ActivePrint (US$3.99) represents a new and intriguing entry into the AirPrint arena. In its natural state, Apple's AirPrint service allows you to wirelessly print documents from your iOS device to an AirPrint-enabled printer on the same network.
We at TUAW have long been big fans of Printopia, a utility that extends AirPrint to any standard printer, not just those with AirPrint capabilities. ActivePrint promises a way to move beyond local networks, so you can print from the road as well as at the office or home.
It works by hosting a Windows or OS X application on your desktop computer. You register the application by your email address (and opt out of promotional emails), and receive a PIN to use. On iOS, you add the address and PIN into the ActivePrint client and you're ready to start printing -- whether you're at home or halfway across the world.
Unlike Printopia and similar products like FingerPrint and handyPrint, which offer wireless printing from any iOS application, you do need to run a separate client on your iOS device. You export data from native apps over to the printing one. iOS's "Open in" system enables you to copy data for printing.
Although the app promotes Dropbox, SkyDrive and Box.net support, it basically tells you to download those clients, and use "Open in" to transfer data. A special "activeprint://" URL scheme lets you transfer web page addresses to the app but it's a bit frustrating to use. As you can see, the interface is pretty cluttered for what should be a simple utility.
After testing the app, my feelings about it are mixed. It's a reasonably interesting idea, allowing you to print from afar. I was a bit challenged trying to come up with solid use cases. Maybe lawyers or real estate agents on the road who have to file contracts could use it, although I'd imagine it would be easier for them to email the files to their office assistants and have them do the printing.
The best scenario I could come up with was printing from a remote office, for example if you're visiting the London office but need to print files in Chicago. Even then, I came up with lots of reasons that system administrators could solve the problem more simply than having to transfer files to an iPad and then move them to a remote host.
The developers suggest that users might want to take advantage of the apps ability to print vacation photos even before returning home. I kept thinking that I'd hate to have to deal with a printer jam when I'm thousands of miles away. Plus, I'd probably want to shut down my home system during extended vacations. It's easier and more fun to email my pics to friends and family rather than build up a large collection of paper at my house.
I found the system of computer host and iOS client to do what it promised. In my testing, all my items printed as expected and the operations were smooth. That said, I felt the iOS client design was ugly and I didn't really enjoy having to keep transferring files over to a separate app. Unfortunately, Apple's developer limitations mean that ActivePrint can not be deployed as an iOS system service, which it really ought to be.
If you do have a need to print from the road, ActivePrint seems to do the job. If you're just looking to convert your non-AirPrint printer for AirPrint access on your local Wi-Fi network, it's a bit Rube-Goldberg compared to the competition.