By Amit Agarwal
Mark Lennihan/Associated Press
Greg Joswiak, vice president of iPod and iPhone marketing at Apple Inc., spoke during the HP Innovation Summit in New York, Sept. 20, 2010
Our computing habits have changed dramatically in the last few years. For news and emails, we have mostly shifted from the desktop computer to mobile phones and tablets. But there’s at least one reason why we keep going back to the desktop – to print stuff.
The good old printer in our homes is connected to the desktop by a USB cable, and there’s no way we can attach that cable to our mobile devices. However, there are ways to send documents from our mobile device directly to the printer, effectively bypassing the desktop.
The easiest option is to switch to a wireless printer. Some of the newer printer models from companies like HP, Canon, and EPSON are AirPrint enabled, meaning you can print documents, photos and web pages directly from your iPhone or iPad over a Wi-Fi network without requiring a computer. The Apple support website has a complete list of printers that include support for AirPrint.
HP’s ePrint range of wireless printers are AirPrint enabled as well, but they also offer email-based printing (WSJ review). Your printer is assigned a unique email address and any document or photo that you can send to this address is immediately printed. Thus, you can print files from virtually any mobile device as long as that device can send emails without requiring any special apps. Your mobile device need not be in the same Wi-Fi zone as your printer.
If you aren’t planning to invest in a new printer, consider getting a wireless print server. This is a simple hardware connector (pretty much like a router) that can quickly turn your wired printer into a wireless printer.
They work something like this: You connect your classic printer to the print server unit using the same USB cable that came with the printer and, once attached, any wired or wireless computer (laptops) will be able send print jobs to that printer provided the machines are in the same network. You can easily find several mobile apps in the Android and iTunes App store that can send print jobs from a phone or tablet to a network-connected printer over Wi-Fi.
The other useful alternative, which requires no additional hardware, is Google Cloud Print. Launch the Google Chrome web browser on the computer that is physically connected to your USB printer and go to the Options page in Chrome to associate that printer with your Google account.
Once the local printer is registered, you’ll be able to print documents on this printer from any other computer or mobile phone, provided you are signed-in with the same Google Account. The mobile versions of both Gmail and Google Docs (now Google Drive) allow direct printing of email messages and documents to any associated Google Cloud Printer. Alternatively, you can upload the document to the Google Cloud Print website on your laptop and send it to any registered printer without messing with the cables.
Finally, you can also explore mobile printing using Dropbox. You run a little program on your computer that monitors a particular Dropbox folder and as soon it finds a file in the watched folder, it sends it to the printer. Since Dropbox has apps for all popular mobile platforms, this setup will let you send print jobs from any smartphone.
The one big limitation with the Cloud Print and Dropbox approach is that your computer connected to the printer should always be turned on.
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