Before and after: HP’s system converts the Web page on the left into the printed page on the right.
Richard Ziade, a founding partner of New York design consultancy Arc90, which developed the Readability plug-in, says many people are waking up to the fact that Web page designs often leave a lot to be desired when it comes to reading the content on them.
“When we put [Readability] out there, the huge response made it clear we had really hit a nerve,” he says. “There’s now frustration around clutter and accessibility on the Web, while before there was a kind of agreement that ‘I get it for free, and so I’ll tolerate your bad design.’”
The erosion of that agreement has brought about tools like Readability, Instapaper, and the iPad app Flipboard, which creates a magazine-like reading experience from articles shared by a user’s friends. “Now it seems HP is exploring how to better use Web content too,” says Ziade.
Ziade is less sure about the size of the market for printing out online content. “There’s probably not a huge percentage of people that print all of their reading from portable devices, and apps for them, like Flipboard, are really improving fast.”
For now, the HP technology is being tested in the form of plug-ins for Firefox and Internet Explorer Web browsers. These plug-ins present a button in the browser that, when clicked, sends a page to a service running on a cloud-computing platform that reformats the page, inserts adverts, and sends the final result back to the user’s computer for printing.
Next year, Liu says, a version will be made for the app store that accompanies HP’s new cloud-based printing service ePrint. ePrint allows any Internet-connected device–including smartphones that lack printer drivers–to print by sending the document to an email address associated with a physical printer. The app store–dubbed ePrintCenter–gives users access to smart applications such as a subscription service to a daily newspaper, or the one being developed by Liu and Joshi.