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Print to… the Cloud?

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Recently, tech news has understandably saturated by the launch of the iPhone 4 (s aapl). Strangely, Hewlett-Packard (s hpq) chose this period to announce what could be one of their most interesting and exciting developments of recent years, introducing what they see as the “future of printing:” a range of web connected and “cloud aware” printers.

Quite simply, HP’s new range of “ePrint” products enable any device to print to any printer, anywhere, as long as they’re all connected to the Internet.

Cleverly, HP will be issuing all of its ePrint-based printers with a unique email address; to print a document, users simply send documents to that address. Harnessing the ubiquity of email ensures that you will be able to print from devices that don’t even support printing!

It’s easy to consider the downside of web-connected printers; from a new generation of “printer spam” to transposing inbox overload into even more unmanageable paper form. However, I think the development is exciting for a number of reasons:

  • The potential for a “social letterbox” perhaps limited to really close family and friends — sending a tangible, printed letter, article or photo could return value and intimacy to the printed word.
  • Being able to use existing email filters and tools to determine what arrives at your printer’s inbox. I can envisage “[email protected]” becoming a useful communication end point for individuals and companies; finally killing the fax.
  • A new means of permission marketing where the sender pays me to send me a printed flier.
  • Postal services that transcode snail mail to electronically delivered prints that are also archived digitally.
  • iPhone apps that locate the nearest available printer when you’re on the move and need a hard copy.

Looking further ahead it’s not difficult to envisage a time when a range of email-able “HP Deskfab” 3D printers will allow users to email real objects to each other, transforming bits into atoms. ePrint’s simple innovation of an email inbox for printers can inspire a multitude other ideas and is a true platform opportunity.

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(Editor’s note: If you’re interested in learning more about cloud computing and how it enables web apps like this, check out our Structure conference in San Francisco later this month).

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