A number of small-business owners are buying tablet computers such as the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab as low-cost, portable alternatives to notebook computers. Tablets can be loaded with easy-to-use mobile applications that manage business tasks such as emailing and file saving.
But when it comes to printing business documents, tablet PCs can present a challenge. Most tablets do not come with much by way of printing capabilities, and when they do, they are usually limited to specific devices.
While apps can be downloaded from the iTunes Store or Android Market, some can be hard to use. What's more, printers and adapters that can accept content directly from tablets can be pricey and time-consuming to set up.
The good news is that printing from your tablet doesn't have to be difficult, as long as you know how to get your tablet to connect to the specific printers in your office. Here's a list of options that can help minimize the struggle of printing from a tablet PC, as well as some thoughts on the positives and negatives for each:
Tablet Printing Apps
How they work: A number of mobile apps -- including PrintBureau ($14.99), Print n Share ($8.99) and PrintDirect (free) by EuroSmartz Ltd. -- offer convenient printing capabilities from a tablet computer. If you are using a wireless printer, most mobile printing apps will search for that device. If the device is a USB-connected printer, you’ll most likely need to install a separate printing utility on your desktop or laptop that connects your tablet to the printer software on your traditional computer.
The positive: Once installed, most apps let you print directly from the application you’re using, such as Apple’s mobile word processing app called Pages or email. Many also come with extra features for organizing files or printing from cloud storage services such as Dropbox.
The negative: Getting your tablet device to communicate with your printer isn't always easy -- especially if you’re printing from a desktop using one of the print utilities. Make sure to read the set-up instructions for the app, printer and printer software carefully. There can be a number of potential conflicts, such as an app that's not compatible with your type of printer.
Related: The Arrival of Web-Based Printing
To use Google Cloud Print, you'll need to enable the application as part of an existing account for Google’s suite of online office products and then carefully go through the set-up process. This process can vary depending on which printers, browser and printing software you are attempting to use. And remember, the printer the printer you use must be connected to the Internet.
The positive: Cloud-based printing is flexible and easy to use. Also, it allows you to print documents using numerous printers without requiring you to install individual apps or drivers.
The negative: It doesn’t capture all of options for presenting information. For example, advanced printing features such as zooming and scaling an image to page -- features you'd generally find on a desktop or laptop -- are not fully supported.
In the case of Google Cloud Print, you must print through an active Google account, import content into that account as a document and print from there. This usually requires bypassing your regular email or word processing client, if you are running Microsoft Office Outlook or other office software tools.
Also keep in mind that cloud printing is still a niche solution. As of now, only Hewlett Packard’s line of ePrint printers fully supports Google Cloud Print.
Printing from a Bluetooth Wireless Connection
How it works: Most tablets come with Bluetooth wireless capabilities built in. Bluetooth is the technology headsets use to connect to cell phones wirelessly. Just as with a headset, a Bluetooth-enabled printer can be "paired" with a properly configured tablet. That is, each can be told to find each other and connect as a normal PC and printer. Once enabled, printing from a tablet is direct and fast.
The positive: You can print directly without the occasional app-related troubles.
The negative: Printing is available only within a limited distance between printer and device. Bluetooth printing also doesn’t offer much control over print jobs in terms of copies and collation, among other things.
Also, if you don’t have a Bluetooth-enabled printer, you'll need to purchase a Bluetooth adapter. These usually cost about $30.
Bottom Line: Printing from your tablet device doesn't have to be difficult -- it should be a convenience. Just make sure to take everything step-by-step. Tablet printing is still a work in progress.