Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cloud Enabled Mobile Printing

There’s a recent Verizon Wireless commercial in which a hip, creative-type guy rolls up to the front of a big office building in a cab. He pays and gets out, and as he does, he accidentally leaves his thick, color, mechanically bound presentation book sitting on the seat. As the cab drives away, the camera pans to the sad look on his face. He’s going to blow the pitch. As he breaks out his phone, the narrator explains how his Verizon Smartphone will allow him to recover by printing the presentation upstairs (presumably at the client’s office), in color. Cut to the phone’s screen, and a fantasy app allows him to print the document in an amazingly user friendly way. The meeting will proceed, and our Creative’s career has been saved!

The commercial shows a fictionalized application, and its purpose is to sell Smartphones. The coolest thing about it to me is that a major carrier like Verizon is advocating Cloud Printing from mobile devices as a serious business application, on TV! I’ve seen this spot quite a few times now, so apparently the company believes this application is compelling enough that they are spending significant sums of money on airtime promoting the idea.

Cloud Printing can be used for a wide variety of applications, as we’ve discussed here in several posts and, as David and I have discussed in some papers we’ve authored together. Honestly, I think most people don’t really think much about printing from their phone. With the release of the iPad, though, much attention is now being made to the fact that mobile and network-centric devices (representing a new, non-traditional computing paradigm), may be missing or have limited printing capabilities. Mobile devices like Tablets, and Smartphones with bigger screens and faster (i.e., 4G) Internet connections, are already changing the landscape and will drive the need for print capabilities.

It is not such a stretch to envision walking into a conference room, spotting a printer, locating your presentation “in the Cloud” from the phone’s browser or an app, using Cloud Printing software (also accessed from the phone) to direct it to that local printer. Then, since some phones now have built in projectors, too, you pass out the handouts and set the phone down on the board room table to project that same preso! In reality, the document in the Verizon commercial was a complex, bound document that couldn’t be produced on a local printer; it would more likely be produced by a Cloud Printing Service Provider, like Mimeo.com (which, in fact, can be accessed today from your web browser and if you are in New York, we could deliver the document to the prospect’s office on the same day—anywhere else, it would be overnight). But I digress.

There are quite a few exciting companies working on these things and enabling this new printing world. I will talk about several of them here over the next few weeks. One of the most important companies developing solutions in this area is HP. Their new solution, called HP ePrint, is the result an alliance between HP and Research In Motion (RIM), the BlackBerry people.

HP ePrint Enterprise is a cloud-based solution that makes it possible for BlackBerry Smartphone users to send a print job to a network printer. HP says the solution is printer-agnostic, and driverless.

Using HP ePrint, Enterprise users can print e-mail and e-mail attachments, including documents (similar to what was depicted in the Verizon commercial), presentations, reports and photos generated using Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF files, Images, HTML, Text and XPS from their BlackBerry to “registered” printers in their enterprises’ networks. Eventually, HP plans to make ePrint available at public locations in hotels, airports, coffee shops and other spots.

Most mobile devices are already quite good at accessing business applications. But as we’ve discussed, printing is an important function that is missing. Just like in the Verizon commercial, printing ahead from a remote location so documents are available on arrival could be a fantastic productivity enhancer and super convenient, too. According to HP, once the solution is deployed, the user experience is simple: “Hit print” on your Blackberry, choose a printer based on descriptive, relevant qualities and click to select it. GPS-enabled BlackBerries allow searches by location. The user sees a full description of the printer, reviews the selection of e-mail messages and attachments, and clicks Print again to initiate the job.

HP says they are making a three-front attack on the Cloud: collaborating with cloud providers, collaborating with existing cloud users, and offering its own cloud services and cloud-enabled products. Their big vision for HP’s cloud research is focused on delivering an application and computing end-state of Everything-as-a-Service (see a previous blog post and link here on RichInternetPrinting. )

Cloud Printing is here, and the applications are virtually endless. Pun intended!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cloud Printing Becomes a Reality with Scribd and Mimeo

Scribd describes themselves as the largest social publishing and reading site in the world. They make it incredibly simple for anyone to share and discover content on the web and mobile devices. Scribd welcomes tens of millions of readers every month, who pick and choose from tens of millions of documents available, in over 90 languages. Scribd is used by individuals, as well as institutions and corporations like Harvard University and Ford Motor Company. Some of the largest companies in the world are using Scribd to enable document sharing with their global constituencies, and they are using it instead of legacy content and document management systems or building their own web document sharing architectures. Corporations and institutions are able to choose a solution like Scribd because standing up a cloud computing environment to serve very specific applications is becoming a "best practice", versus spending millions on IT resources and software. Scribd itself is a great choice, because it is so easy, flexible, and available, and their reader is become ubiquitous across the web and mobile devices.

Mimeo and Scribd recently announced a partnership to allow Scribd readers to order printed (and, if desired, beautifully finished) versions of millions of documents available. Trip Adler, CEO and co-founder of Scribd said, “With the Mimeo open platform, Scribd was able to quickly implement a solution that offers our readers a convenient, easy to use and cost effective solution that makes printing a seamless experience. Customers can request a printed version of any eligible document in minutes and have it delivered to their doorstep."

If it wasn't clear before, our experience at Mimeo since David and I starting writing this blog (and creating Cloud Printing applications), that there are complementary applications for reading on the web and printing documents. I won't go into much of the details of why here, but if there's interest I will cover it in a later post. Because of this, we've been talking here at RichInternetPrinting, and in other venues like TAGA, for some time about the need to create an environment in which printing can occur when content is created and lives on the web.

Scribd is unique compared to some other applications we've discussed, because the content may or may not originate "in the cloud", it could originate in desktop applications. Scribd is a user generated content repository for documents. Unlike blogs or other web-based UGC, Scribd lets you upload richly formatted text, so documents preserve layouts, fonts and graphics. Because you get unlimited storage (same as with Mimeo), you can manage all your documents online. So then you need a robust way to print them.

Now, the need has never been greater, with the advent of new mobile devices like Tablets-- none of which have any real printing capabilities. So the answer until recently is to somehow email your document to a place where you can download it and print it. Obviously, depending on where you are, there could be a lot of obstacles in the path to success with that approach. Little things like bandwidth and network security policies can ruin your day. With Mimeo and Scribd, you can use your mobile device, and have finished documents delivered to you, in whatever quantity you desire.

In the screenshot above, I was reading a Scribd document entitled, "Arizona Immigration Lawsuit", and I simply clicked on Scribd's Print button on the menu bar at the top of the document. I can choose to print to my desktop computer (assuming I am on a desktop machine, with the ability to print from my browser, with a printer attached on my LAN)-- OR, I can choose "Premium Printing" from Mimeo.

If I choose "Premium Printing", I see this screen, which lets me choose how I want my "book" delivered to me. This is the technology that Mimeo and Scribd developed and deployed together. It uses a combination of Scribd's APIs to get the document, and Mimeo's APIs to send the document and describe how the user wants to have it Manufactured.

Because the interface is embedded in Scribd, and it is user friendly, all the user needs to know is what they want their document to look like (based on some simple, constrained choices we've given them-- for example, the size of the book, one of two binding choices, and what to put on a cover we will provide.) Mimeo and Scribd handle the rest once I check out and place the order the twenty, 12 page double-sided perfect bound "travel" books that I am asking for containing the text of the Immigration Lawsuit!

This is only the beginning, but we've already produced quite a few documents and had a couple thousand people click in to take a look at the possibilities. We're looking forward to feedback from Scribd's 50 million readers per month about what features they want in the system. If you've been following this blog, you know we've been working on the technology underpinnings of this for a couple of years now, and it is really coming together-- continuing to evolve as we work with partners like Scribd and develop new ideas.