Do you own an iPad or iPhone or iPhone Touch? Do you know what operating system it runs?
Before you answer that… As you may have read here or elsewhere, in a couple of weeks Apple will be unveiling – TA DA! – the brand new iPhone 5 and, likely, a cheaper iPhone 4 or 4S. At around the same time, Apple also will make available iOS 5, its fifth generation mobile operating system for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
Let's get back to my opening question. I'm going to guess you haven't a clue as to what operating system your iPxxx device is running. I'll take a further intuitive leap and say you rarely connect your iPxxx device you desktop. In fact, the odds are pretty good that you have connected the two only once, when you first bought your iPxxx to transfer music and photos to it.
If this is the case, or even if your iPxxx is running the latest iOS (4.3.5) you may be missing one of the great capabilities buried in iOS 4.2 and beyond – AirPrint.
iPxxx biggest complaint
Other than the lack of expandable memory and no USB jack, the most annoying lack in iPxxx devices is the inability to print.
AirPrint solves this problem. Grab your iPxxx. Open up, say, an email. At the upper right hand corner you'll see some icons, including an arced arrow the curves to the left. Tap it. You'll see three items listed – Reply, Forward and, yes, Print.
In Safari – the iPxxx Web browser, Print is an option upon tapping the right-curvy arrow to the left of the Web address window; you'll find a similar right curvy icon in the upper right corner when you tap on a photo. In Pages, the Apple iPad word processing app, Print is an option behind the wrench icon on the upper right.
AirPrint does not require you to physically connect your iPxxx to a printer via a cable. AirPrint works over the air (duh) via Wi-Fi.
So, in order to print, you need an AirPrint compatible printer – a printer that includes Wi-Fi connectivity. As long as your iPxxx and the AirPrint printer are using the same Wi-Fi network, printing is as easy as tapping the Print option – no driver installation, no pairing, no nothing. Once you connect your AirPort printer to your home Wi-Fi network, your Wi-Fi connected iPad just knows the printer is there.
Your tapped Print command transferred wirelessly to your printer resulting in printing even faster than clicking on "Print" your desktop PC to print to a USB-connected printer.
Unfortunately, not all Wi-Fi-enabled printers – and a it's hard to find a printer these days that isn't Wi-Fi-enabled – are AirPrint compatible.
As of this posting, only two companies make AirPrint printers – HP and, more recently, Canon. Surprisingly, neither Apple's nor HP's AirPrint compatible printer list is complete. But just look for an HP wireless printer – it'll likely be AirPrint compatible as well.
In the photo up on the left is the HP Photosmart 5110, one of HP's latest AirPrint printers. HP has around two dozen AirPrint models, inkjet, photo printers and laser printers, starting as low as $70 after online discounts.
In addition to AirPrint, many of HP's Wi-Fi printers also are endowed with something called ePrint. ePrint essentially gives your printer its own email address. Using this address, you can "send" anything to your printer from anywhere from any device as long as whatever device you're using is connected to the Internet. In other words, say you're on the road and someone in the office needs a hard copy of your presentation – you can send it from wherever you are to be printed on the ePrint-compatible HP printer in the office.
HP also just announced many of its wireless LaserJet printers can be upgraded to become AirPrint compatible – the LaserJet Pro CP1025nw, the LaserJet Pro M1217nfw, the LaserJet Pro P1102/1102w series, the LaserJet Pro P1560 series/P1600 series and the LaserJet Pro 100 color MFP 175nw.
Weren't there Wi-Fi printing apps?
Yes. You could have wireless printed from an iPad before AirPrint on any Wi-Fi or even an older, USB-connected printed. The iTunes app store has a number of Wi-Fi printer apps, some of which used your desktop computer as a conduit to your existing printer.
But the update of AirPrint in iOS 4 has messed with these apps, making them at best hit-or-miss and, at worst, rendering them inoperable.
Which means, to take advantage of AirPrint you will have to buy an AirPrint printer. I think it likely, given the popularity and ubiquity of iPxxx devices, that most new model printers from many printer makers will be AirPrint compatible going forward.
Personally, I try to give the trees a break by not printing. But every once in a while, one does need a hard copy of something. And being able to print it from my iPad while watching TV instead of having to go to my home office to do it is a great convenience.