HP, allies launch Mopria to keep printers relevant in mobile era
HP, Samsung, Xerox, and Canon banded together to create the Mopria standards for making it easy to print from mobile devices. Up next: an "explosion" of new printing uses.
As the computing industry expands its attention beyond PCs to smartphones and tablets, one technology has struggled to keep up: printing. But a new alliance of printer makers and others called Mopria hopes to change that.
The group, which includes Hewlett-Packard, Canon, Samsung, and Xerox so far, announced its existence today that it believes will make printing from mobile devices easy. They've developed a set of interfaces that give mobile operating systems simplified printing software and let apps easily draw on that ability. Mopria technology also governs printer technology so people can send print jobs using Wi-Fi Direct wireless networking or by tapping a printer with a phone that supports near-field communications (NFC).
"If you are a printer vendor, and if you are solely attached to a PC, where is your future? We are moving from a device that is a PC peripheral to a mobile companion," said Phil McCoog, a distinguished technologist with HP's printing business. "You need to be print or you're going to force people to go back to their PC when they want or need to print."
The idea resembles Apple's AirPrint technology, but it's designed to work with any mobile operating system, McCoog said. Right off the bat, some Android devices will support it, including new Samsung Galaxy S4 and Note 3, but Mopria wants to extend much farther.
Mopria has won over Adobe Systems, McCoog said, but with the public launch Tuesday, the alliance will start trying to sign up other companies. He wouldn't comment on Apple support, but said, "Every company is welcome to join," and that companies can build their own extras atop the Mopria foundation.
As with so much in the mobile device market, smartphones and tablets give the printer industry a chance for a fresh start. Mopria is shucking a lot of print driver technology that's decades old, McCoog said.
"What we're trying to do is not just make it as good as desktops, but to make it better than desktops," he said.
For example, people using Mopria technology no longer will have to mess with the sometimes-grueling task of finding and installing print drivers, the software that lets a computer talk to a specific printer.
The Mopria technology is done after a fast-paced development effort that began at the beginning of 2013 and will arrive in the real world this year. It'll come with a logo program, too, that later should become visible to consumers shopping for printers.
HP profits are reliant on selling "consumables" like inkjet cartridges, so the company can't be eager to see that business sidelined by the new prominence of tablets and smartphones. Even though mobile device make it easier to skip the printer in some cases, for example with electronic boarding passes and mapping apps, McCoog doesn't see printing as an endangered business.
The more information is archived digitally, he said, the more gets printed.
"We see it exploding content in the world," he said. "If you increase the content a thousandfold, [and] if printing drops by 1 percent, that's still an increase overall. We're not seeing the threat of printing going away."