Not so long ago, the home computer was the hub around which your technological world revolved – anything you needed to do, from connecting to the internet to printing, was done through your PC (or Mac) and if you needed a software application, you went and bought one or downloaded it to your computer. Now, you can do most, if not all of the things you once did on your PC, on the move and you can access a huge variety of software applications without having to download a thing. The rise of mobile and cloud computing has gone hand in hand with the proliferation of social media – for instance, it is now common for news stories to break on Twitter before they break anywhere else. The way we access and share information is changing and, as a result, the way we use printers is changing too.
In October 2011, we looked at cloud printing and its potential to revolutionise the way we print. With Google Cloud Print, you can send a file from anywhere using a compatible, enabled mobile device and print it on a cloud-connected printer. The system doesn't require any drivers or installation software to be downloaded and doesn't require the printer to be connected to a PC, as long as it's connected to the web. Epson, HP and Kodak all produce cloud-ready printers which can connect to Google Cloud Print straight out of the box and more cloud-enabled devices will be finding their way on to the market this year.
Wireless printing has, of course, been with us for some time but, to begin with at least, it still meant printing from your PC. However, the technology has moved on and Apple’s Air Print allows you to send print jobs from an iOS device (such as an iPad or iPhone) to a compatible AirPrint printer via Wi-Fi. Unlike cloud printing, the printer and mobile device do have to be near each other but you’re no longer chained to your PC and can print to any other AirPrint-enabled printer while you’re out and about. As with any technology, the options were limited at first, with only a few HP printers supporting AirPrint, but it is now available for an increasing number of Epson, Kodak, Brother and Lexmark printers.
In another recent article, in November 2011, we talked about the growth of the printer market in the U.K., specifically in the inkjet multifunction sector. The growth or decline in printer sales across the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region was mirrored by a corresponding increase or decrease in multifunction sales. It’s likely that this trend will continue throughout 2012 and we'd expect to see further growth in sales of inkjet multifunction devices, as home users really get to grips with cloud and mobile printing.
Web-connected printers have been around for a couple of years now and, like everything else, have moved on since then. The first web-enabled printers came with apps which allowed you to print things like puzzles and maps directly from the printer, or to access RRS feeds. We wondered about the appeal of such apps at the time but now Lexmark has launched SmartSolutions apps which can access sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and a range of mobile printing apps for Apple iOS, Android and Google Cloud Print. Apps are big business these days and it seems almost compulsory to have an app for just about everything. Let's face it, printing isn't the most exciting activity and most printing apps aren't going to capture the imagination; however, exploiting the popularity of social media and/ or making it easier to print via the Cloud or mobile internet definitely look like the way forward.
Of all the images we capture, it's estimated that 83% of them are never printed and remain in digital form. With the rise of the digital age and increasing awareness of our impact on the environment, it would seem that the demand for printed material is becoming less and less. However, while there was a 1% decrease in pages printed in Western Europe from 2009 to 2010, there was a 14% increase across CEMA (Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa) and the EMEA region as a whole printed 3 billion pages a day (source: International Data Corporation). Clearly, the paperless age is not with us yet and there is still a huge market for printers and printing.
2012 could be just as good, or even better than 2011 with the Apple iPad 3 due to be released in March (or so it's rumoured) and the iPhone 5 expected in mid-2012, not to mention the Samsung Galaxy S III and a host of other tablets and smartphones in the pipeline. A recent article in PC Advisor claims that workers are ditching their laptops in favour of iPads - a trend we expect to continue and one which can't be ignored. The PC and laptop are hardly on their last legs just yet but the demand for printers which can connect to smartphones and tablets, plus associated apps is only going to increase.
So, in conclusion, 2012 is going to see business and home users continue to move from single function to multifunction devices and we'd expect inkjet multifunction devices in particular to lead the way. Printer manufacturers have already started to realise the potential of mobile and cloud printing, and 2012 will the see the launch of more and more devices capable of exploiting this potential. HP’s ePrint devices and the Kodak Hero range are already there and Canon has released a small number of devices with advanced mobile features. Epson has its own range of Connect printers which feature e-mail print and Epson iPrint, with a few also capable of connecting to the cloud. By the end of the year, there will be many more devices like this on the market and, surely, it's only be a matter of time before cloud and mobile printing become standard.
by Anthony Morgan