Printing on the go – Is it ready for primetime?

Mobile printing is quickly becoming a reality with new functionalities available in the market today.  Now I’m sure the thought of printing as you’re driving down the highway in your car isn’t something you long for on a regular basis… but how many times have you been caught traveling or at a customer site ready for a big presentation with no way to print?  That’s something we think most road warriors can relate to, and there are solutions available today that can solve this problem.

Let’s start with the equipment side of the equation.  There are 130 million handheld and notebook devices in use today, and this figure is expected to grow to 250 million by 2005.  Wireless data could increase this projection even more.  Seventy-five percent of mobile users want to be able to print on the go.  HP has launched solutions that will enable mobile printing on the fly today.  Today’s HP solution allows Pocket PC and Blackberry users to print to HP printers wirelessly.  There are a few options to enable this:

* A ready-to-use Pocket PC application that users install on their devices to enable direct and Web-based printing.wireless LAN functionality.

* A server-based solution that enables mobile users to print from Pocket PCs and Blackberrys via 

* A software development kit to allow developers to add this functionality to native applications.

The functionality is Bluetooth-based and can be enabled in less then one day.  The actual file format can be printed; it is not a stripped down version.  Therefore, e-mail attachments can also be printed.

Suppose you need to print while you’re mobile and not just wirelessly within your office.  HP also provides battery operated, Bluetooth-enabled printers that are small enough to take with you.  Now we don’t want to think too hard about people printing their presentations while driving in the car on the way to a meeting.  But there’s certainly a market for that type of functionality, and those of you who are actually thinking that printing in the car is a great idea - we know you’re out there.

So the next big question is how does this make the jump from an enterprise functionality to an actual service in the marketplace?  The first example along this road is happening at the Elliott Hyatt Grand Seattle hotel.  They have deployed the HP Mobile Public Printing Solution to enable business travelers to be more productive while on the road.  Just think of all the times you arrive at your hotel on a business trip only to find you need a hardcopy of something you only have electronically.  Currently this functionality is enabled via the Ethernet connection in the user’s room to a server-based printer in a central location at the hotel.  You’re probably saying this isn’t truly wireless, but it will migrate in that direction and it uses the same software functionality HP has created for true wireless printing.  This is still a pilot and it’s been working well.  Some initial issues with different levels of Windows and VPN software were resolved early on to make this run very smoothly.  Within the hotel, about 20% of the rooms utilize the high-speed Internet access. Of those, 2% use the printing functionality.  These figures aren’t huge, but keep in mind this is without any proactive advertising for the functionality.  Users find out it is available when they log on to the high-speed access.  Printing is in full color and the charge is about 20 to 25 cents per page, far less then Kinko’s for full color copies - and it’s right in your hotel.  The IT staff also gives it rave reviews for reliability.

So where do we go from here?  As hot spot  providers begin to move up the value chain, think about printing.  If you’re out there trying to enable a monthly subscription service for enterprise road warriors, how do you differentiate your service?  Value-added services.  We’ve previously talked about security functionality, but let’s think about printing.  A centrally located printer in hot spot zones in hotels or airport lounges could be one item to push you to the top of the list when enterprises look to select an 802.11 service provider.

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