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Apple considering driver-free printing for OS X and iOS devices

post #1 of 20
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Apple in a pair of recent filings has proposed methods that would eliminate the necessity of printer drivers in order to streamline the printing process for users of its Mac OS X and iOS devices.

The first of the two patent applications, entitled Walk-Up Printing Without Drivers, reveals methods of circumventing the printer driver requirement when such a driver is absent from Apple mobile devices like the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, as well as Macs.

In the filing, first noticed by ConceivablyTech, Apple describes a new printing process for such mobile computing devices that would allow them to wirelessly detect a printer and determine whether a printer driver is installed.

The user would then be able to continue the printing job even without a driver by employing a series of APIs based on a discovery protocol such as Bonjour, an Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) and the PostScript Printer Description (PPD) file, which is used to detect the printer.

In the event that the device still fails to pair up with the printer, the user would have a third way of completing the print job -- by sending the documents to the cloud and using cloud-specific printing technology to communicate with the printer.




Filed on the same day as the first one, September 14, 2010, the second patent, entitled Data Formats to Support Driverless Printing, shows a different driverless and wireless printing concept also explored by Apple.

The company suggests a new way for mobile devices to bypass the printer driver requirement by storing a specific data structure that would be able to specify the following printing characteristics when detecting a printer: resolutions, color spaces, bit depths, input slots, face-up/face-down input orientation, output bins, face-up/face-down output orientation, duplex printing support, media types, copy support, supported finishings, and print quality.

A new URF-supported key, part of discovery and transport protocols, is also mentioned by the second patent. Its purpose would be to offer a standardized set of capabilities that are supported by a printer that would let the user generate printer data for any type of printer without actually storing any printer-specific details on the computing device in question.




The new wireless and driverless technologies described by these two new patents would complement Apples existing AirPrint capabilities for iOS devices and could lead to a future driver-free printing experience for most Mac OS X computers.

Apple has high hopes for AirPrint, but has run into a few snags in the transition to driverless printing. Late last year, one rumor suggested that Apple had run into intellectual property issues with the AirPrint architecture, a problem that could potentially be alleviated should the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office grant the above patents to Apple.

Meanwhile, printer makers such as HP and EFI have been steadily adding support for the feature to their printer offerings.

post #2 of 20
If ever there was an industry that needs to have done to them what Apple did to the mobile phone & carrier cartel, it's desktop printing. Not that Apple should start making printers again (Macworld did a good article a few months back why this is a losing proposition), but the entire software stack is such a perpetual mess that we STILL can't reliably print what we see on the screen.

I don't know what the solution should look like, other than it should wrest control of the printing process away from the manufacturers and hand it over to the users. From finding/downloading/ installing the drivers to navigating the UI-nightmare print dialog boxes, it continues to be a wasteful chore, almost thirty years after the introduction of Postscript.
post #3 of 20
Neat stuff. Downloading printer drivers has always seemed like one of those inane hassles leftover from the 90's...I wish all the printer companies would just get together and make a universal language that is compatible with any computer/phone/tablet/device.

I'm admittedly pretty ignorant on how printer drivers work. But how complicated can it be to establish a set of common instructions for tray, color depth, number of copies, etc? Why is that even amongst the same company, each printer has its own driver? The tech industry seems to have already solved MUCH more complicated problems than that Can you imagine if, every time you went to the library or a friend's house or Starbucks, you had to download the driver to their wireless router? Nearly every I/O seems to have gotten plug-and-play except for printers...
post #4 of 20
For basic printing...most people don't need extra large drivers.

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post #5 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dlux View Post

If ever there was an industry that needs to have done to them what Apple did to the mobile phone & carrier cartel, it's desktop printing. Not that Apple should start making printers again (Macworld did a good article a few months back why this is a losing proposition), but the entire software stack is such a perpetual mess that we STILL can't reliably print what we see on the screen.

I don't know what the solution should look like, other than it should wrest control of the printing process away from the manufacturers and hand it over to the users. From finding/downloading/ installing the drivers to navigating the UI-nightmare print dialog boxes, it continues to be a wasteful chore, almost thirty years after the introduction of Postscript.

Yea, printers (and their interfaces) always seem 10 years behind the rest of the industry. Things like scanning a series of photos/documents are still quite difficult for non-techies. It seems accepted that the UI for Re-sizing and other printing tasks is stuck in the 90's.
post #6 of 20
I wonder if iCloud APIs and the rumour of the IOS-based Time Capsule/Airport Extreme Base Station could come into play here.
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post #7 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by acslater017 View Post

Yea, printers (and their interfaces) always seem 10 years behind the rest of the industry. Things like scanning a series of photos/documents are still quite difficult for non-techies. It seems accepted that the UI for Re-sizing and other printing tasks is stuck in the 90's.


And HPGL2 is rather old.
post #8 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dlux View Post

If ever there was an industry that needs to have done to them what Apple did to the mobile phone & carrier cartel, it's desktop printing. Not that Apple should start making printers again (Macworld did a good article a few months back why this is a losing proposition), but the entire software stack is such a perpetual mess that we STILL can't reliably print what we see on the screen.

I don't know what the solution should look like, other than it should wrest control of the printing process away from the manufacturers and hand it over to the users. From finding/downloading/ installing the drivers to navigating the UI-nightmare print dialog boxes, it continues to be a wasteful chore, almost thirty years after the introduction of Postscript.

Huh? USB printers almost always work by just plugging them in to a Windows machine. The OS has basic drivers already there. If you are printing something complex or special, or if you plan to use the printer's special features, you can tell it to find the latest and greatest drivers for you automagically on the 'web.

This seems like a solution in search of a problem. Generally, printers "just work".
post #9 of 20
So... basically you need to have your printer connected to the 'cloud' (internet) so you can hit PRINT on your device, which sends the raw data to 'the cloud', which then interprets the stream, converts it to a print stream, and sends it to the printer?

You're still left with having to have a printer hooked up to the internet, capable of negotiating with 'the cloud', that can withstand unauthorized attacks...

I'm not sure whose problem this aims to solve... but it sure isn't going to be easy for an IT guy to manage... But, I don't print 'on the run', so what do I know... other than I am not hooking MY printer to the internet...
post #10 of 20
I applaud any advance to simplify printing for the masses. Having said that Apple has made it very simply for many years. I have had various printers plugged in to an Airport Extreme and Macs print effortlessly and connect themselves and any PCs I use I just install Bonjour for Windows from Apple and again it is effortless.
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post #11 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

I applaud any advance to simplify printing for the masses. Having said that Apple has made it very simply for many years. I have had various printers plugged in to an Airport Extreme and Macs print effortlessly and connect themselves and any PCs I use I just install Bonjour for Windows from Apple and again it is effortless.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleLover2 View Post

Huh? USB printers almost always work by just plugging them in to a Windows machine. The OS has basic drivers already there. If you are printing something complex or special, or if you plan to use the printer's special features, you can tell it to find the latest and greatest drivers for you automagically on the 'web.

This seems like a solution in search of a problem. Generally, printers "just work".

The effort MS and Apple put into something as simple as printing is ridiculous. Storage devices conform to a couple standards, graphics cards conform to a whole two standards, the vast majority if input devices conform to HIG.

Q: Why should EVERY model of printer have a different driver? A: They shouldn't, despite the fact they currently do.

Fix that and the mobile world loses what is probably it's greatest current limitation. This can't be solved by the same brute force solution that is currently used on the desktop, so it most definitely is not a solution in search of a problem.
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post #12 of 20
If apple beats HP webOS to this is gonna be pretty epic. That said - freaking about time!

And I got a fourth way for them to consider. Time capsule has a poop ton of space. Why not have it (along with airport extreme) just download the driver for the plugged in printer and handle the printing on their own. I send the PDF, it figures out what to do with it. That way I can print from mac, pc, phone, toaster, garbage can. Doesn't matter, all the printing is done by the router itself.

Then, apple can partner with printer makers to integrate bonjour into the printers and have printers simply accept a PDF and decide what to do with it on their own, without any need for any other protocol.
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post #13 of 20
Totally agree on Apple needs to reinvent Printing Software Stack. Why do i have 4GB of printer drivers when my OS only weight less then 2GB.
post #14 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleLover2 View Post

Huh? USB printers almost always work by just plugging them in to a Windows machine. The OS has basic drivers already there. If you are printing something complex or special, or if you plan to use the printer's special features, you can tell it to find the latest and greatest drivers for you automagically on the 'web.

This seems like a solution in search of a problem. Generally, printers "just work".

That doesn't help much in a network situation. Especially if you're trying to avoid wired connections, as wireless USB is dead in the water. Does Windows even have a means to detect stand-alone networked printers?
post #15 of 20
I think the CHALLENGES here are a bit like what Apple faced with iTunes; it's more than the specs -- there are turf battle at play.

I buy an Epson printer, and I find that it's subsidized by the cost of Toner Cartridges. Now, the toner in all these ink-jets is probably NOT hugely different, but the devices try to be.

Unfortunately, they can no longer sell toner for more than its weight in gold, because you can now have third-party refillable toner cartridges, that can "emulate" the epson chip that tells it "You are not using an epson print cartridge" and informs you that you can go screw yourself and buy the expensive stuff that is guaranteed to work.


>> If the Printer drivers become obsolete, however, how difficult is it, to produce the printer? Now there probably is a lot of research in the ionization and distribution of ink on these printers -- but it's all OLD HAT by now. For $24 I can get enough ink to fill 90 printer cartridges so SOMEONE has figured out the ink.

So, for EPSON and Canon and all the rest to cooperate on a driverless standard -- they've got to basically concede that their competitors will break with the "brotherhood" and work with Apple to make drivers obsolete.

After that -- the ONLY thing that makes a printer special, is little plate about 1/4" in size that ionizes some plastic-based ink, and maybe some fine motor control that sells for about $1 in that robotic toy that barks back at you.

>> Beyond the simple specs of printer and resolution -- I imagine there is MAINLY the way that printer understands its ink, paper, and how to mix colors that controls the quality of the print.
post #16 of 20
Other than the "MONEY" issue for the printer manufacturers I was mentioning above -- the issue of print quality has to do with "rasterization."

How much ink to distribute where -- because that RGB photo needs to be rendered in CMYK or sometimes in 6 colors if you want it really nice.

To make them less expensive, a LOT of the "rasterization" and colorspace conversion now happens on your computer with the Printer Driver to tell it the best compromises. Those "vector fonts" and "postscript routines" used for shapes and letters not made of image bits are also an issue -- but a lot of that got solved with Acrobat PDFs.

However Postscript -- the miracle and the disease of printing, is an archaic and convoluted language that has to convert your masterpiece into it's language imperfectly, and then get "rasterized" from shapes into "picture bits" and that large blob of data gets fed to the printer head piece by piece. IF it is in your computer -- the speed is influenced by Network transfer rate, and if it's in the printer (with usually some hard drive buffer or a lot of RAM on the expensive network computers) -- your computer can go back to work.

Apple could save a lot of time and energy, merely making an XML description that would fit almost any printer and then "print" to PDF.

But if you merely put everything in PDF -- you still have that arcane, terribly inefficient and network unfriendly technology in the Mix that YOU DO NOT CONTROL.


>> However -- Apple is one of the few companies uniquely qualified to solve this problem. Although Adobe owns a lot of the Postscript IP -- Apple has probably as much experience as they do with it's implementation and the NEWER, BETTER parts of postscript that are in the Portable Document Format.

NeXT computers -- the company Apple purchased to get Steve Jobs -- used "Display Postscript" -- and was very accurate at rendering what you were printing, if not terribly efficient at animation and everything else. You had an Adobe License with every copy!

Apple's various cat-named operating systems now have a better graphic card friendly version of Display Postscript, mostly free of Adobe licensing fees. What every Mac can do, however, without additional cost, is "Print to PDF." PDFs display natively onscreen as well.

So Apple has the advanced color conversion algorithms for display -- and the WYSIWIG issue in the bag. The part they are missing which is art and science is the best conversion of the "intended displayed colors" to the actual ink that gets sputtered on the paper -- THAT part is better done by the printer -- unless the printer manufacturers want to CONCEDE their last bit of technology that makes one printer look better than another ... not that anyone but artists and printer geeks who know Helvetica from Arial are going to care about it...

>> This is as much a legal and marketing issue as it is a technical one -- so it will be interesting to see what develops -- but I'm wondering, wasn't Rendezvous supposed to have done this already?
post #17 of 20
The solution here seems much more complicated than the current situation. Besides, I don't want to have to send my documents to Apple first before I can have them printed. Why not make printers that understand pdf and send the pdf file directly to the printer?
post #18 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by tsa View Post

The solution here seems much more complicated than the current situation. Besides, I don't want to have to send my documents to Apple first before I can have them printed. Why not make printers that understand pdf and send the pdf file directly to the printer?

A lot of laser printers are almost like that, they support PostScript. PDF is largely based on PostScript, so it's not not completely out of the question. The printer must have a more powerful processor, so that meant it added cost, so PS is left out of inkjets and probably less expensive laser printers.
post #19 of 20
All most ppd "drivers" are just a printer description and perhaps margin offset's. Most good printers use such a language. But those cheap printers, HP and most everything (Brother's post script compatible printers excluded) use the host to compute the actual raw data to print, aka host based printers.

If the patent is just hey, see if the printer is compatible, that's already long been done. Even windows machines have generic post script drivers. And yes, they can detect printers that broadcast over port 9100.

Nothing new, nothing novel done here by apple. Most of the way network printing works was done long ago by HP.
post #20 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by sprockkets View Post

If the patent is just hey, see if the printer is compatible, that's already long been done. Even windows machines have generic post script drivers. And yes, they can detect printers that broadcast over port 9100.

That's news to me, I've never had it work for me.
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