On This Whole Damn AirPrint Thing

Over the last two days, the Apple-centric part of the Internet has shat it pants over a rumor that Apple had cut some features from AirPrint, a component of the upcoming iOS 4.2 release. The release of 10.6.5 late this afternoon seems to confirm that iOS devices will only be able to print directly to printers that support the technology, and not to printers simply shared from a Mac or PC.

Which is a bummer. It means that only customers with fancy new HP printers can enjoy the feature for now.[1. Although, some people have been reporting mixed luck with shared printers, oddly.]

It’s been a little surprising to me the outcry I’ve seen online today over this issue.

While I understand that limiting this feature to a few select printers is a letdown, I can understand why Apple may have pulled the plug.

Just sit back and think about it. How many average consumers can set up printer sharing? I’m pretty sure neither of my parents — average users — could get printer sharing up and running without calling me.

What happens if the host Mac or PC is asleep or off the network? Suddenly, iOS printing doesn’t work. The average consumer isn’t going to understand why they can’t print — they are just going to think their iPad is “broken.” That’s not a good situation for anyone.

Add to this printer driver issues, jammed print queues on a host computer and a range of other issues that arise with shared printers. Not good at all.

Apple always chooses shipping a paired back (but good) feature over shipping a more complex, less polished feature. I see AirPrint simply being another example of this philosophy. Printing directly to a network printer is a clean, simple solution. And Apple likes clean, simple solutions.

Yes, it sucks. But having the feature may have sucked more, at least for non-geeks.[2. I don’t see Apple leaving this in as an option for some users, sadly.]

And I think we have to swallow that pill, at least until something changes.