Google's first entry into cloud printing services has several technical limitations that will hinder widespread adoption in the near term, but it validates the user demand and market potential of this emerging technology.
On 25 January 2011, Google released a public beta of its Cloud Print service ( http://code.google.com/apis/cloudprint/ ). Cloud Print allows users of iOS and Android mobile devices and Cr-48 Chrome notebooks to print from mobile Gmail and mobile Google Docs to any printer accessible from a PC (including local, networked or print-server printers). The current beta of the service works with printers attached to PCs running Google Chrome and using a connector, which acts as the interface to Google's cloud servers.
Increasing popularity of mobile devices has created demand for cloud printing services (CPS), which promise to let users print from wherever they are. We predict that 90% of the Global 1000 will use CPS by 2015. Yet CPS is "emerging" on Gartner's IT Commoditization Curve: Many providers are competing to create the dominant standard. Google Cloud Print signals Google's intent to play in the CPS market.
Google Cloud Print makes the mobile printing experience easier for users. Configuring Chrome, adding printers and printing are simple, despite a few reports of failed print jobs. Google Cloud Print is printer-manufacturer-neutral: users can send a job to any printing device that has been added to the service through Chrome.
However, this beta release has several limitations that will constrain adoption until they are addressed:
Users can only print e-mails and attachments from mobile Gmail, and documents from mobile Google Docs. Google told Gartner that future releases will integrate with more Google services, and offer APIs to connect to third-party products.
Consumers will need to keep their PCs switched on for jobs to print, because their PCs will be hosting the cloud connector. For enterprise users, the connector can be deployed on the print server.
Cloud Print works via the latest beta of Google Chrome on Windows only. Google says it will support other operating systems at some point in the future, but gave no timeline.
Cloud Print does not use location-based technology to identify available printers, limiting its usefulness when the user is "out and about" and seeking a nearby printer.
Most importantly, Google Cloud Print is only available to users with Google accounts. This enhances Google's overall value proposition, but excluding individuals and companies without Google accounts will hinder Cloud Print's success, particularly in the enterprise.
Redouble efforts to bring a compelling CPS offering to market, while lining up exclusive arrangements with third parties (retailers and others) in a concerted effort to make your CPS offering the industry standard.
Consider partnering with Google to encourage users to send revenue-generating print jobs to your Web-enabled printers, copiers and multifunction printers, especially if you are unable to make a substantial investment in a proprietary CPS.
Wait until Google publishes more details about how this service will be implemented over corporate networks, and be aware that, until Google takes it out of beta, there is a risk that Google will significantly change Cloud Print's functionality, or even close the service.
Insist on trying different pricing models for, and even simultaneous tests of, competing CPS offerings, until you know what will work best for your organization. Cloud printing will eventually offer compelling productivity and cost benefits, but the technology is still emerging and has many limitations.
"Emerging Technology Analysis: Cloud Printing Services" — These services promise to provide great flexibility for users and a new revenue opportunity for providers. By Pete Basiliere
"Marketing Essentials: Five Options for Building Cloud Printing Services Into Your Portfolio" — Early movers have the advantage in this emerging market. By Pete Basiliere
(You may need to sign in or be a Gartner client to access the documents referenced in this First Take.)