When we first starting building PrintWithMe’s guest printing technology, we invested much effort in studying our users and their contexts. We endeavored to fully understand their particular needs before ever writing a line of code. So we spent weeks interviewing customers and examining various existing printing protocols. We soon found that most people we spoke with were printing documents that resided on their PC/Laptop’s hard drive, or in the cloud (an email account, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc). This presented two key takeaways for us, that would end up informing the design of our system: first, we learned that to-be-printed documents do not typically reside in smartphone storage, despite the wide proliferation of mobile applications; and second, documents are becoming increasingly accessed, edited, and stored exclusively in the cloud, without even “touching down to earth” (to a user’s local storage). In fact, Google has invested heavily in its ever-improving Google Docs suite of products, which now rival the Microsoft Office suite in usage and do not require any touch-down to local storage to use.
Armed with these fresh learnings, we began to evaluate various possible workflows that would allow for the easy transferral of documents from guest user’s devices and clouds, to our unique printing system. Email quickly rose to the front of the pack as the most promising protocol. Why? Most of these documents could be easily “exported” from their respective sources via email in only one or two easy steps. Further, everyone has an email account these days, and is familiar and comfortable with using it.
The alternative workflows were not nearly as user-friendly:
- Provide a computer terminal paired with the printer.
- Disadvantages: more steps for the user to complete, lack of trust singing into email accounts, more hardware to maintain.
- Allow the user to find the printer on a local network.
- Kicker: we can not authenticate the user easily, we can not appropriately charge the customer.
- Web-based upload.
- Kicker: while practical for documents on a laptop, not practical for email-based or cloud-based documents.
While we have plans to build quite a few more interfaces in the future (and we already are), it was clear to us from very early on why email is the king when it comes to guest printing. We hope you would agree!