PC-Free Printing, Scanning, and Copying With Your AIO

Today's AIOs use memory cards, printer apps, and the cloud, not just PCs

Graphical control panels like HP's allow you to use your printer without a PC. HP

If you’ve shopped online or read the hype on the displays in brick ‘n’ mortar stores, surely you’ve seen one of the latest buzz terms—“PC-free” operation. What this means, of course, is that you can perform functions on the printer without having to send data or commands to it from a computer. But what does that mean? Well, with today’s multifunction printers (MFPs), PC-free can mean everything from scanning to and printing from memory devices to printing from mobile devices and the cloud, as well as printing and scanning with printer apps.

Most PC-free operations are initiated from the AIO’s control panel, which nowadays often consists of large, colorful, graphical touch screens that look similar to tablet and smartphone displays. Most of them are intuitive and easy use, making issuing PC-free commands exceptionally easy.

PC-Free Operation with Memory Devices

Most printers, be they single-function or multifunction, support some sort of memory card—either SD cards, USB thumb drives, Multimedia cards, or several other types. Some AIOs, such as HP’s Photosmart 7520, take several different types of memory devices. What these allow you to do, of course, is either print from or scan to the memory device. The advantage is that you can print from computers not connected to the printer, or from digital cameras, tablets, and smartphones by simply removing the memory card and then inserting it into the printer.

In addition, some printers, such as Canon’s Pixma iP8720, allow you to print wirelessly from your digital camera with a new feature called “wireless PictBridge.”

Mobile Device Apps

Nowadays, most printer manufacturers develop and make available apps, such as Brother’s iPrint&Scan, designed to print from and scan from mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. (Some, however, do not support scanning.) Typically, these apps are available from the app repositories corresponding with the mobile device type: iPads and iPhone apps are available at the Apple Store; Android device apps from Google Play; and Windows apps from Microsoft Store.

Cloud Printing

More and more people are starting to store their documents on servers on the Internet—the cloud. There are currently many cloud sites, but most of today’s printers support only Google Cloud Print. In addition to providing you a safe place offsite to save your documents and photos, you can also send documents to the printer from any Internet connection.

Printer Apps

Similar in concept to mobile apps, printer apps connect the printer to the Internet and allow you to print documents stored on various sites. In addition, some printer apps allow you to scan to cloud sites. Depending on the printer (and the manufacturer), the number and sophistication of printer apps vary. HP has developed this concept much further than most other companies, with an ever-growing collection of apps that include numerous news, entertainment, and business outlets that between them provide thousands of documents, including business forms, puzzles, games, and just about anything else you can think of.

A more recent HP printer apps feature allows you to schedule news stories and other documents on a predefined schedule. Say, for example, you want a specific section of a certain publication, say, the business section of your favorite newspaper. All you have to do is set up the app from the printer’s control panel to print it out each day (or whenever). The document will be waiting for you on the printer at the designated time.

There was a time when all you could do with a printer was hook it up to your PC (or network) and print. Then we got all-in-one (print/copy/scan/fax) machines that can perform a number of services, and now there are printer apps. You can’t help but wonder what’s next.