Apple drops the ball with AirPrint

When Apple supremo Steve Jobs announced back in September that AirPrint was coming to the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, there was much rejoicing.

iPad users in particular, who were having a hell of a time convincing their accounts departments that the shiny new £700 gadget was a business tool, now had a slightly more convincing argument.

The ability to print to networked printers through either a Mac or a Windows PC would open up the iPad and its diminutive brethren to a whole new world of enterprise.

But when iOS4.2 was finally launched to much fanfare after several unexplained delays, AirPrint was so severely hobbled as to render it useless to everyone other than a tiny minority of users in possession of a very short list of HP wireless printers.

One disgruntled Mac Rumours reader fired off an e-mail to Steve Jobs saying, "You got me all hyped up about AirPrint. Now with iOS 4.2 released, I find out that I can only print on 11 select printers. Seriously?!"

Jobs replied: "Lots more coming soon. It's what it takes to make a giant leap to driverless printing, which is huge."

Apparently, it's not so huge that a much smaller company couldn't come up with a perfectly viable solution within days.

Ecamm's Printopia does everything AirPrint promised to do and more. It's a tiny 1.9MB OS X application which allows any iOS4.2 device to print pages to pretty much any network attached printer.

It integrates seamlessly with a host of iOS Apps and will even work with ancient Power PC hardware. There are, of course, three minor caveats. Printing requires your Mac to be running, there's no Windows version, and it costs $10.

Now ten bucks isn't a great deal of money in the grand scheme of things, particularly if you are a deep-pocketed Mac user, but having to shell out any amount of money for an application which does what Apple says it can't do yet is galling to say the least.

And the fact that Ecamm has done the seemingly impossible just days after Apple releases the iOS4.2 update raises a few questions.

Let us don our tin-foil titfers for a moment here.

We don't know much about Ecamm but we're going to make the assumption that it's a small company with a small development budget. Apple is rolling in billions of bucks and has access to some of the best code-wranglers in the world.

Why is it that Printopia has managed to make the "giant leap to driverless printing" when Apple seems unable, or more likely unwilling, to do so?

For that matter, why did Ecamm even go to all of the bother of producing a piece of commercial software which does something Apple had already announced it would be doing for free?

And why, given that Printopia will be dead in the water whenever Apple gets its finger out and actually gives us the functionality it promised months ago, doesn't Apple simply buy the software out and give it to Mac users for free?

We're not usually prone to expounding trumped-up conspiracy theories here at THINQ, but we have to say this has the faint weasely whiff of collusion to it.

Having said that, if you simply must have the ability to print from your iDevice, and you have a spare $10 (£6.30) kicking about, Printopia makes a fine fist of it.

It will even send a PDF of printable documents or a JPG of photos directly to your Mac in seconds which is a lot quicker than going through all of the rigmarole of syncing your device and opening iPhoto, as it pops up in Preview automatically, which is rather impressive (check out the video below).

You can get a fully functional seven-day try-out here.