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Printing with Android: A history

May 8, 2018

xda developers has published a history of printing on Android, examining the operating system’s previous record, and looking at what is to come.

“Early versions of Android didn’t natively support printing,” xda says, explaining that users would be required to download a third party tool, like Google Cloud Print, and then open the document in a new app and pass it over using the Share menu – a particularly laborious strategy, “especially compared to Apple’s AirPrint and other up-and-coming competitors.”

Android’s printing capabilities finally received an upgrade in 2013, with Android 4.4 KitKat heralding the debut of the first native Android printing platform. “The nascent Android Print Framework had a UI with drop-down menus for printer and page selection,” explains xda, “and a print manager that passed printing requests from apps to available printer services.”

This development also allowed printer manufacturers to develop and distribute their own print services through Google Play, with this option being taken up by OEMs such as HP, Canon, Brother, and Epson.

Yet this new platform was, as xda term it, “the very definition of bare bones,” although it was improved upon by its successors, Android 5.0 Lollipop, and Android 7.0 Nougat, the latter of which allowed apps to display printing progress. “But Android’s print stack didn’t come into its own until Oreo,” according to xda. This is in part thanks to the Mopria Alliance.

The Mopria Alliance is a not-for-profit mobile printing standards body, which operates around the world, and has recruited industry giants like Lexmark, Dell, Toshiba, Kyocera and Adobe to commit to supporting core technologies, features and services across mobile devices.

“As the world becomes more connected,” said its Steering Committee Chairman, Brent Richtsmeier, “it’s very clear that everything is interconnected and more mobile, but people still need to print.” Therefore, it allied with various Android OEMs to ship smartphones and tablets with pre-installed print framework.

It also collaborated with Google to merge with the Android Open Source Project, and ensure that Android 8.0 Oreo’s Default Print Service supports standard settings such as colour adjustment, media type selection, and copying.

xda also looks to the future of Android printing, and what it may hold. “Android’s printing platform has come a long way since the pre-KitKat era” it opines, “when janky workarounds (usually involving the Share menu) were the only way to print something—short of transferring files to a printer-connected PC, of course.”

Yet even so, it highlights various aspects that Android Oreo’s Default Print Service is lacking, such as “punching, folding, stapling, PIN authentication, or accounting features,” as well as an “easy way to print something from Android’s Share menu.”

These gaps are filled, state xda, but Mopria’s own Print Service, available for free from the Google Play Store, “but that’s not much consolation for users in countries with spotty internet infrastructure, or where the Google Play Store isn’t available.”

Among the “signs of improvement” on the horizon, however, is the new Android P. This is expected to support IPPS-only printers, therefore allowing apps to send print jobs, query their status, and lots more, with internet-connected printers.

“In January,” xda continues, “Mopria developers began laying the groundwork for another nice-to-have: Wi-Fi Direct printing. Currently, the Default Print Service on Android supports only local wireless infrastructure connections through a router or hotspot, but new commits add support for connections directly between Android smartphones and tablets and Wi-Fi Direct-compatible printers. With Wi-Fi Direct, there’s no pairing required, and unlike Wi-Fi hotspots, some printers don’t even require a password.”

“There have been studies done that show that eighty percent of millennials, who make up the majority of the workforce, do their jobs with mobile technology, but that only 33 percent of them say that those mobile technologies are meeting their needs,” Richtsmeier said, “and printing is something people look at as a key thing that happens in the office. Mopria is trying to fill that gap, and meet those needs.”


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