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HP Unveils a Web-Connected Printer

HP LogoHP likes it when people print. And print. And print. And I’m at an event where the company just unveiled (literally!) the PhotoSmart Premium with Touchsmart Web, a new $399 inkjet all-in-one printer. It’s got a large color touchscreen and connects directly to the Web via Wi-Fi–so you print out stuff without ever touching your PC or using a browser.

Here’s a fuzzy photo of HP printing honcho Vyemesh Joshi using the printer to browse coupons from Coupon.com and print one out–the UI looks fairly slick, like an iPhone embedded in the printer’s control panel:

Coupon printing

So far, HP hasn’t talked too much about the technical details, but Web sites will apparently have to prepare content specifically for access via the printer–that’s not a full-blown browser that you get access to via the screen. The company has lined up a pretty impressive group of sites to endorse the printer and presumably support it: Google (with Google Maps), Coupons.com, Fandango, and Nickelodeon.

My impulse is always to be a tad skeptical of new technology products based on the assumption that there are large numbers of people out there who are itching not to use PCs. The demo is over and we’re watching a panel discussion; everybody on stage is explaining why printing is great, but they’re not saying just what’s so difficult about printing from a PC.) And $399 is potentially pricey these days for a home printer, although HP hasn’t mentioned what other features the printer has. (Joshi says the company thinks that $99 printers will have these Web features eventually.)

Actually, listening to the discussion, I think the pitch here isn’t so much that the printer eliminates the need to print from a PC–it’s that a Web-connected printer can start to reduce the need for stuff like millions of coupons being wastefully distributed via newspapers. (Sorry, newspaper publishers!) They’re talking about a day when most of the printed items in our lives might be printed on demand. That sort of makes sense, although it’s going to be a while before we get there and one printer is a very small step in that direction.

It’s an intriguing idea, anyhow, and potentially a useful one if the interface works well and lots of major companies support it. (The API is HP-only, not open; wouldn’t a standard usable by all printer makers be cooler and stand a great chance of success?)

During the on-stage demo, I wondered why HP only showed the Coupons.com app, and that one only briefly. I think I got my answer when the presentation ended and we were able to get hands-on experience with the printer. The Google Maps application was quite slow, and didn’t seem to be fully implemented; an HP representative told me that they’re still optimizing everything, so I wouldn’t judge the printer that will ship by its current state. (The Web features, incidentally, run on Linux and use a Webkit-based browser.)

The printer will ship in the Fall. Here it is:

HP Web-Connected Printer

And here’s a close-up of the screen–yes, it does look rather like a skinny iPhone attached to the front of a printer:

HP Control Panel