​Solutions Feature: Your MFP Wants to be a Smartphone so Bad!



Lee Davis

A Brief History

We can credit the embedding of apps into smartphones, and later, MFPs, at least partially to the Internet of Things (IoT). The ability to embed everyday appliances with electronics, software, and sensors for the sake of exchanging data between manufacturers, operators, or other machines facilitates a new level of ingenuity and innovation in the technology world.


We can trace the concept in practice back to thirsty programmers who hated empty vending machines and warm soda. In 1982, a Coke machine in Wean Hall at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) was fitted with micro-switches, and connected to a server to track if there were Cokes in the machine, and which ones were cold – making it the first internet-connected appliance. We can call it the Angry Birds of vending machines: an essentially useless feat, but a huge crowd pleaser.


What is important, no matter how trivial the experiment may appear, and perhaps unbeknownst to the CMU researchers, are the implications it spawned. Embedded technologies could be used to improve hardware capabilities, and ultimately, the users it serves.


In 1992, the first smartphone, IBM Simon, hit the scene. It came fully loaded with apps such as calendar, address book, calculator, notepad, and an email application. Throughout the 1990s, developers continued to push the boundaries of what smartphones could do through the development and innovation of new apps. Fast forward to today, where we wonder how we ever got by without the apps we use tohold our life together and waste time at work.


The proliferation of apps played into the transformation of a device used for the sole purpose of communication into a miniature computer. Now, the big players in the printing and imaging industry are taking a page from the smartphone industries’ playbook, transforming their printers, copiers, and scanners into sophisticated instruments that are revolutionizing the way we do business.

The Appification of the MFP

MFP manufacturers know that they can only improve their hardware so much. Sure, your device can scan at 100 ppm or output lifelike images in spectacular color. However, consumers want more than that. They want intuitive embedded apps that enhance the capabilities and extend the boundaries of what their five-figure investment can do. MFP embedded apps help companies circumvent other costly solutions such as middleware and proprietary software, and reduce print-related IT costs such as the need for additional servers, print drivers and staff.


MFP connectors—the largest grouping in the embedded app space—transform MFPs into onramps leading to databases, cloud services, email and fax servers, line of business applications, and other digital destinations.


Given the ubiquitous use of SharePoint, it’s no surprise that “Scan to SharePoint” connectors are the most popular archetype of the MFP-embedded connector family. The KYOCERA SharePoint Connector best exemplifies the group, offering users the most functionality and capabilities at the MFP’s control panel. Users can scan, index, and route documents to any folder in their SharePoint repository with a few button pushes, saving them the hassle of scanning and sending a document to a network folder, walking back to their PC, locating the document, and filling out index data at a later time. And unlike others, KYOCERA’s flavor enables users to print from SharePoint directly at the control panel. Organizations can opt to purchase the SharePoint Connector with Nuance’s OmniPage OCR, allowing them to deliver searchable, editable file types such as PDF, Word, and Excel.


Other notable destinations in the “Scan-to” space with dedicated apps include Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, EverNote, Gmail, and Microsoft Outlook.


Embedded apps such as HP Quick Forms or Konica Minolta’s Paper Templates can transform output devices into a one-stop shop for business documents. This can eliminate costs associated with making specialty media purchases for forms creation. And apps embedded in select Brother devices let users select parts of a hardcopy document and scan just those parts into a digital file with transparent background (Brother Outline & Scan App) or outline a portion of a hardcopy document to leave out of the final scan (Brother Outline & Remove App).


In other scan-to cases, apps like Canon Workflow Composer with MEAP Connectors take the process of scanning and routing documents one step further. At the device’s panel, users can create and register functions to buttons that live on the MFP’s control panel, thereby enabling one-touch scanning to workflow a reality. Ultimately, it’s a design-your-own scan-to application.


Taking the concept to the next level, the Xerox App Studio platform empowers resellers to create and deploy custom MFP applications to address customers’ challenges—with no software development skills required. To create a custom app, resellers or partners need only to select the template for the desired app on the App Studio site. They are then guided through a simple step-by-step process that includes selecting features, adding destinations or accounts, and customizing the interface. Once done, the reseller assigns a license to the customer organization and deploys the app to the target device or devices. App Studio currently has application templates for scanning to email, FTP sites, shared folders, USB, Dropbox, Office 365, a designated URL and multiple destinations, with more templates on the way.


What’s really at play here is technological convergence. The future is in interoperability—the ability to access everything from everywhere. As the app market continues to expand, you’ll notice fuller functionality of software on more and more devices. As your phone starts to look more and more like your computer, your MFP’s control panel will start to look more and more like your smartphone.