What to Expect in Printers in 2012

Want to print from your smartphone or tablet–or from another city? The printers of 2012 will handle that for you–and offer other ways to use the Web or email to make printing easier.

By Melissa Riofrio, PCWorld    Dec 25, 2011 9:00 pm

What to Expect in Printers in 2012No matter how clearly our world of online photo albums, Google Docs, and e-cards may seem–yet again–to ring the death for anything on paper, sometimes you still want to print.

But these days, you want to print from whatever device you happen to be using–not just from a PC. The year 2012 will bring more options for mobile printing via a wireless connection to a local device, and for cloud printing–using email as the backbone for printing documents to a local or remote printer with its own email address (and an Internet connection).

Mobile and Cloud Printing in a Nutshell

Mobile printing at the consumer level started with phone apps that let users send photos directly to a nearby printer via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Those simple utilities still exist, but a year or so ago, Apple, Google, HP, and Lexmark began introducing further innovations, bringing us to where we are today.

Apple’s AirPrint, which debuted a year ago, lets you use Wi-Fi to send a wide range of print jobs directly from an iOS device to a nearby AirPrint-compatible printer. Initially, those printers were limited to a handful of HP models, but the growing list now also includes printers from Brother, Canon, Epson, Kodak, and Lexmark. For more information, check Apple’s list of Airprint-compatible printers.

Google Cloud PrintingGoogle’s Cloud Print app, available in what seems to be perpetual beta form, lets users print via email on any printer connected to a computer that has Internet access. New printers designated as Cloud Ready from Epson, HP, and Kodak can receive jobs without the PC middleman (though they still need an Internet connection).

HP and Lexmark: Printer Pioneers

In late 2010, HP unveiled Web-based Print Apps for printing everything from maps and movie tickets to puzzle pages for kids. It also launched the consumer version of ePrint, which lets users email a print job from anywhere to an ePrint-compatible HP printer.

The year 2012 will bring more apps and more compatible printers. Also, HP has relaxed the ePrint process a bit, making it a little more user-friendly and resolving some difficulties associated with printing from certain phones or platforms.

Around the same time, Lexmark’s SmartSolutions–a growing collection of productivity apps available with certain Lexmark small-office printers–added apps that let users display RSS news feeds or the weather report on a printer’s color LCD. Since then, the SmartSolutions collection has grown to include ways to access a number of popular online services, from Facebook and Twitter to Box.net and Evernote. In addition, Lexmark recently launched mobile printing apps for Android, Apple iOS, Google Docs, and Google Cloud Print.

In 2012, More Printers, More Choices

In 2012, vendors that are playing catch-up will give you more choices.

Canon Pixma MG6220 Wireless Inkjet Photo All-In-OneCanon Pixma MG6220 Wireless Inkjet Photo All-In-OneCanon’s fall 2011 lineup included two printers (the Pixma MG6220 and Pixma MG8220) with a number of advanced mobile capabilities: the Easy-PhotoPrint mobile app, for printing photos from compatible Android and Apple smartphones and tablets; Pixma Cloud Link, for printing Google Docs and Gmail attachments from a mobile device; and (for registered users of Canon iMage Gateway or Picasa Web Albums) access to photo albums and printing templates for stationery, calendars, and other pieces.

Another new Canon model, the Pixma MG4120, is partially compatible with Pixma Cloud Link–but only in connection with its photo-oriented features, not with its broader document printing features.

Epson has collected its new mobile and cloud printing services under the umbrella brand of Epson Connect. Email Print lets you send an email message from a mobile device to an enabled Epson printer, which can then print the message or its attachment. Epson iPrint permits direct printing via Wi-Fi to compatible iOS and Android devices. A handful of new Epson printers are also Cloud Ready. A full list of Epson printers with mobile and cloud printing capabilities is available on the vendor’s website.

Kodak is embracing mobile and cloud printing enthusiastically. Most of its new models are Cloud Ready, and all of its printers can use Kodak’s own Email Print to email print jobs as attachments. Kodak is also trying to one-up HP ePrint by accepting larger email messages and email attachments than HP does.

The year 2012 will be a good one for printers. Though the underlying technology hasn’t changed much, the addition of mobile printing via Wi-Fi and of cloud printing via email now allows printers to follow their users onto their smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices.

Senior Editor Melissa Riofrio covers printers for PCWorld.

AT&T-T-Mobile deal? Either way, customers lose

The Department of Justice is trying to put the kibosh on AT&T’s proposed buy-out of T-Mobile, saying it would result in “higher prices, fewer choices and lower quality products for mobile wireless services.”

While this is true, it’s just as likely that the damage is already done. Why would a phone shopper commit to a two-year contract with a troubled carrier, whose parent company shows little interest in improving? Either outcome seems equally dismal, at least in the near term, from the user perspective.

T-Mobile is a decent fourth-place carrier, with excellent pricing and a higher speed 4G network that has held its own against the larger carriers. Subscribers who live in big cities, where T-Mobile’s coverage is concentrated, experience satisfactory performance and are fairly positive on customer service.

On the flipside, AT&T has well-known performance problems, from notoriously persistent iPhone call drops to a so-called “4G” network that in many markets shows no speed advantage over the 3G network, despite promotion suggesting the contrary.

The merger was supposed to layer T-Mobile’s network on top of AT&T’s compatible, larger, but not-quite-so-organized one. I’m no network engineer, but it seems like reasonable proposal to bring desperately needed improvements to AT&T’s massive audience. Still …

If AT&T gets permission to buy T-Mobile:

  • There’s a good chance we lose the great discount pricing that makes T-Mobile stand out.
  • There’s no guarantee of any kind of network performance boost in the immediate future.
  • The merger could trigger a counter-merger, where Verizon Wireless tries to swallow Sprint whole, reducing the number of serious national carriers to just two.

The government’s fears are reasonable, not only because of the immediate reduction of choices, but the potentially more hazardous long-term outlook. Still, the damage may already be done. Who wants to be a T-Mobile subscriber now?

If AT&T’s purchase of T-Mobile gets blocked:

  • Subscribers will continue to feel uncertainty about signing on with T-Mobile.
  • T-Mobile’s network upgrades may be less frequent, as its corporate parent, Deutsche Telekom, grows tired of pouring money into it.
  • The discounted pricing that gives T-Mobile cachet may not sustain — fellow discount-friendly carrier Sprint was forced to raise its smartphone plan pricing to stay afloat.
  • AT&T’s network may continue to experience technical difficulties, and its 4G strategy may continue to stall.

Besides competitive pricing, T-Mobile’s biggest boon is its huge selection of great Android phones. To top that, there’s even a chance that the next iPhone will turn up in its stores. But even this wouldn’t be a coup: The carrier would get it along with Sprint, Verizon and longtime iPhone seller AT&T.

There are murmurs that T-Mobile could merge with Sprint instead. Subscriber-wise, third and fourth place could combine to form a nice-sized third contender. However, the technologies of the two companies are wildly different, and Sprint still suffers for having acquired the incompatible Nextel. (There’s also talk that Sprint might join with Metro PCS, which makes a tad more sense.)

Regardless of whether this deal goes through, the customer may have already lost.

BY Wilson Rothman, Site