by Jim Lyons | 4/29/15

Just a year ago, for my April 2014 Observations, I wrote about printers and their potential role in the future of the much-talked-about “Internet of Things” (IoT). In “Printers as Things? Do printers fit as part of the Internet-of-things?” I explored a bit of what I had picked up, knowledge-wise, regarding the IoT and reported on some exploration I had been doing on whether or not printers qualified as “things” and thus had a future as part of a far-flung concept.

Prior to writing the story, in floating the question around with colleagues in the printing and imaging industry I had found a bit of push-back. My perception at least was that “printers as things” was a demotion of sorts in some peoples’ minds, and that while the IoT might be great for things like thermostats and toasters (and a multitude of other more industrial objects), printers were “better” than that. But then I consulted with my former Lyra Research colleague Steve Hoffenberg, who was then and now Director of IoT & Embedded Technology at VDC Research. For those wanting to go deeper, please refer back to last April’s Observations, but in summary, Steve concurred with me that printers were “things,” but more than that, through the successful creation and implementation of Managed Print Services, our industry had provided a “proof point” for the developing IoT movement.

With wind in my sails as provided by Hoffenberg’s thoughts, I went on to assert that HP’s noted “Instant Ink” program (see above) was another current industry example of IoT.

Which brings us to the past year. I have been keeping an eye (and ear) on the IoT field and the growing buzz about it. And one of my developing interests in the hands-on area – and frankly without immediately associating it with IoT – has been the web service, “If This Then That” (IFTTT). The current version of the Wikipedia article introduces the service as follows:

“IFTTT is a web-based service that allows users to create chains of simple conditional statements, called "recipes," which are triggered based on changes to other web services such as Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, and Craigslist.

I was directly exposed to IFTTT for the first time via a recipe involving organizing various contributors’ photos from a family wedding, but soon I had implemented a few now-successfully operating recipes of my own. I use it to this day to, for example, store my “favorited” tweets as notes in Evernote, and to convert my Instagram photos into tweets. But I needed a little push to make the connection to printing and the Internet of Things.

As far as the IoT, I found out the company IFTTT, as ranked by one “scorekeeper,” is the fourth highest valued firm in the IoT ecosystem as of February of this year. This seemed obvious, following a little reflection on my sorting through all the available recipes on multiple occasions – including the email I get which recommends one each day – I have noticed a great number of them relating to objects like the Nest smart thermostat, which we have installed in our home, and of course a prime example of the IoT. So while my chosen recipes so far have revolved around Web platforms/programs such as Evernote, Instagram, and Twitter, interaction with IoT-enabled devices in the physical world is a natural part of IFTTT.

And as far as the physical devices called printers? That connection came by way of a communication from my friends at printer industry leader HP, alerting me to a mid-February post on the blog of Shane Wall, currently Chief Technology Officer of HP’s Personal and Printing Systems organization. The guest blogger was Phil McCoog, Chief Technologist and HP Fellow, and also a frequent source for me when I am writing about mobile printing and other future-oriented printing and imaging developments. In his post, entitled "HP Launches the HP Print Channel on IFTTT Creating Over 40M IoT Printers,” McCoog not only declares 40 million HP printers as IoT “things,” he also explains how the HP/IFTTT Connection has been implemented (by the creation of an “HP Print” channel), and also expands into the strategy around “Hyper-Integration.”

Next month, I will start with a little more on HP’s view on “Hyper-Integration” and some of my thoughts, define a few of those key IFTTT terms like recipes and channels, and offer an interpretation of the mystery graphic at the top. I will also pass along some of my recent hands-on experiences. Of late, I have been implementing some of the recipes using the HP Channel and IFTTT, and have discovered a few other printing and imaging-related recipes which I look forward to sharing. So stay tuned!