Dave’s Blog: How Canon has made photo printing relevant again with its social network-savvy printers

by Dave Etchells

posted Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 8:30 AM EST


With the two printers Canon announced earlier today -- the Pixma MG7120 and MG5520 -- the company has for the first time made photo printing an integral part of the social networking that hundreds of millions of people use daily. This is important, not only for Canon and users, but the industry as a whole. Canon's pointing the way for printers to remain relevant in the Internet/social sharing era.

For years now, printer makers have been watching the percentage of photos actually printed plummet. Sure, we're all taking vastly more pictures than at any previous time in history, but precious few of them ever become physically tangible as prints. If you're in the business of making printers, this is what could safely be called a Bad Thing.

From printing every photo to printing none
Back in the film era, you had to print every photo, just to see what you'd shot. From that extreme, we've moved to the modern era, in which we print almost no pictures at all -- even those we might wish to but never seem to get around to. Through sites like Facebook and Twitter, we have more access to our friends' and family's photos than ever before, too, but our experience of them is almost entirely online. Digital photo frames aside (a vanishingly small blip in the overall photo market), the only way we can experience each others' images is through our computers or the tiny screens of our smart devices. The days of 4 x 6 inch prints decorating our homes and offices are a distant memory.

We could certainly take the time to download friends' photos via our Web browsers, and then make prints from them, but that's a hassle: Pick a photo, download it, find the download on your computer, open it in some app that can print, and finally print it out. From a practical standpoint, you'd have to be pretty motivated to go to all that trouble. If you see a photo you'd like to print via your smart device, the obstacles are even bigger.

A new twist to social sharing
Recognizing this, Canon's new printers provide a direct route for printing photos from Facebook, Twitter and other services. And not just your own photos, but your friends' as well. Supported services include not only Facebook and Twitter, but Flickr, Dropbox, Picasa Web Albums, Evernote, Photobucket, and Canon's own Canon iMAGE GATEWAY, Creative Park Premium and Creative Park as well.

All this connectivity happens via the Canon Pixma Printing Solutions (PPS) app, available for both iOS and Android systems. The app lets you connect to and browse content on any of the supported social services, print photos from the smart device's photo albums, and also print document files directly from your smart device, with support for PDF, Excel .xls, Word .doc, and PowerPoint .ppt file formats.

See a friend's photo you like on Facebook? It's a matter of moments to print it, even if you're not home at the time. You can print to your home printer from Timbuktu (or anywhere there's an Internet connection for your smart device) as easily as from your living room.

This is important for consumers and Canon alike. Suddenly, the company has opened a gateway -- a convenient gateway -- between their printers and hundreds of millions of users and billions of photos.

This is another one of those smack-your-forehead-of-course-this-is-what-they-should-do ideas that doesn't occur to you until you see someone else implement it. Of course people need an easy way to print photos currently locked up in social network services, but it took Canon to realize this and create a way to do it.

Sending prints instantly to family members miles away
There's yet another angle, though, in which the new Canon printers can create a sort of social printing network themselves. The Pixma Printing Solutions app can connect to and keep track of multiple printers, printing to any or all of them at will. This doubtless has myriad business applications, but the first thought I had was what a great way this would be to share family photos with distant, possibly non-techie family members.

Give Grandma and Grandpa one of these new PIXMA printers, set it up for them when you visit them next, and then print special photos directly to it from wherever you are. Snap a photo at a birthday party, and have it printing out for the grandparents literally moments later. Photos of the school play can reach them while the play is still going on. Daily updates from the family vacation become fast and easy. No muss, no fuss, it's no more difficult than sending them a text message.

Of course, while the process of printing from social sharing sites will now be dramatically easier, there are still people's ingrained habits to overcome. None of us are used to printing from social networks, so it'll likely take a while before it becomes an integral part of that experience for us. People are accustomed to experience friends' photos via the Web, and they're out of the habit of having photo prints around their homes, so there's a good bit of inertia to overcome to make prints a part of our daily lives again.

Making printed pictures relevant again
So I don't expect there to be an overnight revolution in printing, with everyone cranking out reams of 4 x 6s from their friends' Facebook photos. But Canon has without question made printing much more relevant to the Internet Age, which has to mean good things for their sales going forward.

As I said at the outset, printer manufacturers have been watching the percentage of photos that are printed plummet in the digital era, and wondering what to do about it. I think Canon's figured it out, and the two new Canon printers bring a real user advantage that's entirely unique to Canon's products.