Getting connected: apps and websites for printing
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By Nick Smith
22 November 2011
Last month Laurel Brunner explained that a cloud-based industry 'is a step beyond web-to-print applications – a very large step beyond'. Fair enough. Where web and app-based systems currently link what we have on our computers and external hard drives to people and services accessible online, the central vision of cloud computing is that everything, from files to applications to the data that runs your operating system, will be stored online and nowhere else. No internet connection, no dice.
But in print as well as in consumer technologies generally the imminence of cloud computing is still controversial. Google recently released its Chromebook, a laptop without any internal memory and so entirely dependent on the cloud, to mixed reviews. Even if we are not all hurtling towards a cloud-only future, iterations of the tools and interfaces we use to access and interact with the cloud are already available.
In the same way social networks are allowing individuals to distribute personal content to friends and family anywhere in the world and fronting the technical and organisational costs of those transactions, some companies are making it cheaper and easier for printers to communicate.
Printer-side pre-press apps and websites are taking the place of complex installs on company networks as well. This year Agfa launched a free mobile application for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch which allows printers to connect with their :Apogee Prepress server and monitor job and equipment status from their mobile devices. As with many apps and websites helping printers and clients communicate and do business, considerable innovation in user-interface design went in to developing :Apogee Prepress. "The status of jobs can easily be determined by a simple colour code: green means a job is complete; blue means the job is waiting, for example, for a file to be uploaded; and red means that an error occurred and needs attention," explains Erik Peeters, marketing manager for :Apogee at Agfa Graphics.
Other services are opening up the possibilities for more comprehensive end-to-end printing solutions. On the consumer side, dozens of paid-for apps have emerged to accommodate design and print from Android and iOS mobile devices. One applications developer, EuroSmartz, already offers at least five apps with capabilities ranging from multi-user printing to multiple print app integration.
On the industrial end, websites and apps are emerging that help printers streamline their services as well as lower the bar for participation and access to commercial services for amateurs. One such company is Solopress, which, besides flexibility and the broad service offering it is able to offer in part due to its online point of entry, focuses on delivering rapid job turnaround and environmental sustainability, such as use of recycled paper and eco inks. Companies like Printing.com and Bromley-based Multiprint offer similar services.
More established industry players are getting involved as well. This month Output reported commercial availability of a web-based Fujifilm service the company says is compatible with 'all other print production workflow systems on the market'. XMF Print Centre extends Fujifilm's offering to both offset and digital production and its development, again, centred largely on designing straightforward usability through an elegant user interface.
OKI Printing Solutions's SignDirector Solution platform, introduced last year, is a narrower, though likely not less valuable, web-based application. It allows retailers to order, print and ship signage on demand, allowing companies to control brand consistency, pricing and promotions across the territories in which they operate. "This solution is ideal for corporations that want to streamline processes and better manage in-store promotions across all locations to increase efficiency and time to market," says Terry Cruikshank, senior manager, Industry Marketing, OKI Data Americas.
Whether you're a time-worn print industry veteran or an amateur with personal or business display needs, apps and websites have, for many, already become an integral part of production. The betting is that even if the cloud isn't where every aspect of home and professional computing is heading, online services like these are fast becoming essential tools.
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