Admittedly I don't do much printing these days. Also I'd have to say that i can't think of too many times that I was looking at something on my iPhone and thought "I'd like to print this." However, with the iPad things are a little different. I'm not saying that I suddenly have the need to print, but I can certainly see someone making the case for needing to print from an iPad more so than from an iPhone or iPod touch. In many cases the iPad has become a laptop replacement for a lot of people and no one would think twice about being able to print something from their laptop. Apple also sells iPad Apps like Pages and Numbers and certainly you might want to print a word processing document or spreadsheet. Apparently Apple got lots of requests for printing too and they added printing support in iOS 4.2.
The iOS AirPrint built-in printing support is severely limited!
Although iOS 4.2 now includes printing support (AirPrint), the current implementation is VERY LIMITED. Out of the box you can only print to select HP printers. That's right! No Epson printers, no Canon printers, no other printers are currently supported. So unless you're willing to go out and buy a specific HP printer, you're out of luck. Rumor had it that Apple was going to support AirPrint "sharing" in Mac OS X 10.6.5 and the support for whatever reason got pulled out of the final release. That's not to say that we won't see it in 10.6.6 or 10.6.5.1 or whatever Apple decides to call it, but for right now it is what it is. Don't worry though, I found a way to do it now!
FingerPrint to the Rescue!
There's an App for that! If you're on a Mac with a shared printer you can download and test Collobos Software's FingerPrint App for Mac OS X 10.5/10.6. This App aims to bridge the gap between AirPrint and your existing printer. You can download the App and test it for a week at no charge. As a matter of fact they encourage you to test it first before paying for it to make sure that it works with YOUR printer. Yes that means that even with this software there's a chance that your printer won't work and that's exactly what happened to me. Although I don't have any real interest in Printing from my iOS devices, I still want the option if I can have it. So I downloaded FingerPrint and within a couple of minutes I had it up and running and ready to test. It saw my Xerox Phaser 8550DP printer and so did my iPad! Woohoo! However, when I brought up a page in Safari on the iPad and attempted to print it nothing happened. Nothing was ever sent to the printer. I figured, "oh well I guess I will continue to live without printing." Then Collobos updated FingerPrint with a new option. This new option allows you to not only print directly to a "compatible" printer, but also send the print job to the Mac that's running the App as an Adobe PDF. You can either "Send to Mac" or "Send to iPhoto". I tried the "Send to Mac" option and it worked! My PDF ended up in the ~/Documents/FingerPrint folder and immediately launched in Preview. So at a minimum I could at least hit print from there and get the printout that I wanted.
That's not good enough!
My brain went into overtime and this got me thinking that I'm so close. Since the Mac OS has built-in Adobe PDF support there must be a way to "automate" the printing of the PDF once it gets to my Mac. Then I remembered "Folder Actions" in Automator! I figured I could create a Folder Action for that very folder that FingerPrint was dumping the PDF in, to not only print the PDF that lands there but also then move that PDF to the trash. Also I don't really need Preview/Acrobat launching every time either.
My Automator Solution
I'm running FingerPrint on my Mac mini Server since it's up all the time anyway. It was very easy to create a Folder Action in Automator to do exactly what I wanted to do. So here it is step-by-step:
After I launched Automator I created a NEW Folder Action and tied it to the FingerPrint folder, I then added the following steps:
1) Quit Application: Preview – Again Preview was launching automatically and there currently is no control over that in FingerPrint. So I created a 1st step that would simply quit Preview. (optionally your first step could simply be to "Print" since the PDF is already up and running in Preview. Adding a Print, then quit then trash would save you one step).
2) Get Folder Contents – in other words select whatever is in that folder, which would be the PDF that just got there.
3) Print Finder Items – again since PDFs are natively supported you can just print them to your printer of choice.
4) Move to trash – lastly after it's done printing the PDF I simply want that PDF moved to the trash. Apple doesn't allow you to do anything "dangerous" in Automator like "empty trash" so you'll have to do that on occasion manually.
I then saved the Action and tried a print from the iPad using the "Send to Mac" option and it worked PERFECTLY! I'm hoping that the developer reads this and adds this option directly to the App as it would solve the "my printer isn't compatible with AirPrint" problem for everyone. In the meantime enjoy my Automator work around.
You can download FingerPrint here for FREE. If you find it useful after the 7 day trial it will cost you $7.