RIP Printers and Paper

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted Monday, March 25, 2013 19:30 PM

By Samuel Greengard

For the last quarter century, technologists have predicted the end of paper and printing. Year after year, the prediction has been almost comically absurd. In fact, for many years, people printed more and more because decent digital tools were lacking and most people felt more comfortable with a piece of paper as a backup.

Then a funny thing happened. After Apple introduced the iPhone and iPad, and Google followed with Android devices, there was suddenly a need to get documents and data from one device to another. Apple inadvertently achieved what no other company could: a motivation for going paperless. Once Amazon added the Kindle to the mix, the flood turned into a tidal wave.

Suddenly, services such as Dropbox, Instapaper and Evernote are all the rage. Browsers such as Firefox, Chrome and Safari offer add-ons or native tools for capturing pages, storing them in the cloud and sending them off to whatever reader or device one prefers. Last week, Amazon introduced a "Send to Kindle" button that lets users capture content from a Website or email and route it to its device for later reading.

Meanwhile, printer sales are falling off a cliff, despite a frenzied attempt to add features such as 3D printing and Internet capabilities. Lexmark has announced that it is shutting down its inkjet business, and HP has added expiration dates to its cartridges. Every time I print a document—about once a week—the machine forces me to tap a button to acknowledge that I am printing with an expired cartridge.

Unless there's a need for a high-quality scan, smartphone apps such as Prizmo, DocScanner and Genius Scan do a remarkable job of capturing images and converting them to PDFs or text files.

Consumer technologies have changed business more than enterprise technologies ever could. The post-PC era—along with cloud computing—has fundamentally altered the equation.

While it used to be possible to operate a business in a paperless mode, it's now a relatively straightforward proposition. There's no need to save files to backup servers or USB sticks. There's no need to scan and print piles of documents. There's no need to keep track of documents floating around in both the analog and digital worlds.

We have finally arrived at the digital age.