The concept of the paperless office has been with us for a very long time indeed. While it’d be tempting to think that the concept coincided with the growth of personal computing in the 1980s, it dates back even further than that, being used in the mid-70s to describe a vision of the offices of the future in Business Week.
Given that was the mid-1970s, this is pretty much the future, and yet paper and printing are still with us to a very large extent. It seems we still adore having printed sheets of paper, even as the growth of smartphones and tablets would seem to make them largely redundant.
I recently travelled to Shanghai to view a number of new printing innovations from HP (disclaimer: HP paid for my airfare and accommodation to attend the event). There were some products, such as the white and attractive Envy 110 that are aimed squarely at the home office market; there’s not a great deal of actual physical innovation there, although it is an attractive unit. Moving slightly up the scale were models such as the HP LaserJet Pro M275, AKA the HP “TopShot”. In most respects it’s a standard laser colour multifunction device, but with an additional quirk. The top of the unit houses an arm that hangs over the scanner plate, giving the TopShot the capability to capture three dimensional looking images. HP was a little coy when it came to answering specific technical questions about the Topshot, which won’t be available until sometime next year, but it’s an interesting glimpse into printing’s future.
While you can shift somewhat paperless with a Tablet or Smartphone, HP’s got that angle covered. It announced tweaks to its existing ePrint system, which lets you print to any printer from any device capable of sending files via email, adding a social element to it by allowing you to name your printer. Not a great innovation you might think, but it’s got to be easier to remember “firstname.lastname@example.org” (or whatever you choose; it’ll be first come first served for all names) than it would be, say “email@example.com”.
The other area HP was at pains to demonstrate fits more neatly into slightly larger offices, and that’s document security. If you’ve worked in any office at all, you’ve probably noticed plenty of times where an office printer sits with a stack of printed documents on it. Not only can it be a waste of paper, but there’s the risk of folks seeing documents that they shouldn’t be privy to. HP demonstrated systems that send documents fully encrypted, whether via a cabled or wireless network, and that then can only be printed via a passcode punched into the printer itself; the idea is that you’ll send a print job, but not forget it as you’ve got to approach the printer and enter the passphrase to print it, at which time you’ll walk away with it rather than remotely printing and then forgetting it.