Another year, another dead printer. I knew it was the beginning of the end when yellows stopped printing no matter how many new ink cartridges I loaded into it. Then last week I printed a PDF and the text came out as gibberish, just a mish-mosh of English letters and numbers. Finally, last weekend, it wouldn’t print at all. And, while I could have probably downloaded things and prodded at slots and recycled power supplies and pulled my hair out to fix it temporarily, I gave in and ordered a new one. Again. Because it’s almost a new year and I am a glutton for this garbage.
But here’s the thing: everyone I know likes the cell phone he has. Whether it’s a Droid, an iPhone, a BlackBerry, a pay-as-you-go dinosaur, or a Razzle, the people I talk to generally have few complaints about their phones. The plans and rates may be terrible, but phones are generally way more reliable than printers. Also, there are monitors. If home PC users went through monitors at the same rate they went through printers, we’d have monitors stacked to the Moon and everywhere would look like a deactivated security guard station. No piece of hardware is as finicky, loud, and needy as the home printer.
We can do better. Let’s take a year and not develop tablet computers or operating systems that fit on thumb drives or fucking treadmills that fit under our desks so we can walk around while we’re doing work. Let’s design a better printer. The iPhone of printers.
Here’s what a better printer would do:
• “Plug” into any PC and work right away
• Work within 3 seconds of powering on
• Never require any file or software from an included disc
• Clearly communicate what it’s thinking on a large onboard screen, and never via proprietary software on the computer
• Not slow down its computer’s performance
• Ship with full toner or ink
• Work wirelessly
• Scan and copy to computer or to paper
• Fit on a desktop
• Have cheap, replaceable parts
• Work for 10 years before it needs to be replaced
The thing is you can find a hundred printers at Best Buy and the copy on the boxes will advertise all of those demands for all of those printers. The reality is that it’s never true. The software disc that inevitably ships with our printers is the worst sort of bloatware. The thing prints its advertised pages per minute, but only after you wait for 7 minutes after turning it on so it can whir and click at you for a while. If you need support, you might as well grab a Hefty bag, drop the printer into it, and throw the whole thing into a lake because you’ll still have even odds of getting your document printed before you have to get out the door. And when you finally have the thing agreeing with you, you’ll get complacent with it for a few months and it’ll just misbehave again. Not “I need ink” misbehave. More like “I’m going to start spitting smoke and shutting down at random intervals though you’ve made zero setup changes” misbehave. It’s a joke.
I’m not a designer. I don’t know who designs these things. But if that person is you, then I implore you: work on this. Make a better product. We can play Guitar Hero on our phones. We should be able to print our documents.