Apple introduced the iOS printing a year and a half ago in the form of the iOS feature AirPrint. Although the feature has been available for some time, only a handful of printers ship with AirPrint support. There are, of course, a couple of ways around that limited selection like the Lantronix xPrintServer, the OS X Printopia utility, and FingerPrint for both OS X and Windows.
Those are great options for home use, but what about business users? The iPad is the best selling business tablet by a huge margin and that should translate into at least some workplace printing – or should it?
After reaching out to several companies, schools, and non-profits, the general response to my question of iPad (or iPhone) printing was almost a non-answer. Many workplaces tell iOS device users to copy whatever they need to print to their PCs (or Macs) and print from there. An IT professional at one non-profit that I spoke with, who asked not to be named, said that in planning its BYOD program, his organization’s acceptable use policy for mobile devices was written to say that users aren’t allowed to print from their personal devices.
Schools with iPad deployments tended to be a bit more flexible than workplaces. A couple of schools told me that they install and configure Printopia on teacher Macs if requested. Students can then print during those classes. It’s worth noting that neither school has a 1-to-1 iPad deployment and that students share iPads and/or MacBooks during specific class times.
Granted, my findings are rather limited and anecdotal, but it seems that the ability to print is often a distant afterthought for many companies. In some ways that’s surprising because there are office and enterprise options.
The simplest and least expensive is the Lantronix xPrintServer, which we’ve already profiled. Broader options include PrinterOn and HP’s ePrint, which we covered recently as mobile printing options for iOS users. In addition to public printing, both PrinterOn and HP market their mobile printing solutions to enterprise companies as print management options with support for iOS and other mobile platforms.
One explanation for the lack of investing in iOS printing is that iOS devices haven’t replaced desktop computing in most workplaces. Although copying a file to a desktop computer before printing isn’t an ideal option, it does work and it doesn’t require any investment in time or money. In BYOD programs, keeping printing on desktop systems also avoids needing to support and troubleshoot issues involving personal devices. One overarching explanation may hit the nail on the head better than any others – to date, users haven’t demanded direct iOS printing vigorously enough to force the issue.