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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Print is becoming a near-synonym for things outdated—books and newspapers are struggling, tablets are finally getting to consumers, and all things ink-on-paper are starting to see the beginning of the end.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).