The next best thing to having a printer in your pocket
Small businesses have a level of connectedness that has never before been possible. Even the smallest one-person or two-person shop can have a data center in the cloud, web server, file sharing and collaboration tools, and the ability to have a global reach, all for a price tag that would have been unheard of just 15 years ago. This new level of service, all driven by the cloud, is why we’re seeing the beginning of an incredible new wave of innovative startups. However, there has been one gap in all this mobility, and that has been in on-the-go printing.
What do you do, for example, when you’ve traveled across the country to meet with a potential investor, and your partners back home email you an important document that you want to share with the money guys? All you have is your smartphone with you, and because you’re a startup with no money, you’re staying in a one-star hotel that has no computing center. All you have with you is a smartphone. HP’s ePrint service, originally launched for BlackBerry in April 2010, then for Android and iOS in April 2011, fills that gap. Most recently in January, HP’s ePrint Public Print Locations network expanded into Walgreens locations nationwide.
It’s a simple concept that changes the game for businesspeople on the road. You have a document or an email attachment, and you need to print a copy. Having downloaded the HP app onto your smartphone, you can send that document to the secure HP cloud, and select a nearby print destination. Using the GPS facility of your smartphone, the app gives you a list of public print locations close by. You select one, and go pick up your document.
Naturally, you don’t want your top-secret documents sitting around a public location. Not to worry. The document stays in the cloud until you get there and input a retrieval code that you received when you sent the document to the HP cloud. The document prints directly from the HP cloud, and is never stored in the local print location.
Techie.com talked with HP’s Marketing Manager for Printing and Personal Systems, Eileen Hansen. “The solutions we’ve developed came out of employee needs around this challenge,” said Hansen. “We’re so big and spread out,” she relates. “We’re so used to being able to print everything from our desktops, but in the experience of using a mobile device, printing has been a gap. We’re focused on making it easy to print from smartphones and tablets.”
HP’s band of geniuses saw an obvious need, resulting from the increasing level of mobility in the workplace, and the expectation that smartphones can do just about everything. Hansen said, “We saw this need because we were just observing that people are using their phones, and they have an expectation that they can do everything on the smartphone that they can do on the desktop or laptop, but printing was a gap.” The impetus for the ePrint service actually started with HP’s own substantial collection of employees, who naturally have high expectations of the technology they use, and expected to be able to do everything on the road, that they could do in the office.
The ePrint service can be used by any size company, or even by individuals who need a quick copy of their cat pictures. The service is especially useful or the SMB market. “One of the things we know about our small business customers,” said Hansen, “Is that they are really scrappy, and they are increasingly saying that in some ways it’s never been a better time to be a small business or startup, because of the idea of the assetless business.”
The “assetless business” of which Hansen speaks represents a new category of small startup that didn’t exist in the ’90s dotcom era. This type of company doesn’t have, and doesn’t need, a data center and servers in the office (or even an office at all, for that matter). Everything is available as-a-service. With this type of approach however, integration is a must. Multiple as-a-service apps and infrastructure services can change the game, but having dozens of them at once with no integration between them is a recipe for incredible confusion. Fortunately, cloud players understand this, and are building integration into their offerings. HP is no exception, and their ePrint service is integrated with several other facilities, including Dropbox and Facebook.
HP’s ePrint, and other as-a-service offerings like it, represent more than just technology and services. This is a new and disruptive business model that gives small businesses and startups access that they didn’t have before.