How Wireless Technology Changed Printing

The Mobile Benefits

Some wireless printers, like the mini unit pictured here, are actually designed specifically to work with mobile devices.
Some wireless printers, like the mini unit pictured here, are actually designed specifically to work with mobile devices.

If you have all of the necessary information handy, wireless printer installations are generally easy and reliable. They're even simpler when either the printer or the computer supports WiFi Direct. This technology allows WiFi-capable devices to connect directly to each other instead of going through an access point such as a router.

If your printer has WiFi Direct, you can enable this feature and then select the printer from the list of wireless networks that appears on your computer. You'll have to enter a PIN code or password, but that's generally the only roadblock to starting print jobs through this type of connection.

Near-field communication (NFC) is another wireless technology supported by newer printers and Android devices. Using NFC, you just tap your device to the NFC spot on the printer to initiate a connection and then begin printing. But often, the NFC functionality varies from printer to printer. It's not a universal standard yet, meaning it may cause more frustration than it resolves.

Wireless communications protocols do vary, and things get even more confusing when it comes to mobile computing. That's because newer smartphones and tablets offer an altogether different type of printing experience.

These svelte gadgets have enough processing oomph to let you view and create all sorts of printable documents and images, no matter if you're at home or flying at 30,000 feet (9 kilometers). Yet printing those documents can prove challenging because many mobile devices aren't made to connect directly with printers.

Sometimes it's relatively easy to print via mobile. If your printer is Bluetooth-ready, you should be able to link it to your device and print immediately. There are cons to Bluetooth, however, such as its short range (generally limited to one room) and the need to constantly check to make sure your Bluetooth adapter is turned on.

There are other potential trouble points, too. For example, if your device uses Google's Android operating system, you'll likely have to use a print app in order to start a print job. Many manufacturers develop their own printing apps specifically for their own printers. You'll have to download and install the app and then use it to select the files you want to print. This kind of scheme can become bewildering in a hurry, particularly if you use multiple printers from more than one manufacturer.

There are also third-party printing apps, such as Mopria Print Service and PrinterShare Print Service, available for Android devices. However, they all work a bit differently and reviews vary from excellent to poor depending the particular device you own. You may also be able to print via a cloud printing service, such as Google Cloud.