Companies that support BYOD and want to allow mobile printing have their work cut out for them.
Printing documents from tablets and smartphones remains complex. Though some vendors offer products that address mobile printing problems, the existing options are far from perfect.
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“Printing is clearly not a strength” of mobile devices, said Ben Schorr, chief executive officer and IT consultant at Roland Schorr and Tower, a firm based in Flagstaff, Ariz. One of Schorr’s clients, a construction company, had to reconfigure its entire network so employees could print from their iPads.
The company had to put its wired and wireless networks on the same subnet and install a third-party Windows application on a PC connected to network printers. If employees want to print from their iPads, that PC has to stay on, Schorr said.
Another client, a restaurant, decided that the headaches associated with mobile printing aren’t worth the trouble, he said.
Why mobile printing remains a problem
Part of the mobile printing problem is that the latest tablets and smartphones aren’t designed with printing in mind, Schorr said.
When BlackBerry was the only game in town, mobile printing was a relatively simple problem to solve, according to printing and imaging software provider, Lexmark International, Inc. But Android and iOS devices have challenged the printing company in the last 18 months because “there’s no native print infrastructure associated with these OSes” said Mark Vance, a Lexmark product manager.
Further, because these devices feel like miniature computers, people expect the ability to print from them as they would from a desktop or laptop, he said.
Another problem with mobile printing in enterprises stems from integration of multiple OSes into the printing infrastructure, Vance said.
IT is also faced with the problem of converting the data stream so that the printer prints files accurately. IT can make this conversion on the mobile device or on a print server, but if the conversion isn’t done properly, the printed document may look different than the soft copy.
Employees also have trouble finding the right printer to send files to, which is “more complicated in an enterprise than you’d think,” Vance said.
Mobile printing software still in infancy
Some problems surrounding mobile printing could soon be things of the past. Vendors are beginning to fill the mobile printing void, and IDC Corp. predicts that the mobile printing market will be worth $1 billion by 2015.
Experts expect mobile printing to become significantly easier once Apple and other companies make printing features a priority in future devices. Some also expect Microsoft to address mobile printing issues when it releases the Windows 8 tablet.
Apple and Google have already attempted to simplify the mobile printing process through their respective AirPrint and Google Cloud Print services, which allow wireless printing from mobile OSes. There are limitations with these printing services, however, and some problems require cumbersome workarounds.
For example, iOS users who want to print to a printer that isn’t AirPrint-enabled need to use a third-party application to trick iOS into thinking networked printers are AirPrint-enabled. The most reliable apps are FingerPrint, AirPrint Activator and Printopia, according to Shawn Blanc, a blogger and independent Apple consultant based in Kansas City, Mo.
“Assuming you have an AirPrint-enabled printer, then it's no problem [to print from an iPad],” Blanc said. “You can choose to print something just as easily as you would choose to email it or tweet it.”
IT can also use xPrintServe, a hardware hub that admins plug into a network printer to act as an AirPrint enabler, Blanc said.
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With Google’s service, any application on any type of mobile device can print files, but there’s a catch there, too: The printer needs to be connected to an employee's Google account and have cloud printing capabilities. Plus, the mobile device has to support Google Apps.
If companies plan to support bring your own device (BYOD), they must deal with these printing issues up front, said Rainer Enders, chief technology officer of NCP Engineering, Inc., a San Francisco-based networking and virtual private network (VPN) provider. Otherwise, printing attempts will result in “growing employee frustration from things not working” and “lots of wasted administrative time trying to fix those problems,” he said.
For instance, shops with AirPrint- or Google Cloud Print-enabled printers need to make sure that mobile devices connected to the network are connected to the same subnet as the printers, which can be a problem with VPNs and guest BYOD access networks, Schorr said.