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Apple iPad, Day 14: Printing from the iPad

30 Days With the iPad: Day 14

Since I first announced that this month's 30 Days project was going to be working with the iPad as a replacement for a PC, I have received numerous emails, comments, and tweets asking me to please spend some time talking about how to print from an iPad. Today, I am doing just that.

Personally, I rarely print. Even without the requests, I would have definitely covered printing from the iPad over the course of the 30 days. But, because it is not a function I perform regularly from my PC, it is not something I considered to be a primary consideration for the iPad to work as a replacement for my PC.

While creative on some level, I don't think this solution is practical...or functional.
The extent of my printing boils down to printing out my grocery list from Microsoft OneNote when it's time to go shopping. This week I didn't even do that. I just created the grocery list on the iPad and took the iPad with me to the store instead of printing. Occasionally, though, I might need to print something so it can be signed and scanned and emailed back, a' la faxing--but 2011 style. So, I need to figure out how, or if, that's possible from an iPad.

There's an App for That

Although I don't use it much, printing is a function I just take for granted on a PC. Whether I am using Windows, or Mac OS X, or Linux, I can connect just about any printer and it will work. The OS will automatically detect it and set it up with the correct drivers, and when I click "print" from any application or anywhere in the OS it will just do it. The fact that printing from the iPad requires research and an investment of effort is a con for the iPad as a PC replacement in and of itself.

There are a number of apps available for the iPad that offer to facilitate printing in some way. My search for on the word "printer" returned 64 possible options that are iPad-specific. To narrow things down, I decided to sort the results based on customer rating.

Most of the apps seem to either rely on using an Airprint compatible printer (which we'll get to in a bit), or using a PC-based agent to enable the app to connect to a printer through the PC. Since the purpose of this exercise is to eliminate the PC altogether, options that require a PC are not viable.

Epson iPrint

One of the top rated apps--which also happens to be free-is Epson iPrint. I wasn't aware the app existed, but as it turns out I have an Epson Artisan 710 wireless printer, and that model is support by Epson iPrint, so I installed the app.

The app has rave reviews from customers, and apparently is a quantum leap better than its predecessor, but it couldn't initially find my printer, and I couldn't find any support to help troubleshoot and figure out why. I tap Search, it searches, and tells me "cannot find printer". Beyond that, I finding online guidance for how to resolve the problem, or steps to try to manually add the printer was a struggle.

Eventually, I managed to find the right combination to get my printer to show up on the iPad, and once I did I have to agree it works quite nicely. It is a little funky, though, in terms of just being a printer. The app has buttons to connect directly to pictures stored on the iPad, and it can connect with online storage from Box.net, Google Docs, Evernote, and Dropbox.

It can't print from the Safari browser, but the app has its own browser where you can enter whatever Web page you want and print it from there. It doesn't work with iWorks apps like Pages and Numbers, so printing docs from those apps requires some creative workarounds--like first getting them into Box.net or Dropbox.

Apple AirPrint
Apple AirPrint is the native solution for wireless printing from an iOS device.
As far as I can tell, I can use the Epson iPrint app with the Epson Artisan 710 printer without the need for a PC. The printer is connected to a PC--my wife's PC, and I couldn't mess with that set up or I could be at risk of great bodily harm or long cold stares. But, it seems to me that I could shut the computer down, or disconnect the printer from the PC, and that the iPad would still be able to communicate with the printer through the wireless network. Anyone who knows for sure can feel free to confirm, or correct me if I'm wrong.

For the record, Lexmark offers a similar app for its printers. The LexPrint app is also free, but rated only two stars based on customer feedback.

AirPrint

The Holy Grail of iPad printing is the AirPrint feature. Unfortunately, using AirPrint requires having an AirPrint compatible printer. As it stands right now, the only vendor offering AirPrint compatibility is HP. There are quite a few printers offering it, but they are newer models so if your HP printer is more than a year old it probably won't work. I have an HP LaserJet 1018 that is only a few years old and it didn't make the cut.

There are a number of AirPrint compatible printers, but they're all from HP.
The good news is that the AirPrint compatible printers start at only $99, so adding one into your iPad setup probably won't break the bank. But, if you take a $499 16GB Wi-Fi only iPad, and then you add a $100 Bluetooth keyboard, and a $100 AirPrint compatible printer, the bill starts to become harder to swallow.

According to Apple, "AirPrint works with Safari, Mail, Photos, iWork, PDFs in iBooks, and third-party apps with built-in printing. If you want to print a photo and your printer has a photo paper tray, AirPrint will automatically select photo paper. You can also line up multiple print jobs and manage the queue right in AirPrint."

If it works as smoothly as AirPlay, I am sure it is a beautiful thing. And, if I were in the market for a printer, I would seriously consider the HP Envy 100.

The ultimate answer to the question of whether or not you can print from the iPad is "yes". You can, but depending on the printer you are trying to use, you may need to have a PC to get there, and if your printer isn't an AirPrint printer there may be some frustration and additional effort involved in trying to make it work.

If you have found some other app or solution that works, add a comment to let me know what you use.

Read the last "30 Days" series: 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux

Day 13: Streaming Data on the Go

Day 15: Working With Files on the iPad

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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