Missing Features

Printers have certainly evolved over the years from the early dot matrix type which produced barely legible text from an array of black dots to the multi colour photographic quality laser version which no longer need a mortgage to acquire.

Along with the basic print quality changes printers now have a bewildering range of advanced features designed to make life easier if you can master the controlling process required. Things like double sided printing, copying and even faxing, (does anyone still do that??), are common place. Many of these features don’t even require a computer. Photocopying for instance is extremely useful and in many offices the idea of a standalone copier seems to be consigned to the last century.

The purchase price of some higher quality printers did look prohibitive until the idea of printer sharing was added to the list of available features. This meant that several computers could share a single printer. Initially this was achieved with a small switch box that connected all of the computers and a single printer together. Users just turned a dial to direct the output from a particular computer to the printer and carried on working as normal.

As networking, and especially the Internet, became an essential function for many computers printers followed suit and linked in to the same network. The switch box disappeared and users just needed to click Print – the network sorted out a route to the printer and queued jobs if more than one computer tried to access the printer at the same time. Ideal – one less thing for users to worry about and a lot less cables running around!

While printers were steadily progressing from a technological viewpoint smart phones exploded almost overnight. From basic calls and text messages they became mini computers able to do almost anything you could manage on a laptop, except for working with external devices…..

Due to their small size smart phones lacked any sort of connectors for other hardware, like printers, so this aspect of the phone’s development certainly lagged behind it’s other features.

At some stage printer manufacturers realised that the built in camera on every phone had become the most used part of the package but users couldn’t easily print their images. To solve this problem all the main printer manufacturers began creating downloadable apps which users could install on their phones and thus print directly to a printer which was already connected to a network. This was the start of smart phones becoming really useful devices.

The connection principle was proven but ease of use wasn’t quite there. Great for pictures but what about email and other documents people had started to use their phones for? And was it really ideal for users to download and install a different app for every printer manufacturer? Fortunately the phone manufacturers came up with a solution to this issue and magically a Print option now appears with every file or document when you’re viewing it on the phone. Looks like a win for users with simplified access for printing anything you can see on the screen.

Of course this ease of use relied on phone and computers using the same protocols or, to put it another way, speaking the same language. It’s a bit like using the telephone – there’s no problem connecting two phones together but it’s rather useless if the people at each end don’t speak the same language. The wireless network connection is the telephone line and the protocol is the language both the smart phone and printer must understand to allow communications between them and thus printing.

Over the last few years a couple of standard protocols have enabled every smart phone to communicate with every printer which has made lots of sense for users who just want to print. However just as we seem to be getting complacent about things printer manufacturers have taken a step back and dropped some of these protocols from their entry level printers. It’s like turning the clock backwards as we need to start installing apps again which can only print photos!

These printers are still advertised as supporting mobile devices but in reality it’s a cut down version of what we’ve become accustomed to over the last few years.

Unfortunately all this means that once again end users should be very careful about selecting the correct printer. It’s a very new issue but in our limited experience it only makes a difference of £10 to the price of the printer. You do wonder why manufacturers have removed such a useful feature from their printers but we suspect they may be charged by the phone manufacturers for using their proprietary protocols.

And again it all happens without any discussion with users and the old adage, “Let The Buyer Beware” rings true.

If you about to buy a printer or wonder what all this means to you why not drop us an email at DISC or call us on 0191 236 7839 for more information.

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