One of the most anticipated features in the recent iOS 4.2 release was the ability for properly programmed applications to print from an iOS device like the iPad. Known as Airprint, this new addition brought the idea of wireless printing to any printer on the network to many iPhone and iPad owners anxious to output web pages, iWork and PDF documents to paper hard copy. Unfortunately, due to the various technical and security issues around iOS and Airprint technology, Airprint is rather restricted in its current form. Supporting only a handful of new printers that must be connected on the wireless network segment as the iOS user, expectations for Airprint were rapidly deflated.
Fortunately, those expectations can be pumped back up thanks to the efforts of Mac and iPhone software developer Ecamm Network. Via an application called Printopia, Ecamm brings not only the world of printers to the Airprint-device starved iOS 4.2 user base, but Printopia goes even further by providing options to save the print job to a PDF document and even immediately push that PDF to the user's Dropbox account (assuming Dropbox is running and logged in at the time of the PDF's creation). Printopia creates a "Printopia" folder in your Dropbox directory and saves the PDF files generated by the Airprint job there; Dropbox's own file synchronization handles the rest.
Setting up Printopia is a breeze, assuming that you have a Apple Macintosh computer running OSX version 10.5 or higher. Running the installer deposits Printopia into the user's System Preference pane. Printopia automatically configures itself to the printers currently configured and active on the Mac computer, and can selectively expose each of these as an Airprint-enabled printer to any iOS 4.2 device wirelessly connected to the same network. I was literally up and running within seconds after installing Printopia. The iWork applications (Keynote, Numbers and Pages) on my iPad immediately recognized the Airprint devices created by Printopia and sent and rendered print jobs to each of them flawlessly. The 'Send to Mac' and 'Send to Dropbox on Mac' printers worked just as well; in fact, these two options open a whole new set of document routing and output potential.
In addition to Airprint'ing to any printer configured on the Mac, those fluent in AppleScript can actively monitor the Printopia folder (located in the user's home directory Documents folder) for any new files and then route these into a PDF printing application of their choice (Preview by default, though Adobe Acrobat is AppleScript-capable and works just as well) for further document modification and transmital. This could make Printopia even more powerful than it already is.
Two things I would like to see Printopia incorporate into future versions are the ability to change the default location of the Printopia PDF and Dropbox output folders as well as the output file type such as JPEG or TIFF rather than accepting PDF as the only format available. Ecamm could go further by incorporating scripting features that would make it easier to hook into Apple's Automator program, so that those unfamiliar or uncomfortable with AppleScript could enjoy the same level of automation that crafty programmers and workflow specialists will no doubt leverage out of the current version of Printopia.
Overall, Printopia delivers on its promise and finally brings to the iPhone and iPad 4.2 devices what made these owners so excited in the first place, and it does so at a reasonable price. While it's possible that Apple may one day bake this functionality directly into their desktop OS at some later date, the fact remains that Printopia is here today, turning any Mac-connected printer into an Airprint-capable one.
Developer: Ecamm Network, LLC
Price: $9.95 US
Rating: 4/5 stars