Amazon is helping to bring the mythical “paperless office” a bit closer, if only by a tiny fraction. The new Send to Kindle for Mac app lets Mac fans join PC users to bypass the printer altogether and “print” documents directly to their Kindle. The question is, what’s taking the other e-book providers so long to deliver similar functions? Can we get a little more movement here, please?

The Mac app follows the Send to Kindle for PC app released in January. Both apps integrate with the OS to add a Send to Kindle option to the printer dialog and file manager (Finder on Mac, Explorer on Windows). The Mac version also gives users the option of dragging a supported file to the Send to Kindle Dock icon to format and send a file to the Kindle.

Users have the option of sending over Wi-Fi, or Whispernet if their Kindle supports it. The Whispernet option may cost $0.15 per megabyte for users in the United States, and more for users outside the U.S.

Paperless Office

The myth of the paperless office has been with us for decades. Computers were supposed to lead to less paper wasted by doing away with all those forms, memos and other unfortunate side effects of corporate life. We’d still have all paperwork, just without the paper. Or so the story went.

The unfortunate truth, though, is that most of the advances that should or could have resulted in a paperless office have generated more printing. That company memo? Better print it out. The slides you need to review? Printed. That great article on ReadWriteWeb about the paperless office? Let’s see if there’s a “print view” or send to Instapaper so I can… you get the idea.

Email? You’ve no doubt seen the email signatures that beg people not to print out their email. Yet millions of users regularly print out their messages for later reading.

Many thought that the PDF could help to achieve the paperless office, but even Steve Partridge, Adobe’s Acrobat evangelist, had to concede that the PDF didn’t solve all the problems needed. Why? In part because people want a better way to read the documents that they’re printing.

E-Books and Tablets to the Rescue, Kinda

E-books and tablet computers solve the portability issue, but they don’t really address the “getting my stuff from point A to point B” problem.

Sure, you can kludge together something if you try. You can use the Instapaper iPad app, for instance, to read Web pages on your tablet or use the Instapaper site to send articles to your Kindle queue. You can print to PDF and read it on the Kindle (with varying degrees of success and speed) or use apps on the iPad or other tablets to read PDFs.

But workflow is often an issue. Sending items to the e-book or tablet, before now, was less than optimal. At least for Kindle owners, it’s gotten a lot easier. Well, as long as the Kindle owner is also a Mac or Windows user. No love for Linux here.

Tip of the Iceberg

Amazon’s Send to Kindle apps are just the very, tiny, tip of the iceberg. In pursuit of the paperless office, there’s a slew of opportunities that are just waiting to be tapped.

If a company was serious about whittling down on paper usage, it could issue tablets or e-readers to all of the knowledge workers on the staff. Whether that’s a cheap E-Ink Kindle, a Kindle Fire tablet or an iPad with the Kindle app. Such a move could finally help tablets find a useful role in businesses

Right now, Amazon’s tools are really tailored to end users and depend on each user deciding “yes, I’d like this on my Kindle or tablet.” But there should be a market for tools that let any organization push documents to tablets or e-books. Amazon recently (and a bit tardily) made its AWS documentation available on the Kindle. Wouldn’t it be nice if every company could make its employee documentation and communications printable straight to the Kindle?

Hello, Apple? Barnes & Noble? Anybody?

So far, Amazon is the only provider that’s provided a way to print directly to its e-books. Barnes & Noble doesn’t provide anything of the kind for the Nook, nor does Apple provide anything for iBooks or another iPad app. Amazon is at a slight advantage here, since it’s unlikely Apple is going to provide a “print to iBooks/iPad” option for PCs anyway.

This could be a selling point for third-party e-book makers, especially if publishers do reject DRM in the long haul. The third-party e-books could compete on features, and one of the features could be the tools to create and send content straight to the e-book.

Paperless at Last?

For an individual user, namely me, the Send to Kindle app is fantastic. If I think back to my corporate days with Novell, this would have let me send all kinds of materials to my Kindle instead of printing them to read later on the plane. (Except the lack of a Linux version, which is a problem.)

Would widespread adoption of sending materials to e-books and tablets eradicate printing altogether? Of course not. But it could make printing much less necessary and desirable.

Are you using the Send to Kindle app? What’s missing, and what would you like to see to make your office paperless?