Printing from remote desktops on iOS devices isn't impossible

Citrix's X1 Mouse makes accessing a remote session from an iOS device doable, but what if you have to print? ThinPrint's Mobile Print feature simplifies what was once a multi-step process.

I print documents so rarely that I sort of forget that capability is still important, but occasionally, I'm reminded...

what a pain in the neck printing can be, like when I want to print from a Google Chromebook or an Apple iPhone.

I recently had to replace a perfectly good printer with a new one that has Google Cloud Print and Apple AirPlay support so I could print from these newer devices. I've spent $500 on printers in the past seven years. Based on print volume during that period, that means that I pay about $0.75 per printed page, not counting all the dried up ink cartridges.

For years IT administrators struggled with printing, and at one point I knew more about printing than I ever cared to. Over time -- and with the help of Microsoft and third-party products -- printing has gradually been "solved" to the point where it doesn't really matter what product you have or which approach you use to streamline printing. You definitely need those tools and products to make printing a reality, but it doesn't matter which ones you use.

So I was surprised when I learned of a printing scenario I hadn't considered. This use case, at least in my mind, didn't exist until Citrix released the X1 Mouse. If you're not familiar with it, it's a Bluetooth mouse that you can use with remote applications delivered to an iPad. If you've tried to use a Bluetooth mouse with an iOS device before, you already know Apple doesn't support that capability. But Citrix pulls it off because the mouse isn't paired to the OS; it links to Citrix Receiver directly.

Until the X1 Mouse, the idea of using iOS devices as thin clients was dead to me. I have an iPhone and an iPad Mini, and I wouldn't dare use them to access Windows applications, except maybe in an emergency. Pinch zooming until your fingers cramp up is no way to go through life. But adding a mouse to the equation, along with a Bluetooth keyboard, changed things. I still prefer a larger screen as my daily driver, but having used the X1 Mouse, I can certainly picture the hoards of people with iPad keyboards soaking it up.

How to print from a remote desktop on iOS

When I first wrote about the X1 Mouse, ThinPrint reached out to me to talk about its printing product for iOS. At first I thought it was just a virtual AirPrint server, which is pretty common these days, but it actually addresses a problem that didn't exist until the X1 Mouse came out: printing to local printers at home from a remote session accessed from an iOS device.

That's a mouthful, so here's the scenario:

An end user is at home, remoted into his corporate environment on his iPad. He has the mouse and keyboard, so the experience isn't completely terrible. If he wants to print, what are his options? Receiver doesn't expose AirPrint as a printer to the remote session; printing as if it was a local printer connected to a PC is out of the question. He could turn his printout into a PDF, email it to himself, access it from his phone, and then AirPrint it, but that's a lot of steps. Or he could use a feature of ThinPrint 10.6 called ThinPrint Mobile Print.

The quick version of the experience goes like this: The user selects a mobile printer from the list of printers in the remote application. When he clicks print, a push notification appears on the client device. The user taps the push notification, which brings up the AirPrint dialog and prints out the document.

There is an app that needs to be installed (iOS only, no support for Android or Chrome), and this app serves a few roles. From the end-user perspective, it exists solely to pop up the AirPrint dialog box. We also need it to enroll the device into and receive print jobs from our environment.

The only way I can think of that would make this more elegant is if Citrix were to build in AirPrint support for local printers directly into Receiver, which may or may not be possible. The biggest downside (besides the ultra-niche use case of iPad clients remote desktop clients that need to print) is that you have to have ThinPrint to pull this off.

Of course, if you don't have any third-party printing product in use, it's a good time to look and see what options are out there.

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