Comparisons are always a terrible way of framing an argument, but make them I must. I'll start with the end first though and work backwards to try and explain my view of the Little Printer...
Placing a small, cute, whimsical, standalone modern printer into a living room or kitchen will change behaviour (slightly) and invite new uses.
That's basically the crux of my argument for why the Little Printer is a good thing, just that. Commercially available printers, neat, smart looking, playful, unobtrusive and in household communal spaces like kitchens are something we currently don't have.
Which means we also don't have the common language yet to frame ideas around it. For our pocket computers and tablets we have "Apps" and "Swipe" and "Cloud" - a shared understanding that had to quickly evolve and be agreed upon. It's at this point I'll avoid getting side tracked into the importance of language to culture and the formation of ideas. Because we don't yet (quite) have the language, it's harder to quickly express ideas around this new device. *new as in commercially mass produced.
A problem dogging the Little Printer is the focus seems to shift onto the "Printer" rather than the "Little" part.
My rule of thumb is that if a comedian is doing a routine about something, then there's a certain level of truthyness about it. That comedians can do a 'bit' about getting a computer to actually just 'see' a printer that the audience can relate to and laugh at should tell us all we need know about printers, doubly so for the myth of "Wireless" printers. Even more exciting is the shrödingerness of the office printer.
Needless so say there is little joy in printers, printed objects themselves yes, printers not so much.
I'll get to the comparisons now...
My hunch is that hardcore gamers aside, no-one has much love for desktop computers at home. At best it's an enabling device that sits under (or on) a desk, taking up space and sucking dust in through its noisy air vents. Oh, and the wires. Laptops are better, but as we've seen based on recent sales figures the tablet device (for simplicities sake I'm just going to call the iPad) and iPhones (yeah and Androids) are what people are really using. And they're using them in the living room, kitchen, bedroom and not the home-office or wherever the desktop computer has been embarrassingly shoved.
The game console is another one, a special purpose computer designed to run games in your living room on the TV. Desktop PC games are somehow more serious, in-depth, hardcore. While games consoles have given us Sing Star, Rock Band, dancing games and so on, you know fun stuff!
You could argue that without the console in the living room wired up to the TV, these games wouldn't have become so prevalent or indeed invented at all.
The trend is for the big bulky devices to shrink and move out of the office into the living room, the computer's done it, becoming both an iPad and a games console things that people actually enjoy using. While up until now the ink guzzling, paper jamming printer has remained firmly unloved taking up valuable desk space wherever you can get away with hiding it as long as the cable still reaches (because buggered if the wireless has worked beyond the first time you go it onto the network).
So I can see why it's sometimes hard to see the point of the Little Printer when viewed in the context of a printer. But when seen as a small family device that sits on the sideboard that just happens to be able to print then I'm pretty optimistic for the potential for what it can become, and certainly a reason to not dismiss it out of hand.
I know for certain that it'll engage kids in a similar way that iPhone and iPads have when compared to desktop computers. Word of the Day for children would be a small, simple and 'worthy' use for the printer (yeah, you could do a flash card a day, but you don't do you, and it doesn't come out of a small cute printer). Word of the Day is just a stupidly simple, almost default use of the thing, expand that to scores-and-stats that can be ripped off and taken to school for whatever online grow-your-pet game happens to be in fashion and then we start scratching the surface.
To reiterate, the fact the printer goes in the living room, bedside table, kitchen etc. creates the uses, not the printer part.
The build it yourself & environmental argumentsQuestion: Can't I just build one of these myself for less and then print whatever I want on it? Answer: Yes. See also; cars, bikes, toasters, clothes & flame throwers.
Question: What about the environment? Answer: Generally smaller & lower power is better. I say that in the same way you should get rid of your big SUV (unless you really need it) and get a smaller more economical car (when really no car at all is better), I also say get rid of your big A4 printer and get a smaller more economical printer instead. If you really think that Little Printer is bad for the environment but you still need your "real" printer then I can't help you with your logic, sorry.
Photo: by Dan, used under creative commons.