Katherine Boehret

Countertrend: H-P Says Please Print Often

If your company makes printers but general trends are leaning toward using less paper and moving digital content to e-readers and smartphones, what can you do? Hewlett-Packard’s solution is to find new ways to get people to print more.

The $399 H-P Photosmart Premium All-in-One with Touch-Smart Web (hp.com/go/touchprinting) will print, copy, fax and scan like other all-in-ones. But it connects to the Internet using built-in Wi-Fi and displays customized Web applications on its 4.33-inch touch screen. These apps are designed to promote printing in any way possible, including photos from Snapfish, Sudoku puzzles, movie tickets from Fandango, coupons, maps from Google (GOOG) Maps, coloring-book pages and news articles—all without using a computer.

The print apps are part of the new H-P App Studio, H-P’s (HPQ) answer to the flurry of app stores—Apple’s (AAPL) App Store, RIM’s (RIMM) BlackBerry World, Android Marketplace, Palm’s (PALM) App Catalog and Microsoft’s (MSFT) Zune Marketplace—that ease the process of downloading onto mobile devices. A “Get More” icon on the printer’s touch screen presents descriptions of available apps. There are currently 15 available for download onto your printer, and more will be added in coming months.

MOSSBERG

The Photosmart All-in-One connects to Web apps that promote printing of everything from photos to tickets.

This printer is designed to work with more than just the H-P App Studio. A downloadable tool called the H-P Photo Print Gadget installs on computers running Windows 7 or Vista (not Windows XP) so people can drag and drop photos to it for printing. PlayStation 3 owners can capture and print screen shots as evidence of their game success. And a long-available free app in Apple’s App Store called H-P iPrint Photo lets iPhone and iPod Touch owners send photos to this and other H-P printers.

The goal of this product is obviously to get people to print more, and in my case, it worked. I used more paper in a week of testing the Photosmart Premium All-in-One than I normally print out in three weeks at my office. The printer quickly churned out dual-sided pages with photos in rich colors.

But the concept of adding apps to a printer while also asking people to become more paper-reliant seems like one step forward, two steps back. I could see this concept working on a thin, stylish printer that could fit neatly on an entryway table, making it a cinch for people to grab maps, movie tickets and coupons on their way out the door. But this is a large, all-in-one machine that takes up some serious space.

And if this all-in-one is truly meant to work without a PC, it should do a better job of letting you interact with pages, like zooming in on a document to preview before printing. In the current document preview screen, the text is too small to read. Likewise, the Google Calendar app printed a nice one-page calendar month view, but I couldn’t zoom in on the print preview to see specific appointments. This forced me to print the page to see its contents, using more ink and more paper.

Other apps are shamelessly begging users to press Print. A Toys and Crafts app made by H-P itself includes paper dolls with cut-out clothes that can be snipped and folded to stay on the doll’s form. For the doll’s face, kids are encouraged to use a photo of themselves that–surprise, surprise—they can print using their all-in-one.

Coupons.com supplies two apps—one for coupons and one for recipes. I browsed through 87 product coupons in my ZIP Code and marked those that I wanted to print using a small check-box on the touch screen. Pressing “Print” compiled three coupons on one piece of paper. Recipes from Coupons.com printed with brightly colored photos of the end result; I’m looking forward to following one for Curried Chicken Salad.

For now, the Google Maps app isn’t ready for prime time: It prints only maps, not directions. H-P says it’s planning to add directions but wouldn’t say when. And a Nickelodeon app couldn’t load on my printer. Some apps took from 10 to 30 seconds to load—precious time when you’re running out the door.

One of the smartest apps, Tabbloid, lets people assemble a personalized tabloid-style print-out of news from a variety of sources like Daily Kos for politics and FanHouse for sports. But this assembling must be done on a computer, thus negating this printer’s no-PC approach. I chose from a list of 10 topics including automotive, celebrity, politics and sports and created a printable Tabbloid that, with one click, was sent wirelessly to the corresponding app on my printer. I printed it out to read during my commute.

I liked using the Photosmart Premium All-in-One’s generous screen for touch gestures like flicking left-to-right through a carousel of icons that represent apps. An on-screen keyboard appeared when I had to type in passwords for things like my Snapfish account.

H-P says it will introduce other products with TouchSmart Web capability and access to the HP App Studio, and one hopes these products will include low-end printers rather than expensive all-in-ones. The apps on the H-P Photosmart Premium All-in-One with TouchSmart Web are user-friendly, but I’m not convinced they’ll incite people to print more things more often.

Edited by Walter S. Mossberg.

Write to Katherine Boehret at mossbergsolution@wsj.com


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