Portable printers satisfy growing mobile workforce

People do a lot of strange things in their cars, especially when working on the road-and now you can add printing documents to the list.

Although it might not be such as strange a thing as it sounds. Looking to keep up with the growing mobile workforce, several companies are expanding their printing solutions for the road warrior market.

Though some companies have been offering mobile printers for a few years now, they are now updating their models so mobile workers can print quickly and effectively from their laptops and smartphones.  

Brother International Corp. updated its mobile printing strategy with the PocketJet 6, launched in Canada last October. Then, earlier this month, Hewlett-Packard Co. launched the Officejet 100 Mobile Printer, targeted at on-the-go SMB workers, a follow-up to a previous mobile printer. “This is designed for the highly mobile professional,” says Bret Bottger, market development manager at HP.

According to a February 2011 report by Forrester Research Inc., 85 per cent of the global enterprise workforce expected to be mobile by 2015, a statistic that justifies HP’s move to expand its mobility options, according to Bottger.

Related video: Epson’s iPhone printing app hits bottleneck with emailed docs

“It’s definitely a growing market,” says Brian Caldwell, senior manager of product planning with Brother. Sales people and government officials who work frequently from the road often use mobile printing to save time. “They’ve done well in the insurance industry,” he says.

HP’s mobile printers have seen success with real estate workers and independent contractors who often need to print paperwork and receipts. Bottger says he has also used the printer at trade shows and press events.

Brother’s PocketJet 6 is the follow-up to the PocketJet 3 model. The new printer can run on battery or be plugged into the wall or a car’s cigarette lighter. It prints on paper up to 8.5 inches wide that is pre-cut, rolled or fanfold, at up to six pages per minute, and a fully charged battery will print 100 pages. Including the battery, the PocketJet 6 weighs 1.3 pounds.

HP’s Officejet 100 model is similar, printing five pages per minute in black ink, with one fully charged battery printing 500 pages. The printer is heavier than its competitor, though, at 5.5 pounds-about the weight of a notebook computer. The printer can use Bluetooth and wireless technology and is compatible with both Windows and Mac.

Brother’s printer also comes with integrated USB 2.0 and IrDA interfaces, and an optional Bluetooth interface. Brother also supplies drivers for Windows and Mac and software development kits for various mobile platforms, including BlackBerry.

“We wanted something very compact,” Caldwell says. “Inkjet is an option, which some competitors use, but does limit you if it remains in your car overnight,” he says, since ink can freeze.

HP didn’t test the Officejet for cold temperatures, but did test for humid conditions, Bottger says. He doesn’t recommend leaving the printer in a cold car overnight, but says that this is true for any electronic product. HP did drop test the printer, though. “The mobile lifestyle is not perfectly safe,” Bottger says.

The PocketJet 6 favours thermal printing instead, to avoid the cost and maintenance of ink cartridges. Though some thermal paper has been linked to health and environmental problems, such concerns didn’t come up when developing the PocketJet 6, Caldwell says. “It is still biodegradable paper,” he says.

Related story: Microsoft attempts to go deeper into the mobile space

Though mobile printers can benefit all kinds of mobile workers, Brother has reached out to a different market. “Who we’re really targeting this at is public safety,” Caldwell says. Several police units in the United States currently use the PocketJet 6. “Fleet installs” are the goal, with Brother aiming to have printers deployed to about 100 cars at once, Caldwell says.

The Ontario Provincial Police currently have 500 PocketJet 3 mobile printers deployed in cars around the province for printing paperwork like traffic tickets, according to OPP project manager Harry Alkema.

“Basically it brings efficiency to the paperwork,” he says. The printers also provide accountability and reduce the time an officer needs to spend at the side of the road and how long a driver is held up.

Both printers start at $299 and are available through authorized resellers.

Harmeet Singh is a Staff Writer at ITBusiness. Follow her on Twitter, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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