HP printers get smart

Hewlett-Packard showed off technologies that will make its upcoming printers more intelligent and versatile.

By M. MADHAVAN intech@thestar.com.my

HONG KONG: Hewlett-Packard says printers will never be the same again as new technologies in the workplace will change how users view and use printers in the future.

The company is planning to make its printers web-enabled so that users will be able to print from almost any device and from anywhere.

“We know that our customers want an easy way to print their content, anywhere, anytime. We’re making that a reality by giving people the power to print from any web-connected device — smartphones, netbooks and more — to our printer,” said Vyomesh Joshi, HP’s executive vice-president for imaging and printing group.

And to expand the functionality of its printers, the company will include numerous innovative applications that run directly on the printer itself.

Pain points

The push to make its printers more accessible is due to the explosion in the number of smart devices and operating systems.

The proliferation of such devices has actually made it difficult for companies like HP which has to make its printers compatible with the various devices.

It is a difficult task as a special software driver must be made for each device so that it can seamlessly communicate with the printer.

But HP has come up with a unique solution that will allow it to bypass this issue so that it is possible to print from any device that has e-mail capability.

By assigning its printer a unique e-mail address, it will now be possible to sent print jobs via e-mail messages with attachments.

To enable this feature, the printer has to be first registered with HP’s ePrint portal which will assign a unique e-mail address to the printer.

The unique e-mail address will consist of random letters and numbers so it’s not easily copied, the company said.

After that a user, for instance, will be able to print a Word document stored on a phone by sending it via e-mail to the printer.

The e-mail will first go to HP’s ePrint data centre which will filter out spam and scan for viruses. If it’s a valid e-mail message, the server will then send the print job to the printer.

It takes about three to four minutes to complete printing depending on file size and Internet speed, said Joshi.

Once the document is printed — or if there is a malfunction — the user will receive a status update via e-mail.

Currently, HP is enforcing an arbitrary 5MB limit to the file size, which it said it will review from time to time to match the requirement of its customers.

The web-enabled printers will support a number of formats, including Microsoft Office, PDF document and JPG photo. Support for OpenOffice and iWorks are in the work but there are no fixed release dates yet.

As the printer is easily accessed via e-mail, there are also several security measures in place to ensure that only authorised users can use it.

For instance, users can create a “white list” of approved users and only those on the list would be able to print remotely. This would help counter spammers should the e-mail address be discovered, the company said.

Users can also change the printer’s unique e-mail by re-registering again on the HP ePrint portal, which would assign a different e-mail address to the printer.

However, printing via e-mail currently has its limits. Users can only print an entire document and can’t select a particular page. They also can only make one print copy per e-mail message — to make more copies they will have to resend the e-mail.

The e-mail messages will be stored on HP’s server for 24 hours, after which they will be purged.

Applications aplenty

A printer is only as smart as the functions it offers and usually they have a fixed number of features.

HP is hoping to change that by including applications that run directly on the printer — without the need for an external device such as a computer — that will allow users to print free, personalised content directly from the Web.

The applications, which can be accessed from the printer’s touchscreen will allow users to print customised daily news, colouring pages from popular entertainment sites, personal calendars and more.

The printers will also include Web Sudoku for printing out brain teasers as well as Quick Forms for printing notebook, to-do list and music sheet templates.

HP has also teamed up with DreamWorks Animation so that the printer provides one-touch access to fun colouring pages and templates based on movies such as Shrek and Madagascar.

The DreamWorks Annimation app will also allow users to view upcoming movie trailers. HP said it is hoping to work with local partners to create additional apps that are customised for each country.

It is currently working with partners from South Korea, Japan and Australia.

Four to the fore

The first four colour inkjet printers that will be web-enabled and to support HP’s new features are the Photosmart Wireless e-All-in-One, Photosmart Plus e-All-in-One, Photosmart Premium e-All-in-One and the Photosmart Premium Fax e-All-in-One.

The Photosmart Wireless e-All-in-One printer, which has a 2.4in touchscreen, has a rated print speed of 32ppm (pages per minute) for monochrome and 32ppm for colour documents.

It has a print resolution of up to 600 x 600dpi (dots per inch) for monochrome and up to 4,800 x 1,200 optimised dpi for colour.

The Photosmart Plus e-All-in-One has a bigger touchscreen which is 3.5in in size. It shares the same rated print speed as the above model.

Meanwhile, the Photosmart Premium e-All-in-One has the biggest screen – a 4.3in display. It has a rated print speed of 33ppm for monochrome and 32 for colour documents.

Finally, the Photosmart Premium Fax e-All-in-One, which has a 2.4in touchscreen, has a rated print speed of 34ppm for monochrome and 32ppm for colour. It can fax as fast as three pages per second.

According to Joshi, all future Photosmart printers that cost upwards of U$S99 (RM330) will be web-enabled.

The Photosmart Wireless e-All-in-One has a list price of US$99 (RM330) and is expected to start shipping this month. The Photosmart Plus e-All-in-One (US$149 or RM490) and Photosmart Premium e-All-in-One (US$199 or RM660) are expected to start shipping in October.

The Photosmart Premium Fax e-All-in-One which has a list price of US249 (RM820) is expected to ship in September. However, actual local availability and prices could not be confirmed at press time.

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