Until recently, printer support in Android was pretty spotty. Google Cloud Print, a half-solution that routes print jobs through Google’s servers, came to Android in 2013; Android KitKat added native printing; and the most recent version of Android, Oreo, folded Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) into Android’s default print service. Android still lacks a way to print directly to Wi-Fi connected printers using Wi-Fi Direct, but that might be poised to change.
A recent commit in the Android Open Source Project Gerrit implies that Android will gain support for Wi-Fi Direct printing, which creates an ad-hoc point-to-point network directly between wireless devices and printers. The newly added code includes a package, com.android.bips.p2p, that manages Wi-Fi Direct discoveries and connections, and a user interface with menus for adding printers, selecting saved printers from a list, and sending print jobs to them.
If Wi-Fi Direct sounds familiar, that’s because Android’s natively supported it since Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s a protocol developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance, the global industry association that certifies Wi-Fi products and standards, and it’s capable of much more than communicating with printers. Wi-Fi Direct connections are encrypted, and use two services — Device Discovery and Service Discovery — to identify nearby compatible PCs, TVs, tablets, and smartphones. Some devices with DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) support can act as Wi-Fi Direct media receivers, playing back audio and video that’s beamed to them.
In any case, it’s a convenient alternative to Bluetooth — there’s no pairing required. And unlike Wi-Fi hotspots, some Wi-Fi Direct devices don’t require a password.
To be clear, Wi-Fi Direct printing on Android has been around for a while — apps like Samsung’s Mobile Print app and Mobile Print enable it, as does Samsung’s Print Service on newer Galaxy series smartphones. But the commits suggest an upcoming version of Android, likely Android P, will support it natively.
Wi-Fi Direct’s been adopted by printer manufacturers like HP, Epson, and Brother, so if you’ve picked up a new wireless printer in the past few years, there’s a good chance it supports it. Expect devices running the next major version of Android, Android P, to take advantage.
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