HP’s New High-End Printer Bypasses the PC, Connects Directly to the Web

After two years of project development, Hewlett-Packard is preparing for the official sales launch of a new inkjet printer that the technology giant bills as the world’s first “Web-connected home printer,” a peripheral that cuts the cord to the PC by connecting directly to the Internet.

The Palo Alto, CA-based company says the device, which is intended for the home printer market, was developed in San Diego and Vancouver, WA, by a small R&D team from HP’s imaging and printing group. The effort required a broad range of technology innovations, according to Steve Smith, the San Diego-based R&D program manager who headed development.

As new products go, the significance of the Internet-connected printing technology is not so much in what it can do now, which is frankly not that much. Its significance lies in its potential as a technology platform that could spur independent programmers to do for printers what they have done for the Apple iPhone—which is create tens of thousands of applications that provide new and creative ways of doing things with a device.

HP_Photosmart_Premium_with_TouchSmart_Web_FrontThe printer that HP calls its Photosmart Premium with TouchSmart Web comes pre-loaded with 15 applications that will enable users to quickly and easily make certain types of printouts. One app enables users to print photos from their Snapfish accounts. Another prints out directions directly from Google maps. Other apps allow users to print product reviews from CNET.com, news stories from USA Today, movie tickets from Fandango, and discount coupons from Coupons.com. In each case, HP’s Smith says the specialized app ensures that what you want will all fit neatly on the printout. “We’ve taken care of the formatting for you,” Smith says.

HP spokeswoman Christy Seto says the printer is not equipped with a web browser, which means users cannot use the device to browse the Internet or make printouts from most websites, unless they use a computer. But she says that will change as corporate partners and independent programmers develop more apps specifically for the printer.

“In general the device is designed for the multi-user, multi-PC family,” Smith says. “The household is a busy place with a lot of demands on the central PC that’s usually connected to the printer.” With the TouchSmart Web printer, Smith says, it’s not necessary to boot up a computer to print out a map to your next meeting “when you’re running out the door and the laptop is in your bag, but you forgot to print out the directions.”

In developing the new printer, HP has obviously borrowed a few pages from the Apple playbook. For one thing, the printer’s 4.3-inch touch screen control panel bears a more-than-passing resemblance to the iPhone’s display screen. And HP plans to make additional Web-based applications from third-party developers available for users to download from an HP “App Studio” website.

Users will be able to download new apps from the HP App Studio as they become available via the “Get More” icon on the printer’s control screen. Apple users also can print borderless 4-by-6-inch photos on the printer from an iPhone or iPod touch by downloading HP’s iPrint Photo application, which can be downloaded for free from the Apple iTunes App Store.

Smith says the HP App Studio was developed at the suggestion of people who participated in beta and delta product tests. “They told us, ‘If you had an SDK (software developers’ kit) then we could write our own apps,’” Smith says. HP plans to have such applications available early next year “for business partners and even consumers,” although Smith says HP would still be responsible for filtering and approving the apps.

“We had to innovate across a number of areas—not just in connecting to the Internet,” Smith says. “We changed our electronics architecture, added a new microprocessor, developed a new applications layer for the user interface…

Smith says the team that developed the new printer consisted primarily of four or five members recruited from throughout HP’s imaging and printing group, a $29 billion-a-year business that encompasses inkjet, LaserJet, and commercial printing as well as printing supplies and services. The group has about 1,500 employees in San Diego and about 600 in Vancouver.

How successful the new product will be is another matter. At a time when desktop printers have come under significant pricing pressure, HP is selling its new, top-of-the-line model at a price—$400—that could drain the color from the faces of many consumers. Of course, Apple might have inspired the price as well.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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