Review: 6 AirPrint solutions for iPhones and iPads
The best mobile printing options for large networks, small offices, and personal useFollow @infoworld
It's amazing how much you can do digitally these days. More and more, documents stay digital, moving from person to person over email, file shares, and cloud storage, never to see a sheet of paper. And more and more "paperwork" processes, from expense reports to vacation approvals, happen over email and via apps. The closest to print many documents get is being saved as a PDF copy for archival purposes, to be printed (or faxed -- another dying technology) later should the need arise.
Yet there are times we need to print: An airline boarding pass or ticket to a show. A checklist to bring into the store or specifications to bring to the shop. Medical records to be shared with a new doctor. Résumés. A backup copy of directions you can glance at while driving. Yes, even some of those are becoming increasingly digital, but printing isn't dead, even if it is rarer.
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When you need to print, you need to print. Computers have been able to do so for years, but not the mobile devices increasingly pushing PCs aside for many tasks. Apple didn't offer printing until fall 2010, when iOS 4.2 introduced the driverless AirPrint technology. Very few devices supported it then, and today you'll find backing mostly in inkjet color printers, not so much the kinds of high-volume laser printers used in businesses large and small. A year ago, Apple eliminated the technical loophole that let apps print outside of the AirPrint protocol, forcing developers to support AirPrint and its accompanying printers. (Apple has a nice primer on which iOS devices and new printers support AirPrint natively, along with some troubleshooting tips.)
Google's Android has no print support at all, and Google's Chrome OS goes through a clunky service called CloudPrint that uses your Windows PC or Mac as a print server -- an inelegant approach implemented poorly by Google. For all intents and purposes, mobile printing today means iOS printing.
The good news is that there are now several options to print from your iOS devices when on a Wi-Fi network -- and one to print from Android devices. Best of all, you don't have to buy a new printer to use AirPrint. The protocol is now available for use in network devices, not just within printers. It's easier to support those legacy printers that work just fine and are, frankly, cheaper to run than today's printers, which are designed to use high-priced, low-capacity toner and inks to fill printer makers' coffers.