One of the hottest topics in the print industry is mobile printing, a concept heralded by many as a way for printers to coexist alongside the disruptive force of tablets and smartphones.  Today, print manufacturers are constantly referring to mobile apps and touting that their printers are app-ready.

The importance of addressing mobile print is based on several changes in the market – tablet and smartphone adoption is growing, digital content continues to multiply and is being consumed at a higher rate (thanks to mobile devices), and the number of people bringing in their own devices to work has greatly increased.  Indeed, research firm IDC predicts that smartphone shipments will reach 1.16 billion units by 2016, far surpassing shipments of traditional PCs.  And Forrester last week forecast that the installed base of tablets could reach 760 million worldwide by 2016.   This shakeup between traditional PCs and mobile devices will also have a dramatic effect on the platform hierarchy, with Android expected to supplant Windows as the operating system of choice.

To capture this dramatic shift in the market, vendors began developing app and email-based solutions, headlined by HP’s ePrint in 2010 and followed by Apple’s AirPrint and Google’s Cloud Print.  Today, most printer makers have at least dipped a toe into the mobile solutions arena.  For some, mobile printing has become an essential part of their go-to-market strategy.

It’s no secret that tablets are a potential threat to the print industry – there is no shortage of anecdotes and surveys to show that in many cases people favor their iPads over the printed page.  While it is unclear what the long-term impact of a shift to mobile devices means for printing, developing print functionality for mobile devices that is easy, intuitive, and well integrated is the best way for vendors to adapt to this transition.  The jury is still out on the overall impact of mobile devices and no vendor wants to be on the sidelines if and when mobile print does explode.

I recently learned an encouraging and somewhat counterintuitive fact in the history of mobile print: when the original iPad shipped, lack of print functionality was one of the biggest complaints (despite clamoring that tablets would kill printing).  This in turn led Apple to create AirPrint in 2010 just months after HP released ePrint.  Perhaps equally as encouraging is that Google continues to invest in its Cloud Print service.  R&D funds would not be allocated to such services if the demand did not exist.

To date, mobile printing has largely focused on consumer printing.  Take a walk through your local Best Buy and you will see ePrint endcaps, experience AirPrint demos, and find references to mobile printing stamped on just about all the new printers’ boxes.  The importance of mobile print is evident in the fact that the majority of new printers entering the retail channel today are mobile print ready.

Yet while smartphone and tablet-toting consumers are a natural target for mobile printing, businesses could ultimately prove to be a more receptive and significantly larger market for mobile services.  A recent Quocirca study from January 2012 revealed how IT consumerization is a driving force behind the adoption of mobile printing, as more employees bring in their own smartphones and tablets to work.  According to the study, around 55% of US and European enterprises see mobile print as a requirement, yet only 5% have actually deployed it, highlighting a huge opportunity for vendors with robust mobile print solutions.


Obvious roadblocks exist for mobile print in enterprise, such as the fear of data exposure and the fact that a user might print to an unsecure device.  HP has been one of the most proactive vendors regarding these fears with the roll out of its ePrint Enterprise solution, which among many features can secure print jobs through encrypted channels and can integrate with ‘pull-and-PIN’ printing solutions that require authentication.  But it’s not just HP – many other vendors and independent providers are making headway toward building or improving their own enterprise mobile printing solutions.

The landscape of consumer and business printing is changing as users migrate away from traditional PCs and toward mobile devices.  Businesses and other verticals such as education have the opportunity to benefit from email and app-enabled printing, which can support and improve the experience of tablet and smartphone users.  Consumers and business people still need to print and want to do it from their mobile devices.  Developing intuitive, safe, and well integrated mobile solutions is the key for successful vendors in this evolving print environment.