HP to Announce "Printers Built for the iPhone Age," Without Irony

Print is becoming a near-synonym for things outdated—books and newspapers are struggling, tablets are finally getting to consumers, and all things ink-on-paper are starting to see the beginning of the end. It's not here yet; ebooks represent a mere 5% of book sales in 2010, for one thing. But certainly the writing's on the wall.

Not so, says HP. According to the New York Times, HP will announce tomorrow a new initiative on printers that will focus, and I am not making this phrase up, on "printers for the iPhone age."

The new printers seem fine, from the little I can glean from the NYT article. They'll be Wi-Fi connected, boast touchscreen interfaces (though not with the newly acquired Palm WebOS interface quite yet), and be able to print by emailing a document to a unique email address. HP will also be setting up about 7,000 printing kiosks around the country.

The new printers will be assigned an individual address, and will print anything you email to it. The idea is that somebody can email you some document, you can read it on your smartphone, and forward it to your printer, which will have it printed out when you get home. No dealing with pain-in-the-ass drivers or software downloads, no need for USB cables.

Don't get me wrong, that's a nice new feature. If I ever had occasion to print anything out, I'd be interested, though I can't say I'd be much interested in paying the $100-$400 price they'll command upon release (sometime this month for certain models). But that's the rub: people just aren't printing as much. That's not really something that can be battled with better features.

HP gives examples like printed-out wallpaper, greeting cards, and coloring books. But wallpaper's gimmicky, greeting cards already have wide popularity digitally, and coloring books are tons of fun on an iPad. I'm not saying nobody prints anymore, or that these products will fail, but HP keeps emphasizing itself as a printer maker—and in the age of digital print, touch interfaces, and pocketable computers, it seems ill-advised. But then again, I'm certainly not in their target market, not having owned a printer since high school and not having physically printed anything out in at least two years. And we know HP's showing a healthy profit, so maybe I'm underestimating the desire to print out emails. What do you guys think?

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in San Francisco (no link for that one—you'll have to do the legwork yourself).

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  • raz godelnik

    I believe that this is a bad move for HP, a lose-lose strategy that is both bad for the environment and their business. Why? 1) Individuals and companies use less and less paper. And it looks like an irreversible trend. 2) Printing equals more waste and more carbon footprint.

    HP tries to look as it is heading forward, but actually by encouraging individuals and companies to print more it moves backwards. I have no idea why the world's largest technology company, which is known for being so innovative, doesn't look for sustainable innovations that will generate not only income but also eco-friendly solutions.

    I would encourage HP directors to look into the way JP Morgan is working to assist businesses to switch into paperless operations, saving these businesses a lot of money and creating a new source of revenues for JP Morgan. Win-Win? Definitely!

  • Robert Baker

    I enjoyed the article, but "... that's the rub: people just aren't printing as much." Where did that come from? I don't have any paper-usage stats, and like Bernard, I can only speak to my own experience, but as a scientist and father, I can say that my printing has gone up, as has that of my colleagues. Whereas originally care was taken to avoid printing too much (time, supply costs), now when "changes" are made to a document, even if it's just a few commas, a new printout is performed. And every creation of my 6-year-old son is printed, so he can show it with pride.
    I think printing habits may be somewhat age-related: younger colleagues who are both more environmentally friendly and used to large hi-res monitors read on their monitors. But older people may just be more comfortable (by habit?) reading from paper.
    I like that HP has made printing just a bit easier. I hope that doesn't encourage even more wasteful printing.

  • Matt Urquhart

    This seems like a cool option - especially being able to print to someone else's printer (such as my grandparents' -- great tip, LizatHP!) but I really don't print much to paper (tons to PDF though). Even at my university where there was a cross-campus BYOP (bring your own paper) policy on otherwise free printers, I printed only what I was not allowed to submit electronically. This being said, my father prints 50+ emails per week (which seems a little ridiculous to me), to include record of business correspondence for each client in a file with related paperwork.

    Clearly some people still print. And although this technology might not be enough to make people switch from their current driver-driven printers, this could be a game-changer for people setting up their next print station... Great job HP!

  • LizatHP

    Disclaimer: I'm an HP employee. But I'm also a mom, consumer, mobile geek, etc. These new features, to me anyway, are pretty groundbreaking. It's simple - if you can email, you can print. Gone are the days you need to set up a driver... instead I can use an iPad, smartphone, or my PC when I'm working at Starbucks to send an email to my printer at home for a print. Any type of info I want from the web or documents or photos I want to share that can now be printed by simply emailing. In fact, I plan to buy one of these new printers for my parents... how easy will it be for me to snap a photo of their grandkids with my phone and email it to their printer address? It will show up as a glossy 4x6 photo at their house, 180 miles away. ePrint is a convenience to the consumer and is a huge mobility win.

    And as for the print apps (apps that can be accessed from the printer), to date they have been consumer focused but today HP announced the print apps will extend to business customers as well. I will say with certainty - the print apps that feature such things as greeting cards, coloring pages, etc., are very popular and I can personally vouch for the usefulness of them. I'm thinking about my 4 year old... he came home from school sick last week and spent his "recovery" printing out Dora the Explorer coloring pages and Disney stickers. I don't have to boot up the PC since the printer is already connected via Wifi - and the 4 yr old can actually do all the printing himself. So as a mom, I use the printer and apps much, much more than I ever did when the printer was a static device. And I suspect others do as well. It's an exciting time to be working in this group and even more fun to help shape the innovation ahead. Thanks for the article and discussion!

  • Orrin

    While at home I have certainly printed less over the past couple of years (this is usually because I would rather "print" a document to PDF and save the resulting PDF file rather than print a hard copy) I thinking printing is still very much alive in the small and medium sized business world. I believe that features such as the emailing feature you described are already available on larger, business-model devices and eventually bringing these features down to consumer-models is standard procedure and predictable. I would very much be in the market for a $100 device that would making printing an easy task from any device that can send email, I would probably even print more if it worked flawlessly.

  • Bernard Droege

    From what I have been reading, the author is in a very small minority of non-printing people. Studies have shown that we are printing more now than ever before. This may not apply to traditional forms of printing like periodicals, but paper is being consumed in vast quantities. In my field of mechanical design especially, we use exponentially more paper. There was a time when one large sheet of velum was used for days, even weeks, with erasure after erasure during the process. Now, we print several proofs a day of our CAD files. Our paper recycling bin is now the size of a dumpster instead of a waste basket.