Perhaps the best way to answer this question is with a scenario I imagine is very common in your life. Imagine this scene if you will…
You are sat on the lavatory in the Hong Kong branch of McDonalds surfing the net on your smart phone for new images of Mr T (hey, we’re not here to judge). You find a great new one that you’ve never seen before and immediately know you want to print it out on your home computer.
But how do you do it?
Simple, you use cloud printing which connects your smart phone in Hong Kong to your printer at home and hey presto; you’ve got Mr T on glossy photo paper waiting for you at home. I love it when a plan comes together.
Basically, cloud printing is a way to connect any web enabled device to any printer, anywhere in the world.
Where Did Cloud Printing Come From?
The idea for cloud printing originally came from the overachieving techno-warlords at Google. Their cloud printing beta service was officially launched on 25th of January 2011.
On the one hand people will say it’s one more step for Google to control every last aspect of your life. On the other hand some might say it’s one more step for Google to offer you a simplified and easy way to live your life.
Either way they decided it was worth doing away with closed-off, old-fashioned network printers and use the ‘cloud’ to allow you to access your printers from any device from anywhere.
How Does Cloud Printing Work?
Cloud printing handles all the processing and managing of your print jobs on a web-based application that connects to Google’s API. This removes totally the need for the local drivers and networks that are currently used for processing and managing your printing.
In layman’s terms this simply means that you use the Internet to print.
In your grandparents’ terms this simply means that you use the new-fangled plastic abacus connected to the magic ether to create a new Daguerreotype.
Google’s application is called Google Cloud Print, but if it takes off then we imagine other companies might develop their own applications to rival it.
What Are the Advantages of Cloud Printing?
Well, let me refer back to my opening scenario. You can sit on the throne in Hong Kong and command your home printer to churn out as many pictures of a milk-lovin’, helicopter-hatin’ 80s TV legend as you like.
If that ain’t living the dream then I don’t know what is.
Oh, and perhaps you could print out your latest documents for your co-workers while you’re away from the office, or send through proposals for clients to sign on the fly.
What Are the Disadvantages of Cloud Printing?
So, cloud printing sounds great right? Well, like the comedy series Red Dwarf, to begin with it you think it’s great, but then when you actually go back and watch it, you realise it might in fact it’s a bit rubbish (if you are a Red Dwarf fan, you are simply not far enough along the Red Dwarf Realisation Scale yet. Try watching them again in a year or so).
Problem 1 — Legacy Printers Versus Cloud Aware Printers
For the most seamless cloud printing experience you would need to use Cloud Aware Printers. The only problem with this is that they don’t yet currently exist. Mmm, great start.
So, what that leaves you with is Legacy Printers, which is Google-speak for a normal printer. In order for you to send a print job using cloud printing this printer will need to be connected to a PC which has the correct proxy settings loaded to handle this.
Although not a massive job to set up, this still means that you cannot go around the world sending off print jobs to any printer you care to. Instead, you’re limited to correctly configured printers.
Problem 2 — Printers Are Fallible
Like humanity, printers are fallible. They go wrong sometimes. In fact, they go wrong all the time. And if it’s not mechanical like a paper jam, then it’s something simple like they’ve run out of paper, toner, or someone left open the manual feed tray.
Imagine sending a job to your home printer, only to have it malfunction, overheat and cause a house fire destroying all your other precious Mr T photo print outs. You’d be still sat in that Hong Kong lavatory none the wiser.
What all this adds up to is you really need to have someone present next to the printer to make sure everything ready for your print job. Which leads to problem number three…
Problem 3 — Is It Ultimately Pointless?
If in reality you need someone at the printer to ensure everything is running smoothly, why not just email that person with the document and get them to print it normally themselves, without all the need to create an entire cloud printing network?
But I guess that’s just not the Google way.
Conclusions — How Will Cloud Printing Affect You?
The other half of this question was how will all this affect you? I guess this will boil down to close to the white-hot edge of technology you love to fly.
If you’re the type of person who thinks camping overnight to get the first release of a slightly-upgraded-but-other-than-that-it’s-still-the-same gadget makes you a better class of human, or you’ve made your own Tron suit, then I imagine cloud printing is already making it embarrassing for you to stand up in public.
However, if you’re a normal person who does some printing once in a while, I think it’s going to be a while yet before cloud printing becomes the norm. And when it does, you will probably wonder what the fuss is about.
Is cloud printing going to rock your world? Tell us in the comments below…