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Inside the shadowy underground of 'anything, anywhere' cloud-based printing

Melissa Riofrio | Feb. 13, 2013
Cloud-connected printers are everywhere, but how hard is it to collect your paperwork? We went to a private school and Twitter's corporate office to find out.

The librarian handed me my jobs with a flourish, as if lifting a silver dome off my fancy dinner. He was young, and perhaps not far removed from the food-service portion of his career arc. Whatever the case, it was nice to end my experiment on a high note. The print was even free, compliments of Google.

Don't print to strangers

Cloud printing is possible, but not to the degree you might think. Many of the cloud printers I detected with my apps were in hotels, private offices, airport lounges, and schools, where only authorized guests or clients could use them--if the printers still existed at all. Truly public places I visited, such as libraries, cafés, and office stores, were my success stories. The libraries I tried didn't even require me to have a library card.

Although cloud-printing vendors are naturally enthusiastic advocates of this new technology, they need to manage expectations--starting with their directories. PrinterOn's PrintSpots directory brags, "With over 10,000 locations to choose from, printing on-the-go is easy and convenient. any of the locations below." There it is, in big letters, and yet a PrinterOn spokesperson contended, "PrinterOn does not promote on-the-go 'drop-in' print for the public." PrinterOn also did not concede that its directory could use some clarification and updating. At least EFI and HP sounded apologetic and claimed to be working on improvements.

Staples' enthusiastic and broad adoption of cloud-printing services could indicate an upward trend. According to Damien Leigh, vice president of U.S. retail business services for Staples, the company tested cloud-printing services in 2011, and "strong customer adoption" led to the program's rollout to all U.S. Staples stores in the fall of 2012.

Cloud printing's true lie: Available but exclusive

Still, my experiments highlight a chicken-and-egg problem, where limited accessibility could be keeping more people from trying cloud printing. Even in the locations where service was available, it seemed to be rarely used.

IDC's Keith Kmetz isn't surprised. "As an increasingly mobile workforce, office workers want access to all business information and assets wherever they are and whenever they want them. However, companies don't want printers 'spitting' out pages and pages of access could be limited." This protective stance can discourage adoption, says Kmetz: "Many potential users don't know about the cloud and the access to print, or don't know what they need to do to facilitate printing from the cloud. Sheepishly, they don't want to ask, so many forgo printing rather than use it."

I've learned that I can't cloud-print to strangers--that only certain places will allow it, no matter what the directory tells me. And if you don't like rejection any more than I do, check ahead if you're printing to anywhere other than an office superstore or copy shop.

Now I'm going home, where I know there's a printer that loves me.


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