With its print-head in the clouds

Last week in New York, small office home office (soho) behemoth, HP, launched what it dubbed the first cloud printing solution for consumers and small businesses.

The proposition was simple: Rather than print your documents from a computer connected directly to it or at least on the same wireless network, you would be able to retrieve documents or pictures from, perhaps, your online Flickr account or Google Docs.

This certainly makes sense since more companies are offering cloud-based offerings. For example, Microsoft recently announced free web based offerings of Microsoft Office with the ability to store all your documents on Skydrive (offered as part of live.com).

Additionally, with the impending Chrome OS, it is hotly rumoured that Google will up the ante with Google Docs and offer a more substantial online storage solution integrated with their online apps – the fabled G-Drive.

In the meantime, HP’s soho business has noted that consumers are buying fewer printers as their home environments become increasingly networked. Should they be worried? Wasn’t it a former CEO of Xerox who once referred to the idea of the paperless office as undesirable as the paperless bathroom? Isn’t the same true of households?

But the reality is that HP is not overly concerned with customers not buying multiple inkjet printers – since their business model is pretty much reliant on the purchase of printing substrates such as special photographic paper and ink cartridges. Therefore, it’s more important that the printers that they do sell are picking up the slack by being used more productively.

This is what businesses do. They look at threats and try to turn them intoopportunities. Online storage and document management is no different.

The new ‘e-All-in-One’ printers for home and business start at £99. These will be the first printers able to access directly to the web content like colouring pages and 3D characters and HP quick forms. But it appears that the primary way to send documents will be by emailing them – barely a cloud solution – and the lack of intelligence in the way the printers handle emailed documents is likely to cause problems. For example, from my iPad I tried to print a spreadsheet. Lo and behold, it printed this landscape document as two separate portrait pages. Imagine if I sent a 250 word manuscript to it!

Of course, the printers do allow white list and black list email address control to prevent spamming or to only allow prints from certain email addresses, but this doesn’t solve the problem mentioned above.

HP is hoping that their new printers will attract third party app developers who will create the apps for that will sit on the printer so you would be able to pull your own documents directly from the cloud – and it looks like they are working very closely with the likes of Google. Yet service providers already have their plates full trying to develop apps for numerous smartphone platforms.

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