Print That, iPhone!

If you’ve ever tried to print something from your iPhone, you’ve discovered that this is not an area where Apple has provided much help. Sure, at least for some kinds of data, you can transfer the material to your Mac, typically during a sync — and print the items from your Mac. And that’s good enough in many cases. But what if you want to print from your iPhone without having your Mac as an intermediary?

There are several apps that attempt to come to the rescue here, but none are ideal. Apps such as iPrintApp and Print Magic have gotten mostly terrible reviews, with many people claiming that they cannot get the apps to work at all, at least not with their printers. When I tried Print Magic, I couldn’t even get it to list my printers, never mind print to them!

I had more success with Canon Easy-PhotoPrint. While this did allow me to print to my Canon Pixma MP990, via a Wi-Fi connection, it is not a good general solution. It only works with a subset of Canon’s printers and only prints photos. Similar apps linked to other brands of printers have similar limitations. 

What would really be great is for Apple to provide an SDK for a Print command, one that could work with almost any app (much the way Apple’s implementation of copy-and-paste editing works across apps) and print to a range of popular networked printers. While there may not yet be overwhelming demand for this feature on the iPhone, I expect the demand to grow substantially with the release of Apple’s Apple’s tablet (coming next week and likely based on the iPhone OS).

Printing to a PoGo

What first got me thinking about all of these print-related matters is a Polaroid PoGo printer that I recently received.

The PoGo is an intriguing concept — it attempts to marry the old instant-printing concept that made Polaroid a household name with the current reality of digital cameras. The printer is battery-powered and not much bigger than an iPhone. Like the original Polaroid cameras, the printer contains no ink. Images are derived by using special ZINK paper that has color crystals embedded in it.

You can directly print to a PoGo from any PictBridge-enabled digital camera via a USB connection. Similarly, you can print photos from most recent mobile phones, using Bluetooth. (Polaroid also makes a digital camera with a built-in PoGo printer, almost duplicating the old all-in-one Polaroid concept.) 

The PoGo printer’s output is limited to 2x3 inch photos, which I suspect is smaller than most people will find satisfactory. Larger printers are coming later this year, but their increased size makes them less portable. A tough dilemma for Polaroid.

In my testing, the PoGo worked perfectly when printing from my Canon digital camera. Not surprisingly, the print quality was not as good as from my MP990, but it was good enough to be impressive — especially for its intended purpose of printing on-the-go. 

PoGo and the iPhone

Printing from an iPhone to the PoGo was an entirely different story. The story being that I could not print from the iPhone to the PoGo at all. This is because (as I noted in my previous column), Apple has specifically blocked the iPhone from using the required Bluetooth data transfer protocols needed for printing.

Polaroid has posted a Web page where they ask supporters to “request that Apple consider enabling the Bluetooth transfer profile (OPP) in their phones.” Until that happens, there is not much else you can do. Some people have suggested that Polaroid should make an iPhone app specifically for printing to the PoGo. The problem is that even this would not work with the current iPhone OS  — as long as process remained dependent on Bluetooth. The only potential work-around at this point is to jailbreak your iPhone, which opens up more Bluetooth options (for file sharing, printing, and even for Bluetooth keyboards!). 

The Apple tablet, iPhone and printing

Along with the expected Apple tablet announcement next week, there are rumors that we will also get our first peek at iPhone OS 4.0. With some luck, the new OS will include a general printing solution, one that works for all types of documents for both the tablet and the iPhone. Maybe even one that broadens the OS’s Bluetooth capabilities. If not, I remain optimistic that such support will arrive eventually. Sooner or later, as demand for printing flexibility grows, Apple will find it in its financial interests to meet the demand.