In 2012, we were all still figuring the internet of things out. And while most of the tech world was asking if our toasters could connect to the cloud, a London studio called Berg released a particularly adorable take on the future: the Little Printer. It was a receipt printer that could print weather reports, messages, or schedules, quickly and at a very low cost. It effectively brought digital information into the real world–and it also had a super-cute printed face to boot.
Berg had planned to expand on the popular Little Printer’s technology to power the next wave of IoT devices. But the pioneering studio would shutter in 2014, taking extra time to moonlight the Little Printer. The studio turned the printer’s commercial code, which required quite a bit of internal oversight, into an open online platform known as Sirius. Even still, using an old Little Printer required some technical know-how, some specialized hardware, and using a bootstrapped interface. If you owned a Little Printer–but not the expertise to use Sirius–there’s simply no easy way to print anymore. That is, until now.
Ben Pawle, design director at the London studio Nord Projects, was one of the many fans of Little Printer when it launched–and the force behind its new second life. “I’ve still got a few receipt rolls dotted around from back in the day, little dithered photos of moments with friends, of fun messages from holidays, all meaningful enough to keep,” says Pawle. “So we thought we should get it off the ground again.”
Over the last year, working on Fridays as a side project, Nord Projects has patched together Berg’s code and relaunched the Little Printer with a brand-new iOS app.
Not only can that app get your Little Printer working again without any hacks needed, it has new capabilities–including allowing anyone to messaging directly to Little Printers (friends can get a Little Printer’s unique address through sharable codes), and the option to dither print photos from your phone (dithering is in 1-bit black and white resolution, in a pattern inspired by dithering on the original Mac).
“I love what they’ve done,” writes Matt Webb, Berg’s founder, when I asked what he thought of the project over Twitter. “Actually all in all I’m pretty proud of how the product was sunsetted, in the end (although obviously I would prefer it to have not sunsetted at all!)–we kept the original LP servers running for about a year after the team went their separate ways, and used that time to get Sirius in place. And now Nord have been able to release this, I’m delighted.”
So what’s next for Little Printer? It was always a cult product–there are only a few thousand in existence. And while the Little Printer has a new app, the hardware itself isn’t back in production. Nord Projects has understated ambitions; the studio would just like to see people using their Little Printers again, and maybe sharing the codes with family to create a small but fascinating digital-to-print messaging network.
In this sense, the Little Printer still feels like a radical idea. Imagine a world where we didn’t go online to get messages from our friends, where a “sup” could be waiting for you away from a screen, and far from the clutches of Facebook, Twitter, or anyone else.