When Apple announced that printing from iOS devices would become a reality with the release of iOS 4.2 and AirPrint, a lot of us at TUAW were very excited. This would make iPads and iPhones even more useful. I kept thinking that the ability to tap on my iPhone screen and make a print of a photo would be very cool. Well, the reality of AirPrint is that printing without third-party software running on your Mac or PC is only available on 11 HP printers that are referred to as supporting ePrint. This is a zero configuration, wireless-enabled network printing protocol that allows printing from any smartphone or computer without installing drivers or software.
I recently had an opportunity to do a hands-on review of an ePrint-enabled printer; the HP Photosmart Premium e-All-in-One C310 Printer (US$199.99, currently available with a $50 mail-in rebate). What I discovered is that HP's ePrint technology and iOS devices are made for each other; the printing capability from iPhones, iPod touches and iPads is seamless and speedy. For more on the capabilities of this printer, click the Read More link.
Setup of this printer is incredibly simple. Without looking at the instructions or quick-start document, I opened the box, took out the printer, removed all of the tape and plastic that protects the printer during shipment, installed the print cartridges, popped paper into the main paper tray and photo paper into the photo tray, and then I turned on the printer. There's a first-time configuration, which the printer runs automatically, that takes about 6 minutes to complete. After following simple prompts on the bright, built-in touchscreen display, I finally got to the point where I needed to enter my network passphrase. The printer joined the network, and I was ready to rock and roll.
I've put together a short video that shows the printer in action, so I won't go into too much detail about what it can do other than summarize it here. First, there are a number of Print Apps that can be downloaded and installed directly on the printer. With the Print Apps, you don't have to even start up your computer or iOS device -- getting a map, recipe, news or weather report is as simple as calling up the Print App on the touchscreen, and then tapping a print button when you need a hard copy.
The next cool feature is the zero-configuration printing capability. On a Mac, you still need to add the printer using the Print & Fax System Preference, but there's no need to install drivers or software unless you want additional functionality like scanning, copying and the like. I'd love to see Apple add the capability for these printers to be automatically added to the list of available printers on the Mac. On iOS devices, the printer just shows up in the list of available printers. Since I am sharing an old HP Deskjet 6840 printer from my Mac using Printopia, I had three existing "printers" on iOS -- the Deskjet 6840, PDF to Dropbox and PDF to my Mac. The new Photosmart printer just showed up in the list of printers on the network available to my iPad and iPhone, with no configuration required.
The final big feature is the ability to print from virtually anywhere. Each ePrint-enabled HP printer has its own email address. Once you register the printer online, any Word, Excel, PowerPoint, text, PDF or image (JPG, PNG and other formats) file can be emailed to the unique email address, and within a short amount of time, it will print on your printer. I could see where this could be useful for someone like my mother, who refuses to use a computer of any type. I could send emails to her with pictures, recipes or just a nice message, and they'd show up on her printer for her to pick up and read.
About the only thing you can't currently print from email are web pages, but HP says that they're working on dedicated solutions to support printing web pages from mobile devices. There is a maximum attachment size for the print from email feature -- currently that's 5MB per email.
I was impressed with how the iPhone and iPad worked with this printer. When I printed from Pages, for example, the printer "knew" that I wanted to print it out on standard 8-1/2 x 11-inch paper. Printing a photo from the Photo Library, the printer grabbed photo paper from the photo tray. Very cool. I plan on being very sneaky and showing my wife how to print photos and other documents from her iPad and iPhone, so maybe she'll decide we need to get an ePrint printer for Christmas.
While I tested just the C310a e-All-in-One printer, there are 10 other Deskjet and Officejet printers that support the same functionality, and HP says that they will be announcing more ePrint printers in the future. The D110a is a bit slower than the C310 I tested, but for $69 after mail-in rebate, just about anyone can afford the power of printing from any device and any location.
Take a look at the video for other comments and to see how the HP Photosmart Premium e-All-in-One C310a printer works. (YouTube link here for those watching from iPad / iPhone / iPod touch.)