HP TouchPad Printing
So far, most tablet makers have found it a challenge to make printing from a tablet easy. But by introducing a familiar printer icon into its core apps on the HP TouchPad, HP has made tablet printing as intuitive as it is on the desktop. And the feature isn’t exclusive to the core apps: WebOS makes printer services available to any app developer that wishes to integrate printing. HP tries to simplify printing largely by bringing the function to a more obvious level. However, our early experiences show that the feature is a work in progress that’s as dependent on the individual app as it is on the OS.
That HP has pursued printing at all shouldn’t be a surprise. HP has a vested interest in making sure that users keep on printing, given its ink sales. But set aside that cynicism for a moment. In offering integrated printing, HP recognizes users’ ongoing, genuine need to print documents–whether they’re forms that must be signed and faxed (how 20th century), maps, or files or photos.
The ability to print feels all the more important if a device is vying to replace your existing laptop or desktop, even for partial use. And for HP, which has already declared its intention to put WebOS everywhere (including on printers, desktops, and laptops), implementing easy wireless printing was a critical goal.
How Printing Works
With the TouchPad, you can print using most HP networked printers, both wired and Wi-Fi, made in the past five years.
According to HP, the printing function on the TouchPad is based on PCL (Printer Command Language), which has remained the dominant PC printer language for over three decades. You can also use ePrint, HP’s (entirely separate) print-by-email service, if you have a printer that supports that feature.
WebOS provides a Print service that app developers can tap into; that service handles basic printing support, such as discovering the printer, querying it, and sending raster data. The app queries the Print service for details on the capabilities supported by the connected printer, and then renders content into HTML or JPEG files for printing according to those available print properties. The Print service then rasterizes that content before sending it on to the printer.
HP says that its Print service theoretically has no limitations as to what content it can print. It’s just up to the app developer to decide whether to include the print functionality, and to manage the rendering process into HTML or JPEGs for passing the material to the Print service.
Not all of the core, preinstalled apps have printing capability; for example, the simple memo app doesn’t let you print, but the email app, the Web browser, and the Photos & Videos app do. So if you’re trying to print on a TouchPad, the first thing you need to do is determine whether the app you’re in even allows printing.
That approach isn’t unlike how Apple has handled printing. On iOS 4.2 devices, you can print wirelessly using AirPrint; ironically, though, the list of supported printers includes only HP printers–and only a small subset thereof (26, to be exact). AirPrint allows printing from Apple’s iBooks, Mail, Photos, and Safari apps, and from iOS apps that support the feature. To reach it, you need to tap the share arrow and then tap the print button. Otherwise, you’re left contending with third-party apps such as PrintCentral, or with apps for specific printers.
HP takes a slightly different tack, and goes one step further, by allowing printing to rise a level higher on some apps. For example, Adobe Reader, the email app, and the Photos & Videos app each have a printer icon that sits right at the top of the screen. Other apps, such as the Web browser, tuck the option away under the menu drop-down at the upper-left corner.
Tap on either of those options, and you’ll call up the printer dialog box. While unique to HP’s TouchPad and consistent with the WebOS aesthetic, the print menu will seem familiar to anyone who has printed documents on a PC or Mac. Just select the printer you want to print to, and then choose the relevant options. For documents, the options supplied include the number of copies, a slider for setting color printing on or off, and choosing the print quality. For pictures in the Photos & Videos app, You could choose between two image sizes: 4 by 6 inches or 5 by 7 inches.
Once you’re done, you press the green Print button. At that point, a notification pops up, and your document is well on its way to coming out of your printer.
Printing is as easy as that, with no convoluted need to email a document to the cloud, or other such workarounds as on competing tablets.
This feature brims with potential: You could quickly print theater tickets, generate a physical map to take with you, output a document for signing and faxing, or print a photo you just received via email. If more apps incorporate the function, You could see printing out everything from kids’ coloring pages to shopping lists to workout-progress results at the gym.
The trick will be to get app developers to integrate the feature, and to do so in a meaningful and practical way.