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Does Web-Based Printing (Finally!) Have A Future?

HP is aiming its new Web-enabled printer mostly at the home consumer market. But it could easily turn out to be a great fit for small -- or even not-so-small -- companies.
HP is aiming its new Web-enabled printer mostly at the home consumer market. But it could easily turn out to be a great fit for small -- or even not-so-small -- companies.Here is what a SFGate.com tech columnist had to say about what HP bills as its first truly Web-connected printer: "Hewlett-Packard this morning announced a new all-in-one printer that can connect to the web, giving people a quick way to print out coupons, maps and tickets.

The HP Photosmart Premium with TouchSmart Web will come with a 4.3-inch touch screen that will allow users to access free web applications built specifically for the printer. Customers will be able to access content from providers such as Coupons.com, Nickelodeon, Fandango, Google, USA Today, DreamWorks Animation, Web Sudoku or Weathernews Inc. There's no need to fire up your laptop or desktop and surf the web. The idea is that you get a shortcut to printing out web content.

Other companies and developers will be able to access open tools to create new applications for the printer platform. The printer will go on sale this fall for $399." I did a double-take when I browsed this article: Haven't we been talking about Web-enabled printers since, well, forever?

Yes, we have. But apparently, nobody actually got around to building one.

Blogger Rob Enderle saw the story and hit upon two angles that I found interesting: The PhotoSmart's use of an open, Linux-based platform that will prove inviting to application developers; and the fact that HP is basically marketing this as a cloud-enabled printing solution: "But what sets the HP printer apart is a large iPhone-like display on the front that runs atop a Linux-based platform that connects it to the cloud. Using an HP TouchSmart-like interface, this operating platform is then connected to a variety of software-as-a-service and/or cloud-based applications, which add more functions.

Demonstrated applications included Fandango ticketing, coupon printing, and printable games and activities for adults and children such as Sudoku and connect-the-dots. In addition, news mashups were demonstrated in which the printer would print a custom "newspaper" collected from a variety of sites based on the interests of the user.

The model, much like the iPhone, is based on an increasing variety of applications that could include boarding passes, daily mental exercises, expense reports that would be auto filled out and simply require boxes checked before being scanned back for submission (I hate expense reports), or a picture sent by a loved one that could provide an inexpensive alternative to a networked digital picture frame." As Rob points out, it's not a great leap of faith to envision developers building business-friendly apps for HP's new printer. By crossing an open, Linux-based app-development platform with the simplicity of a cloud-connected IT appliance -- all under the banner of a top-tier technology vendor -- this is one consumer-tech innovation that may not stay confined to the consumer-tech market for very long.