party software in the future.
The new printing support shows how the web continues to change the paradigm of traditional computing. Instead of printers that are effectively chained to a single device or shared on a local wired or wireless network, the lowly, utilitarian printer is now web-connected. Evidence of that lies within the method used by HP to link the ePrint devices to Google Docs and Gmail: Consumers simply attach the printer’s unique email address to their Google account to use Cloud Print services. Once the link is made, documents or email can be printed out through a mobile broadband or wired web connection from practically anywhere.
Last year, I tried to make sense of this paradigm shift and how it relates to the declining need of the PC we’ve relied upon for years:
Essentially, Google is attempting to remove the computer from the middle of the print equation. In today’s world, we use an application to send a print job to the print server running on our computer. That software manages the task by communicating through a driver (more software) to the physical hardware of the printer. In the Google Cloud Print solution, the computer and accompanying print server software go away and are replaced by the cloud. Google handles the print job and communicates directly with a cloud-aware printer — these don’t exist yet, which is why I said the solution isn’t implemented yet.
Now that the cloud-aware printers I mentioned are available, the solution is here, although in a limited fashion because it will take time for apps to enable cloud printing functionality. Up to now, there really wasn’t much point for that development effort, but with HP’s support, that’s sure to change. And maybe the best part of all this from a consumer standpoint — at least in theory — is not only the diminishing need for a computer to print, but more importantly, the extinction of installing or updating print drivers and other software setup challenges.
There’s another relevent event that happened right about the time that Google introduced Cloud Print last April: HP’s $1.2 billion purchase of Palm. We haven’t yet seen many tangible product benefits as the result of HP’s big spend to get into the mobile space, but that should be changing soon due to an updated webOS platform and a new HP tablet based on the operating system. When HP introduced the TouchPad slate, it noted it would have wireless print capabilities that will leverage the ePrint devices.
With both cloud printing and mobile devices that can use such functionality, it’s notable to see a traditional computer maker — the biggest in the world, in fact — moving away from the very computing hardware that has helped grow the company. I can’t think of a better example of this shift to mobile, but if I can find one, I’ll shoot it to a printer from my smartphone.