IT SURFS BUT WILL IT FLY?
HP Unveils Web-Connected
By MIKE PASINI
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
Review Date: June 2009
Touchsmart interface connects to Web to print coupons, tickets, boarding passes without a computer.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Across the street from the ballpark where Giants fans have become accustomed to the grand dreams of Spring withering with the autumn leaves, Hewlett-Packard announced new printing technology it will introduce in September. The HP Photosmart Premium printer is an all-in-one device using the company's TouchSmart Web technology to print online content without waking up your computer. It's the world's first Web-connected home printer.
At the event, held at Current TV headquarters on King St., Vyomesh Joshi, HP executive vice president of the Imaging and Printing Group, unveiled the new device. He was later joined in a panel discussion moderated by Sarah Lane, Current.com Tech channel producer, with four HP partners in this new approach from Google, Coupons.com, Nickelodeon and Fandango.
Afterwards, we took a look at the new printer in action and got a few images of the interface posted in an HP Premium gallery.
During his opening remarks, Joshi said HP introduced its first home printer 25 years ago, riding the personal computer wave. But now the company was leaving the computer behind to print content directly from the Web.
Just as photos have moved from analog prints to digital photography and many other analog products, including social networking and video, have "gone digital," Joshi said he expects printing to go digital to keep up with a "content explosion" on the Web. And HP wants a part of that.
"Printing will continue to grow," Joshi said, because even at a constant seven percent print rate, the number of pages are exploding from 312 extabytes to 3,000. An extrabyte is a million terabytes, he explained (a terabyte being a million megabytes).
So HP wants to make sure its customers have wireless access to the Web and that printing is very easy. For 25 years, you had to use your computer to print anything but today's announcement, he said, unleashes the printer from your computer. You will be able to print anything you can get on your computer with an HP Premium printer alone.
The Web-connected printer and the "power of touch" using HP's TouchSmart technology combine to make that possible.
The first all-in-one was introduced in 1993, he said, and has evolved into a wireless device that can print anything. But today it will become a Web appliance, too. "What we want to do," he said, "was to have the world's first Web-connected home printer."
Joshi then demonstrated how the new printer connects to the Web using small apps associated with each Web site to deliver its content to the printer.
The apps are displayed in uniform icons across the large LCD on the printer. A swipe of your finger scrolls through the available apps. You can download new ones, too (but you aren't really downloading software, just a link to the Web site's HP service).
Tap the icon for Coupons.com, say, and you can look through the available coupons, tap the ones you want to print and then print up to three on a sheet in color or black and white.
No worries about the printer driver or formatting the page or what printing application to use. Instead, the printer makes it easy to find the coupons you want and print them to take to the store. It's the power of customizing and personalizing the Web, Joshi said.
And what goes for coupons goes for recipes and maps and even newspapers, Joshi said. It can be your daily ritual to print out your favorite sources to take with you on your train ride or flight.
"We are giving the customer the all-in-one that can be connected to the PC in wireless fashion," he summarized. "But now you have access to the Web directly."
To encourage the development of printing apps for the new system, HP has developed an open application programming interface for building them. The company hopes Web sites will develop their own custom apps for the printer. To that end, the company partnered with Google, Nickelodeon, Fandango and Coupons.com to show the way. In addition, HP has developed apps for its own Snapfish image sharing service.
In the panel discussion following Joshi's remarks, the details of the new printing capability became a little more fleshed out.
The HP partners on the panel included Michael Jones, Google chief technology advocate, Steven Boal, president and chief executive officer of Coupons.com, David Williams, senior vice president and general manager of Nickelodeon Kids and Family Games Group, and Rachel Dardinski, director of marketing for Fandango.
Moderator Lane's first question to the group was the obvious one: why's the approach make sense for your company?
Jones, eyeing this from the perspective of Google maps, liked the accessibility and usefulness the printer provides. "Where ever there's a printer," he said, "you have a portal to the Web." And it lets you take the output with you in a permanent form.
Dardinski, the Fandango representative, sees it as being where the consumers are, making the sale on their turf rather than requiring them to be at a certain place at a certain time.
Boal, from Coupons.com, finds it "a natural fit" for coupons, which were introduced in newspapers in 1894. Newspapers, the primary carrier for the 350 billion coupons delivered in the U.S. every year, have been declining but in the last three years digital coupons have grown from one to five percent. So this technology is a natural fit.
Williams observed his company wants to entertain kids and make life easier for moms. This does both. Moms can print activity booklets, for example, at the last minute as something to do on the long car trip.
Joshi elaborated on that, pointing out it's wireless so you can put it anywhere. And it's very easy to use, he said. HP is starting out with a $399 device using the technology but eventually, he predicted, it will be available in even $99 printers.
Lane asked the group if they'd noticed trends in the industry that make this technology "not just cool but necessary?"
Boal said there were probably more articles written about using cell phones to display coupons than the number of cell phone coupons actually redeemed. How, after all, do you use a cell phone coupon at the supermarket checkout stand? Paper coupons, he said, still have about 10 years of useful life before digital coupons will be as convenient.
Williams observed that 30 percent of Google map users print maps every week and an additional 30 percent print a map every day, about 100 million people total. So there's a need to print a map for an awful lot of people. And this makes it easy.
Dardinski added that printing movie tickets with a bar code lets customers bypass the lines and go straight to the ticket taker.
When Lane asked the group to highlight some features they'd like to see in future apps, Boal said he's already got it. The ability to customize what kind of offers he's interested in and delivery them at a specific time.
Dardinski would like to see recipes, she said, which are something you want in hand when you're cooking.
Jones likes to have printed maps and "an incredibly hard Sudoku puzzle" every day.
Williams liked being able to print games, too, but said for him it was all about being in control, selecting which games to print, having "the puzzles I want" rather than being stuck with a big fat book of puzzles.
Lane wondered how Joshi would answer those concerned about the paper usage issue.
Start with the customer, he said, who has a specific task to do of which there is a necessary printing component. Like printing a map. You have to have the physical map to bring with you on the trip. This revolutionary technology is really at the service of some common, familiar needs.
Digital photography, he said, is a good example. People thought it would change everything but what we are seeing is that people want to customize and organize their photos and to then print photo books.
Lane asked about coupon printing now that people aren't buying as many newspapers.
Boal said newspaper coupons were redeemed at a rate of half a percent but coupons printed from the Web are redeemed at a rate of 17 percent and are integrated into shopping lists. You don't have to wait for the paper to come out either.
Joshi said since all newspapers and 60 percent of magazines are thrown away, printing just the coupons you need on your printer is more efficient. There's much less waste.
Boal added that every coupon in a publication comes with a full page ad, so there's even more waste in publishing them. But the Coupon.com app prints three coupons per page and at an average of a dollar savings each that's the most cost effective use of your printer you can make.
Williams emphasized that it's characteristic of the Web in general as "a personal voyage of discovery." What you search for is a tiny fraction of what's available on the Web but it's 100 percent of what you actually care about.
Boal said consumers want to customize and create. It used to be a one-way street but now it's an interactive process, which this technology facilitates.
It's a pull not push technology, Joshi said. The customer decides, not the publisher.
Lane then asked Joshi where the technology will evolve from here.
This is just the beginning. You launch a product and then you learn from the customers and launch the next product. He doesn't expect this to be a three year cycle but a much shorter one. By this time next year, he said, he expects to see many more apps for the printer. There will be speed issues, connectivity issues, services levels to be discussed. It will be very exciting.
What's the revenue model, Lane asked.
The starting point, he said, is an all-in-one device just like any other. The good thing is there is no premium pricing for this new technology. You're buying an all-in-one but it includes more capability.
He said he believes in a simple business model. Delight the customer and they will print. And enable the developers to make the apps.
Lane confessed to Dardinski that she finds it a hassle to go to the movies and asked how this technology helps.
Going to the movies is still a popular form of entertainment. But this makes it a lot easier to do, she answered. You skip the long lines and for those shows that sell out before the movie is even released, you can buy your tickets in advance.
After a brief question and answer session, we were able to get a closer look at a few models in action.
Our accompany Fact Sheet details the printer, scanning, copy and fax specification, which reveal the Premium to be a very fast all-in-one featuring HP's new single ink cartridges (black, photo black, cyan, magenta and yellow). The paper tray in front delivers letter-size sheets or photo paper up to 5x7 in a separate tray. Scan resolution is 4800x1200 and the fax address book can store up to 60 numbers. You can connect to the printer wirelessly (802.11 b/g/n), via USB 2.0 Hi-Speed, Ethernet or Bluetooth. A card reader is also built-in.
Like the HP C4680 all-in-one we recently reviewed, the real highlight of the device is the touchscreen menu system. As we said of that unit, "The decision tree is very clear and easy to manage, even better than Canon's (our previous favorite). HP isn't wrong to beat its breast about how simple it is to use the C4680. If you've never used one of these before, you'll get more done sooner with this one."
You might worry that tossing the Web into that menu system might convolute things, but while the printer accesses the Web, you really aren't. You don't use a browser. You select an app.
So the first big issue is whether or not there's an app for what you want to do. You can't, for example, select an Imaging Resource gallery shot and print it on 4x6 paper because Imaging Resource hasn't written an app for that. You can't even browse our site. In fact, you can't browse any site.
You can only connect to a site and interact with it to the extent the app hosted on the site allows you. Since apps are free, there's little incentive for third-party developers to develop them. But you might see a Wordpress app for the printer that would let bloggers using Wordpress allow you to print pictures on their blogs, for example.
The Snapfish app, illustrated in our gallery, is a good example. You click on the Snapfish icon, enter your user name and password with the onscreen keyboard, and then your images are displayed on the LCD (rather than the Snapfish interface you're familiar with on your computer). You select which images you want to print and give the print command (no slide shows, no product ordering that we could see). And that's it.
The apps do a lot of formatting for you that the HP techs were proud to show off. Google maps doesn't print the Web page with the map embedded but the map itself with a notes section, if you want. A Google calender is printed full-page in a landscape orientation. And so on.
If that reminds you a little of HP's built-in ruled papers printing, no one will blame you. It's a little like that, only using the Web as the source for the image rather than some popular images in firmware.
The apps themselves are not really resident on the printer, we were told, although you can "get" apps from the printer. The Web site hosts the code and the printer merely accesses it. This helps protect the printer from security issues.
The unanswerable question we had leaving Current TV was whether you could revolutionize Web display with, uh, paper and ink. Clearly HP wants to sell a lot more ink -- and if a compelling number of apps start appearing it may give away the printers.
The coupon example seemed to answer no. While we appreciated Boal's argument that paper coupons are universally accepted, the big problem is that printers aren't portable. Portability matters quite a bit here. How many Borders coupons have you printed without using them before they expired? How many have you not printed and then found yourself in the store wishing you had?
An iPhone, though, is portable and of sufficient resolution to present a scannable bar code. In fact, Greg Grunberg's Yowsa iPhone app will tell you what coupons are active in nearby stores and makes it very easy for the merchants themselves to deploy coupons. Because the phone's always with you, so are your coupons. And if you want to do a little comparison shopping at the list minute, well, you can.
Maps, too, seem transitional if far from obsolete. Who hasn't printed out directions and a map? And yet with the growing popularity of GPS navigation, how long will that be going on? Would you buy a new car without GPS?
There may be some usefulness in printing a boarding pass or ticket ahead of time, particularly if you can avoid standing in line longer than it takes to print the thing. But at what point do you resent paying for the ink and paper for the airline or studio? It's a convenience that's costing you money.
But what's most troubling about this revolution is the requirement for every single site to develop their own app for the printer. That's going to be a real problem for a long time. You can't really customize unless you can choose and you can't choose until the site becomes available.
The partners said development of their apps was rapid, taking only weeks instead of months. They're a mix of HTML5 and Java, apparently. But that's an investment we don't see being made casually by many sites (like Imaging Resource where you might want to print the current news, sample images, the newsletter, a review). Perhaps the New York Times will follow USA Today in developing an app, but will Engadget? Will your favorite RSS feeds come with apps? It seems a flawed solution to depend on others for something as fundamental as this.
The thing needs a browser, period, with selective printing of page elements. And an email reader would be just the ticket for those inline photos from your sister-in-law. Tap the photo to print it on 4x6 photo paper and forget the message.
On the old other hand, HP isn't charging a premium for the Premium and you won't have to install HP's horrendous drivers on your computer to use the printer. If what's available now (coloring books, Snapfish photos, coupons, movie tickets) is of interest, why not buy the HP instead of the Canon or the Kodak all-in-one?
Well, we can think of a reason or two. In our review of the C4680 we weren't terribly impressed with the image quality. So if printing great pictures is what you're really interested in, you might skip the HP. We can't really say until we've put it to the test, though.
If we came away underwhelmed, we only had to cross the street to the ball park to remember the season isn't over yet.
HP Photosmart Premium with TouchSmart Web is the world's first Web-connected home printer. Powered by touch, this sleek device provides quick, simple touchscreen access to important, useful and personal online content -- without the need for a PC. (1) With the largest LCD touchscreen of any all-in-one inkjet printer (4.33 inches), the HP TouchSmart Web control panel conveniently connects users to the Web (1) via pre-installed print apps. These apps enable easy printing of maps, coupons, movie tickets, recipes and more from partners including Google, DreamWorks, Fandango and Coupons Inc., among others.
Users can also connect to Snapfish and the HP Creative Studio directly from the HP Photosmart Premium Web, which saves time and enables customers to archive or print photos from the site like never before -- just touch, print and go. (3)
A versatile printing solution with print, fax, copy and scan functionality, the HP Photosmart Premium with TouchSmart Web is perfect for multi-tasking households -- meeting all their high-quality home printing needs in one premium product, from laser-quality text to lab-quality photos. With a full range of wired and wireless connectivity options, this printer provides the freedom and flexibility to print directly from WiFi enabled PCs, Bluetooth-enabled devices, the iPhone and the iPod touch using HP iPrint Photo. (4)
This Energy Star-qualified all-in-one helps users save paper with automatic two-sided printing and reduces packaging waste by using an innovative, reusable bag.
10) Energy Star qualified -- use less energy, save money and help reduce the environmental impact of printing.
11) Easily print Web pages with HP Smart Web Printing (10) and save both ink and paper by combining multiple Web pages onto one printed page.
12) Use Windows Live Photo Gallery to easily edit, store and print photos, make photo cards, calendars and more.
13) Enjoy convenient and responsible ink cartridge recycling at no additional cost through HP Planet Partners. (11)
14) Identify features that reduce environmental impact with the HP Eco Highlights label.
15) Replace each cartridge separately when it's needed with individual inks.
16) Original HP inks: Print photos with enhanced detail using dual-drop volume technology that delivers an extremely small drop size.
(1) Requires an Internet connection to the printer.
(2) Coming soon.
(3) Requires a Snapfish.com account and an Internet connection to the printer.
(4) Using HP iPrint Photo software. Free download available from Apple's App Store, details at http://www.hp.com/go/iPrintphoto
(5) Wireless performance depends on physical environment and distance from access point.
(6) Requires Windows Vista
(7) When using HP Advanced Photo Paper.
(8) Requires a WPS router with an integrated push-button. Wireless performance depends on physical environment and distance from access point.
(9) Printing screen captures is only available on games that support this feature.
(10) For Windows only. Requires Internet Explorer 6.0 to 8.0.
(11) HP ink cartridges return and recycling is available in 41 countries and territories around the world; see http://www.hp.com/recycle for details.
(12) After first page. More information about print speeds is available at http://www.hp.com/go/inkjetprinter.
(13) Maximum resolution may be limited by PC system and scan size.
(14) Does not support Windows XP Professional x64.
(15) Estimated U.S. street price. Actual price may vary.
(16) Not included, please purchase separately.