Mobile printing apps: getting better

The companies that offer wireless printing apps, and the things those apps can print

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What a world.

Image via Flickr/mastermaq

For a little while after the smartphone surge was upon us, the firms that make printers had a decision to make: would they be able to sell us a total Printing Solution to handle our new devices? Or should they just make apps that let us print things on the printers we already have?

Most printer makers have slowly transitioned from that first idea to the second. Remember the HP TouchPad? Well, forget about that. Just be glad that most of the new printers coming out have built-in wireless connections, and that printer firms have hired app firms to make tools that let you send documents to those printers from your little screens.

The catch is that most smartphones and tablets don't have any kind of native printing ability built in, so the app has to handle it all: grabbing attachments from email, or Google Drive, or some other account, or taking a "Share" request from another app. You don't exactly "print" from one of these apps the way you would a Windows or Mac computer, so much as work with a printing app to ferry a document over to your printer.

Most importantly, I would recommend checking now, and every so often, to see if your wireless printer now supports printing through mobile apps. Printer manufacturers do occasionally add older printers to their apps' functions. That happened with me and the printer at my office space—suddenly I could print documents to it through my phone, whereas I could not when I first checked. When all else fails, check if your printer is supported by Apple's AirPlay system, or, even more rarely, Google's Cloud Print system.

Here's a quick rundown of the printing apps offered by the big printer makers, and the things and services with which they work. Almost all of them can print photos you have stored on your phone; what is listed goes beyond that.

Brother iPrint
Android, iOS, Kindle Fire, Windows Phone
+ Grab attachments or entire messages from Gmail
+ Print web pages
+ Scan on multi-function devices remotely
+ Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files can be printed without conversion
+ (Android) Print documents stored on your phone's storage
+ (iOS) Print from documents synced via iTunes

Canon Easy-Photo-Print
Android, iOS, Windows RT (Windows 8 tablets)
+ Remote scanning
+ Print PDFs stored on your phone (via iTunes)
+ Print PDFs already scanned (Android)

Dell Mobile Print
Android, iOS
+ Just a huge range of services and printing options supported: documents on the phone, Google Docs, Dropbox, Box.net, email accounts, and, on Android, contacts, messages, calendar items, browser pages, and too many other options to list.

Epson Connect
Any device that can email, but more available for Android and iOS
+ Send documents to the email address that all new Epson printers possess.
+ Print photos (and Facebook photos) with Creative Print (Android/iOS)
+ AirPrint from Apple devices

HP ePrint
Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone
+ Web pages
+ Local documents (Android)
+ Email (iOS)

Kodak
Android, iOS
Kodak doesn't make printers anymore, which is kind of a shame. Their approach to printing was cloud-based, through a Google Cloud Print connection, and then it got even cloud-ier: print documents from Dropbox, Evernote, Google Docs/Drive, or, as usual, local files or web pages.

[Lexmark]
Android, iOS
+ Print PDFs, or some image files (JPG, GIF, BMP, PNG, TIFF) (Android)
+ Print anything you can copy with your thumbs, plus the above documents (iOS)

Samsung
Android, iOS
+ Google Drive
+ Remote scanning
+ Facebook photos (Android)

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