HP's ePrint strategy is designed to make it easier to print through applications that run through a touchscreen printer console or by sending documents to print to an email address. Unfortunately, Lifehacker's testing of the service suggested that it isn't yet ready for the mass market.
HP announced its ePrint plans earlier this month, and demonstrated it to Asia-Pacific media at a press launch in Hong Kong attended by Lifehacker this week. There's two elements to that strategy, which will be incorporated into all HP printers priced above $129 RRP in Australia (essentially everything except the el cheapo printers with half-filled cartridges that no-one should buy anyway, regardless of the manufacturer).
The first is being able to print any document from any device by automatically assigning a unique email address to each printer, and letting you print by simply sending an email to that address, with the documents, photos or sites you want to print included as attachments. (To prevent your printer being bombarded with spam, you can set a whitelist of email addresses allowed to print to the machine.)
The second is being able to install 'printer apps' directly to the printer itself from an HP-managed app store. These will typically be single-function apps running from the printer's touch screen: HP's demonstration set included Tabbloid, which prints a compilation news stories from your favourite blogs; a Web Sudoku app to produce a daily puzzle for you to complete; and apps from film studios such as Disney and Dreamworks which include the printable content such as colouring books typically found on family movie sites.
I don't know whether print apps will be much more than a niche market anyway — the only one that really grabbed me was the Sudoku option. But they certainly won't stop being a niche market until they perform better than the current bug-ridden generation.
In my testing on the HP Photosmart Premium printer, no web app actually managed to successfully do the job it was designed to do. My first attempt to print from an app hung the machine completely. The Crayola colouring pages application simply printed a blank page. The Sudoku app actually did print, but managed to cut off the top part of the page. Trying to run several of the apps actually resulted in error messages and automatic app uninstallation, a problem that persisted even after several reboots.
Similar problems plagued the printing via email option. Setting this up on the printer is supposed to require nothing more than selecting an 'Enable Web Service', but when I tried that, the printer claimed it couldn't find the already connected wireless network and then got stuck on an endless dialogue box loop.
During a group demonstration on a different group of machines, multiple journalists had trouble even getting jobs sent to the printers. That might perhaps be blamed on an unusually high influx of messages, but when I did finally get a simple email message sent to a printer, it totally failed to print the subject line from the message. Fundamentally, the software on both fronts felt like it was in an alpha state, not ready for release in July, when the first printer model using it (the entry-level $129 model) will appear in Australia.
Being able to print by sending to an email address is an intelligent way of eliminating driver hell, and Google is pursuing similar ideas with its own cloud printing scheme. I hope HP (and its rivals promoting similar schemes) do better with the next version of the software, so it actually works, at least some of the time.
Disclosure: Angus Kidman travelled to Hong Kong as a guest of HP.