HP Consumer Printers Apps

HP Consumer Printers Apps

Our phones have apps.  Facebook has apps.  Even our televisions have apps.  But are we ready for our printers to have apps?  Following the news conference this morning at the HP IPG Innovation Summit, I had the chance to visit the HP suite and meet with Stephen Nigro, Senior VP of Inkjet and Web Solutions, and Jeff Walter, Product Manager, to discuss how HP has integrated apps into two of its new consumer printers, the Photosmart e-Station and the Envy All-in-One.

In developing their newest line of printers, it was not enough to simply create new technologies, according to Nigro, HP sought to create new use cases.  Printers have traditionally been thought of as an accessory to be used in tandem with a desktop or laptop computer.  Although all-in-one printers can fax and copy without data coming from a computer, consumers still see a printer as a peripheral that sits on an office desk.  By developing web-connected, application-loaded “ePrinters”, HP seeks to develop a new category of printers in the same way that smartphones and HDTVs are new categories of mobile phones and televisions.  Like these analogous categories, Nigro also hopes that the ePrinter is a fast growing segment of the market (HP expects to sell 5 million web-connected printers in 2010 and another 15 million in 2011.)

According to Nigro, when developing this new category of printers, HP had to ask several questions.  Where does print fit into ecosystems outside of the computer desk?  What kinds of applications are appropriate for the printer and applicable for the customer?  As often as pundits claim that print is dead, there is still a desire for holding a piece of paper or having a physical copy of a photograph.  The key for ePrinter applications is that they remain appropriate for the medium.  As Walter expressed several times, as much as he’d love to have “Angry Birds” on a printer, it just doesn’t fit the ecosystem.

Just as mobile applications are designed for specific sizes of device screens, HP’s applications differ for each of its printers.  After all, the e-Station has a 7” touchscreen that can be removed and used like a tablet PC, while the Envy has a fixed screen of less than 3.5”.  Both printers have a Facebook app that lets you view and print your photos, but the e-Station app also allows you to see updates in your news feed.  The e-Station, with Android running under HP’s skin, also has more robust applications beyond the more simple ones on the Envy that let you view news stories or access online photos accounts (on services like Flickr, Picasa, Photbucket, and HP’s Snapfish.)  For example, one can download e-books from a Barnes & Noble app or create their own news magazine from RSS feeds.  Because the screen is detachable, the user can then take the e-book or e-magazine to the couch while still using the e-Station as a standard all-in-one printer.

One application that was touted both in the morning news conference and in my meeting was one that gave a user the ability to print boarding passes in fewer button presses by using an app that interfaces with an airline’s website instead of a web browser.  This struck me as the kind of app that has a good chance of catching traction even early in the product’s life cycle.  While one may jump to the conclusion that other apps will only be used if a consumer is too lazy to turn on his or her computer, I remember saying just that when smartphones first became popular.  Then I found myself grabbing my iPod Touch to check game scores instead of walking into the next room to use my laptop!

Since the category is new, the number and types of apps will grow.  As Walter explained, the apps and contents both reside on HP’s cloud, so only rendering of images is done by the device.  This means that HP can update or add apps without requiring the consumer to download new versions (like users on iOS or Android devices are currently used to.)  Because apps are on the cloud, it also means that communication with other cloud services is down through the same conduit.  For example, the printers can serve Google Docs.  Just as the enterprise machines allow for users to upload data (such as in the Intuit Quickbooks example from this morning), one could scan a document into one’s Google Docs collection with an e-Printer.

While the marketplace for printer-based applications is a new one, both Nigro and Walter explained that external developers would soon have a chance to leave their mark on it.  Once the use cases have been built (and the market monetized), according to Nigro, HP will look to developers and businesses to see where the marketplace can be extended.  In the meantime, Walter notes that developers can get involved through betas.  Of course, one can also always involve one’s self in the process by buying a printer, he joked.

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