I opined a few months ago that printing from iOS won’t happen until we see some bare bones protocol to print a PDF (easily generated by iOS as it is in MacOS) with some additional instructions for thinks like ink usage, etc. I doubt we’ll see anything like this until adoption of iOS devices — namely, iPads — reaches a critical mass to prompt the rather aloof printer makers to work with Apple on such a protocol.
It’s funny you should put it that way, because guess what: PDF is that protocol. Or PostScript is, anyway, and PostScript is the basis of PDF.
I have an HP LaserJet 1200 that I’ve been using since 2003. It speaks PostScript natively, and it understands PDF as well. Every eighteen months or so I go to Costco and buy a new high-capacity cartridge for about $75. The drum — the consumable part that rolls the toner onto the paper — is part of the cartridge, and it’s good for, I don’t know, 6000 pages or something. No other part of this printer has ever needed to be replaced in over seven years. It just sits there, silently, in power-saving mode, until I need it, then it does its job perfectly and goes back to sleep. It’s one of the finest pieces of equipment I’ve ever owned.
Anyway, I used to run Linux, and when I needed to print a PDF, I could just type
cat mydocument.pdf > /dev/lp0
and the OS would send the PDF data over the USB port, directly to the printer. There was no fucking around with drivers, ink levels, quality sliders, or any of that frou-frou bullshit. It was a printer. It printed.
Nowadays I use Macs full-time, and the printer is plugged into my AirPort Extreme II: Pornograffitti and shared over my wi-fi network, so there are more convenient ways of printing. But almost no consumer printers support PostScript anymore, so we’re stuck with hundreds or even thousands of incompatible proprietary printing protocols. The amazing open-source CUPS project has gone a long way toward solving this, and Apple bought CUPS a few years ago and made it part of Mac OS, so when printing finally comes to iOS, that’s probably how it will happen.
But with my good old LaserJet, I can still get
cat mydocument.pdf > /dev/lp0 to work if I want to, and that’s pretty great.