In the technology world, the word standard doesn’t mean what it should. Cars with entertainment systems that adhere to the Bluetooth standard, for instance, commonly have problems connecting to certain Bluetooth phones.
Wireless printing is another area that tends to have problems with standards. The manufacturers of computers, mobile devices and printers offer multiple standards in wireless printing. Not only are these standards mutually incompatible, they are often even internally inconsistent. If you often need to use wireless printers, you need to wrap your head around the way these different standards work.
Printing over Wi-Fi
Printing is a complex task. When you need to print a picture, for instance, it isn’t just pixel data that gets sent over to the printer. The computer and printer send a great deal of communication data to each other to ensure error-free printing. Computers need printer-specific drivers for every printer they work with to achieve such control.
It works the same way with Wi-Fi printing. It isn’t just pixel data that gets sent over the air – rather, both printer and computer pair to one another over a virtual, wireless USB connection. This is why computers need printer-specific drivers for Wi-Fi printing, too. You can’t simply turn on your laptop and send a print job over to a friend’s printer without preparation. You first need the right drivers installed on your computer.
The need for drivers makes Wi-Fi printing a poor choice for a world where more people have smartphones and tablets on hand than laptops. You can’t assume that smartphones and tablets can print to a Wi-Fi printer just because they have Wi-Fi. They can’t print over Wi-Fi if they don’t have a driver for the printer installed. Since you can’t install drivers on phones and tablets, Wi-Fi printing is out of the question on these devices.
Printing over Bluetooth
Bluetooth is a more user-friendly protocol than Wi-Fi. Bluetooth devices are simple to pair and are able to accept files from one another. They don’t need drivers. If you have a Bluetooth-enabled computer or mobile device, it should pair with any Bluetooth printer (you may have problems with Bluetooth versions, sometimes). Once you establish a Bluetooth connection with a printer, though, you should have no trouble sending a file over for printing.
The only problem with Bluetooth printing is that most printers don’t offer Bluetooth compatibility.
Printing over Apple’s AirPrint
AirPrint is Apple’s wireless printing solution. Most printer manufacturers offer models with AirPrint (among a set of other wireless printing standards).
AirPrint isn’t a new kind of wireless connection – it is just a standard that uses Wi-Fi differently from regular Wi-Fi printers. AirPrint only works with Apple products. You don’t need to bother with installing printer drivers, though.
Printing over Google’s Cloud Print
Sending print jobs to a printer over the cloud is a good way to sidestep the driver problem. When you have a Cloud Print-enabled printer on your Wi-Fi network, you can send print jobs to it over a Google account, no matter what device you use to send those files. Phones, tablets, laptops, smart watches, smart televisions and every other device capable of going on the Internet and signing into a Google account should be able to save print jobs on your Google Drive. Google Cloud Print-enabled printers, then, should be able to access those print jobs and get them on paper.
Printer manufacturers have their own ideas for wireless printing
Curiously, no printer manufacturer has a popular wireless printing standard. While Epson has its iPrint and HP its ePrint, they aren’t independent standards. They are simply Android apps that help you send print jobs out of Android devices.
Since the wireless printing world is so fragmented, the only sensible way to buy a wireless printer is to get a product with every standard included – Wi-Fi, AirPrint, Cloud Print and Bluetooth. This way, you’ll be ready for anything.