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How Wireless Technology Changed Printing

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Until the mid-2000s, printers were notorious for contributing to the tangled mess of cables behind computer desks. Handling the thick, unwieldy serial or parallel cables was like wrestling with boa constrictors in a closet. Fortunately, the advent of wireless printing brought an end to this era of cable chaos.

With wireless printing technology, you can send documents to your printer from across the room or even from another part of the house. No cables are needed, and in some cases, you don’t even need a laptop—you can send documents directly from your tablet or smartphone while brewing your morning coffee.

For frequent printers, this represents a significant change in convenience. In the past, you were tethered to your printer, and even with the advent of laptops, you still had to manually connect a cable to print. Now, there are numerous ways to print wirelessly, and you don’t need a high-end printer or extra equipment. For instance, if you have a computer always connected to your printer and a wireless router, you can share the printer on your wireless network. Other devices connected to the same WiFi network can then install the printer drivers and print via the router. The downside is that if the connected computer is turned off, your wireless printing setup becomes useless.

Alternatively, if your router has a USB port, you can connect your printer directly to the router. This often provides a straightforward way to enable wireless printing with minimal setup.

While routers can be expensive, making it impractical to buy one solely for wireless printing, a standalone print server can be a cost-effective solution. These small devices connect directly to your printer, enabling it to send and receive data wirelessly.

Of course, the simplest solution is to buy a wireless printer, which may use integrated WiFi or Bluetooth.

The Challenges of Wireless Printing

Generally, wireless printer installations are easy and reliable if you have all the necessary information. They become even simpler if the printer or computer supports WiFi Direct, a technology that allows devices to connect directly without an access point like a router.

If your printer supports WiFi Direct, you can enable this feature and select the printer from your computer’s list of wireless networks. You’ll need to enter a PIN or password, but that’s usually the only hurdle.

Near-field communication (NFC) is another wireless technology supported by newer printers and Android devices. With NFC, you can initiate a connection by tapping your device to the printer’s NFC spot. However, NFC functionality varies between printers and isn’t yet a universal standard, which can sometimes cause frustration.

Wireless communication protocols can be confusing, especially with mobile devices. While smartphones and tablets have the capability to view and create printable documents, printing them can be challenging since many mobile devices aren’t designed for direct printer connections.

For instance, if your printer is Bluetooth-enabled, you can link it to your device and print directly. However, Bluetooth’s short range and the need to ensure your adapter is on can be limiting.

Android devices often require a print app to start a print job. Many manufacturers develop specific printing apps for their printers, which you’ll need to download and install. This can become confusing, especially if you use multiple printers from different manufacturers.

Third-party printing apps like Mopria Print Service and PrinterShare Print Service are also available for Android devices, but their performance can vary widely. You might also use cloud printing services like Google Cloud Print.

Wonders and Woes of Wireless

Some third-party printing apps work seamlessly, while others are difficult to configure or print so slowly that they aren’t worth using. Apple’s AirPrint offers a more streamlined approach, allowing direct printing from any app to over 1,000 compatible printer models without needing multiple apps for different printers.

Despite the various wireless printing options, configuring these printers can sometimes be more challenging than their wired counterparts. Troubleshooting wireless issues can be particularly frustrating.

Once your wireless printer is up and running, you might have other concerns, such as speed and security. Generally, WiFi printers don’t slow down a network, but if you frequently print large files, you might notice a decrease in internet speed. In terms of security, printers aren’t typically major targets for viruses, but a virus on your computer could still cause issues, such as printing out unwanted pages.

Wireless printers aren’t a new technology, but they’re not yet perfect either. The rapid evolution of wireless and mobile technologies makes it challenging for manufacturers and developers to create a foolproof wireless printing system. Nonetheless, once you experience the convenience of wireless printing, you’ll never want to return to being chained to a wired printer.

Author’s Note: How Wireless Technology Changed Printing

I remember the days when printing 40 or 50 pages of double-spaced text on a dot-matrix printer took several hours. Printers were slow, and the data transfer cables weren’t much faster. Today, we can print full-color glossy photos from our phones without leaving the couch. Although wireless printers sometimes require more effort, their benefits far outweigh the limitations of the past.