Google has announced that it will be taking on Apple’s AirPrint technology and HP’s ePrint offering with a cloud-based printing service of its own - Google Cloud Printing - when the next version of its Chrome browser, version 9, is launched.

“Our goal is to build a printing experience that enables any app (web, desktop, or mobile) on any device to print to any printer anywhere in the world”, says Google.

Apps, says the search giant, will no longer rely on the local operating system (and drivers) to print, but use Google Cloud Print to submit and manage print jobs.

Apple’s AirPrint and HP’s ePrint technology are gunning for the same ease of use, as the three company’s, in their own separate ways, try to eradicate the need for printer drivers and long set up processes.

In Google’s case, Google Cloud Print is responsible for sending the print job to the appropriate printer, with the particular options of the user selected and providing job status to the app. Users will be able to print directly from services like Gmail without having to run separate drivers.

In a move that seems to suggest it was designed specifically for its Chrome OS operating system, available to the public in mid-2011, users won’t have to install any further software to print from their devices. And as the Chrome browser and Chrome OS have the same approach, their PC or Mac will be covered too.

But like HP and Apple’s system, Google Cloud Print won’t be available to everyone from day 1.

Users associate printers with their Google Account via the service. Printers are treated in much the same way as documents are in Google Docs. Therefore, it is very easy to share printers with your co-workers, friends, and family anywhere in the world.

In addition to associating printers with a user's Google Account, the capabilities of each particular printer model are stored so they can be shown to the user, allowing them to select appropriate options when submitting a print job. Once the service receives a print job, it sends it to the printer. It also receives regular updates on the status of the print job, which it makes available to the app.

“The ideal experience is for your printer to have native support for connecting to cloud print services. Under this model, the printer has no need for a PC connection of any kind or for a print driver”, says Google.

Sounds great doesn’t it? The trouble is that none exist yet, so Google is still waiting for printer company’s like Kodak, Canon, Epson, and HP to jump on board.

Bold as ever Google doesn’t see this as a problem, believing that there will “be multiple cloud print services, and users should have a choice in which services they use and which printers they can connect to a service” in the near future, adding: “We are confident that cloud-aware printers will soon be a reality.” 

In reality the first wave of Google Cloud Printing devices are likely to be printers already in the market, enabled by a software “firmware” update to allow them to benefit from the service.

HP’s latest line of ePrint ready printers are also AirPrint ready and are web connected. Users can print to them by simply sending the printer an email of what they want printed.

However, while Google suggests that every printer could be upgraded, HP admits that earlier printers aren’t likely to get such improvements.

Google plans to get around this problem by bundling the software users will need within Chrome, much like the company already does with Adobe Flash. Printers connected to that PC will then be able to use the Google Cloud Print service.

The downside is that the PC must be powered on, and connected to the Internet in order for print jobs to get to the proxy (and hence the printer). Not ideal compared to HP’s and Apple’s proposition.

At the moment Google’s Cloud Printing service is still just a theory, but one that should make printing easier if you’ve got the right software and the right hardware to take advantage of it.

Who said we were heading towards a paperless office?