Using your Android or iOS tablet as a second monitor

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As we’ve seen pre­vi­ously (The more screens, the bet­ter — Our guide to mul­tiple mon­it­ors ), hav­ing more screens to dis­trib­ute your desktop across can be a huge bene­fit to your com­put­ing exper­i­ence.

And as you’ll have noticed in the title, if you’ve got a tab­let, you can even bring it into the mix, as long as you’ve got access to a WiFi net­work and have installed a few pieces of soft­ware. Lets take a look.

Apps
There are quite a few apps out there for Android and iOS, on both Win­dows and OSX. This post isn’t really about all the vari­ations avail­able, so to keep it simple, I’m using Air Dis­play by Avat­ron, which is avail­able for all four con­fig­ur­a­tions (Android (OSX/Win), iOS (OSX/Win)).

It’s a simple mat­ter to set up, just install a serv­er applic­a­tion on your desktop, and a cli­ent applic­a­tion on your tab­let. Con­fig­ur­a­tion took a minute or two and then I was shar­ing my screen.

MacAndroid.jpgIt’s about the net­work
The way these desktop-extend­ing apps work is they basic­ally fool your oper­at­ing sys­tem into think­ing you’ve just con­nec­ted anoth­er mon­it­or to the sys­tem. To your oper­at­ing sys­tem, the tab­let looks just like a mon­it­or, and is treated as such.

You can drag win­dows on to it, launch your computer’s applic­a­tions from it — it’s just anoth­er screen.

Screen with bene­fits
Ok, it’s not really just anoth­er screen. This new mini-mon­it­or also becomes a touch screen. Yep, you can tap on your screen, and the computer’s curs­or imme­di­ately snaps to the loc­a­tion you tapped. Which means all your mouse func­tions are also now avail­able on the touch­screen tab­let.

Port­able
For me, one of the best uses of a tab­let as an exten­ded desktop is when I pair my iPad up with my Mac­Book Pro when I’m on the go.

Ima­gine pulling up to your favour­ite table at your loc­al cof­fee shop, setup up your laptop, and next to it, your tab­let. Extend the screen onto your tab­let and poof! You are now über pro­duct­ive while being extremely port­able.

Refresh­ing
Since you’re actu­ally get­ting an exten­ded desktop sent through the net­work to your tab­let, don’t expect blis­ter­ingly fast screen updates. Depend­ing on the app and desktop, you can make Flash anim­a­tions appear on your device. In my case, I man­aged to get just under 60 frames per second in my highly un-sci­entif­ic HTML5 Fishtank fram­er­ate test :smileyhappy:

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Draw­backs?
No sys­tem is per­fect. Using the tab­let as a second screen requires a WiFi net­work con­nec­tion. This can be a bit tricky in some loc­a­tions where you’re only allowed one WiFi con­nec­tion per per­son.

Also, if there are mul­tiple WiFi net­works in the same build­ing, say at a uni­ver­sity, you must make sure that your devices are all on the same WiFi net­work.

Why?
Well, I like using the extra mon­it­or provided by my tab­let as a news desk, tweet mon­it­or and ref­er­ence desk. Yep, just a pass­ive dis­play that I can occa­sion­ally glance at that means I don’t have to Alt-Tab to check on stuff. Much less dis­tract­ing that way, I find. And it’s a port­able solu­tion to my mul­tiple mon­it­or addic­tion.

Thoughts?
Got a favour­ite com­puter and tab­let con­fig­ur­a­tion you want to share? Tell us about it and we’ll all learn some­thing!

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Unleash your inner Spielberg

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I’m sure all of us have, at one point or anoth­er, dreamed of releas­ing that movie dir­ect­or deep inside, and mak­ing our own movie, com­plete with music and spe­cial effects.

Well, if your dream is to make one that hearkens back to the golden days of silent cinema, then I’ve got an inex­pens­ive app for you.

Silent Film Dir­ect­or, released today, can help you make movies in a style remin­ensent of the clas­sic Hol­ly­wood sil­ver screen.

It’s a very slick app that lets you shoot, edit and share movies on your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad (in Uni­ver­sal mode). Con­tin­ue read­ing “Unleash your inner Spiel­berg”

I think I’ve bought my last desktop computer

A couple of years ago, I was all into and enjoyed build­ing desktop com­puters, pick­ing out the right video card, select­ing the best mother­board and gen­er­ally dig­ging deep into the innards of my future com­put­ing plat­form. And design­ing the per­fect ‘office’ com­put­ing envir­on­ment with short cable runs, ample power for my accessor­ies and lots of desktop space. Yes it was com­plex and involved and detailed, but it was a hobby — build­ing com­puters.

These days, I’m not so con­cerned about it. What I need to do on a com­puter hasn’t changed, but the com­put­ing industry has matured, my needs are now becom­ing much more main­stream, and the sig­ni­fic­ant dif­fer­ences between one com­pon­ent and anoth­er aren’t quite so sig­ni­fic­ant any more.

Put anoth­er way, what I have been doing and want to do on a com­puter, is now much more in demand by every­day con­sumers. And the hard­ware, is becom­ing much more homo­gen­eous. They’ve caught up. Wel­come to the future.

Honey, I shrunk the CPU
Moore’s Law has also caught up, to the point where the hard­ware is smal­ler, light­er, faster, and cheap­er to make. On today’s hard­ware you can have full audio and video edit­ing stu­di­os in the soft­ware that runs your phone. You can remotely pilot vehicles with your phone or mobile com­put­ing device, and you can eas­ily com­mu­nic­ate with any­one on the plan­et using any num­ber of mobile tech­no­lo­gies.

Any of the mod­ern note­book com­puters have all that stuff in a very tiny pack­age.

Home file shar­ing
It used to be that you had files on one com­puter, and you shared them with the oth­er. Both com­puters had to be on to share the files. Now, with ubi­quit­ous WiFi and home net­work stor­age appli­ances (basic­ally net­work-aware hard drives) in your house­hold, any com­puter or com­pat­ible device can access any doc­u­ment, video, mp3, at any time. No need to have a big Mas­ter Serv­er.

Print­ing
The same goes for net­work-aware print­ers. Most man­u­fac­tur­ers have WiFi mod­els avail­able that know how to play nice with your home net­work envir­on­ment. Again, no need for a com­puter dir­ectly con­nec­ted to a print­er.

Stor­age
I men­tioned home net­work stor­age above, but these days stor­age devices are dirt cheap. So much so that it’s become pos­sible for com­mer­cial busi­ness to be built up around the concept of offer­ing you free online stor­age of your doc­u­ments, pho­tos, music, whatever…for free.

And they won’t only store your files, they’ll give you free access to applic­a­tions and tools to cre­ate and edit your stuff. Again, I no longer have a need for a huge drive attached to a big desktop box — all this stuff is in the cloud.

One caveat
There’s only two real reas­on that I can think of for need­ing a ded­ic­ated desktop com­puter these days; high-qual­ity media cre­ation, and gam­ing.

If you’re into music mak­ing, video edit­ing, pho­to­graphy, art, design, any­thing that needs you to move masses of pixels or gigs of data around, the archi­tec­ture of a desktop com­puter box is more suited to that than many of the note­book com­puters on the mar­ket. And you’re likely using the com­puter in a pro­fes­sion­al set­ting as a pho­to­graph­er, com­poser and the like.

Gam­ing also is a hard­ware resource hog, and falls into that cat­egory as many of the same com­put­ing tasks in media cre­ation are also neces­sary in game cre­ation and play­ing. Of course, there are excep­tions — I’ve seen some very power­ful (and pretty) gam­ing laptops.

Inter­est­ing, but not enough
But gam­ing isn’t enough for me to build my desktop around it, any more. Con­sole gam­ing sys­tems have edged in with com­par­able graph­ics and game­play, on much big­ger screens than could fit on my desktop.

So it looks like my next new sys­tem, likely in a year or two, won’t be a power-suck­ing behemoth that sits under my desk. Rather, it’ll be some­thing small, light, can con­nect to desktop mon­it­ors, mice & key­boards, and the home net, yet is still port­able. And I think the same holds true for most of you too. Yes, wel­come to the future 🙂
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How your mobile phone or tablet could save your life

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Believe it or not, there are many ways your mobile smart phone could be used when you find your­self in the middle of an emer­gency situ­ation,  aside from the obvi­ous — mak­ing a phone call for emer­gency assist­ance, I mean.

The recent events in Japan and New Zea­l­and have shown that when dis­aster strikes, get­ting the most accur­ate inform­a­tion is likely the best way to make choices that could save your life.

Browser
Provided the event hasn’t taken out the loc­al mobile net­work, your mobile phone’s browser will help, link­ing you with many loc­al, nation­al, and inter­na­tion­al news ser­vices, as well as many dif­fer­ent chan­nels of com­mu­nic­a­tion (email, voice chat, twit­ter, etc).

Hard­ware
f1.jpgBut there are oth­er ways your smart phone can help. For example, many smart phone’s dis­play screens are bright enough to be used as a make­shift flash­light when the power goes out. Col­or Flash­light is a lead­ing Android app and Flash­light 4 is one of the most pop­u­lar ones in Japan right now.

As well, most phones these days know where they are in the world, either by tri­an­gu­lat­ing between com­mu­nic­a­tions towers, wifi sources, or built-in GPS sys­tems. Tie this in with any of the pop­u­lar map­ping applic­a­tions and you have a good visu­al under­stand­ing of where you are. Help­ful when you have to find an altern­ate route or trans­port­a­tion sys­tem in an unfa­mil­i­ar city.

An app for that? You bet!
As you can ima­gine, there are many things that you could need in an emer­gency. And, of course, there are some apps that can help.

Dur­ing the Tsunami warn­ings fol­low­ing the Japan earth­quake, inform­a­tion like that provided by this Hawaii­an-developed Dis­aster Alert app helped keep islanders informed about the impend­ing waves.

And after an event, find­ing people and shel­ter is a pri­or­ity.

Google launched their Google Per­son Find­er dur­ing the Christ­ch­urch earth­quake, and updated it for the Japan event.

And the Amer­ic­an Red Cross has released their free Shel­ter View app.

So as you can see, with just a few book­marks, per­haps an hour of app-store brows­ing, and a few dol­lars invest­ment, you can have a pretty good emer­gency pre­pared­ness kit all tucked neatly into your mobile data phone.

I think it’s time I star­ted on mine, what have I missed that I should add?
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Apple vs the App Developers

boot.jpgPre­vi­ously I’d writ­ten about the impend­ing launch of Gar­age Band for iPad, and men­tioned how Apple’s release of this app will chal­lenge smal­ler inde­pend­ent app developers in the music cre­ation space.

Today’ I’m at it again. With yesterday’s release of iOS 4.3, it seems that Apple has again taken a bite out of a developer’s rev­en­ue stream.

I’m talk­ing spe­cific­ally about enhance­ments to iTunes Home Shar­ing that enable video and audio stream­ing from any prop­erly con­figured iTunes-run­ning com­puter on your net­work.

Yep, this is a good thing, and it’s very cool tech. It’s great that Apple is mak­ing it avail­able for free. And it’s unfor­tu­nate that it’s also put­ting pres­sure on the developers of the Air Video and StreamToMe apps, both very good stream­ing applic­a­tions.

Innov­ate or else. This is com­pet­i­tion?
So now the ball is back in the developers court. They have to prove that their apps worth real money, and are bet­ter or dif­fer­ent than iTunes Home Shar­ing, which is free and just an update away.

And the developers aren’t work­ing from a pos­i­tion of strength that Apple is with all the resources at it’s dis­pos­al.

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Air Video and StreamToMe and oth­ers offer sig­ni­fic­ant dif­fer­en­ti­at­ors from Apple’s Home Shar­ing, in that they can be set up to stream video from your home serv­er to your loc­a­tion any­where on the Inter­net, provided you’ve prop­erly con­figured your net­work and the apps. I’ve not seen an easy way to set iTunes up to extend Home Shar­ing to an Inter­net con­nec­ted device. It may exist, but I’ve not seen it yet.

But wait, there’s more!
Home media stream­ing isn’t the only area Apple’s jumped into recently. As men­tioned at the start of this post, Gar­age Band for iPad launched today. And it looks like an awe­some app!

korg.jpgWhich has some music app makers re-eval­u­at­ing their product and pri­cing struc­tures when com­pared against Gar­age Band iPad.

For example, today KORG dropped the price of its hugely awe-inspir­ingly-com­plex synth, the iMS-20. Giv­en the com­plex­ity and power of the app, KORG had it ini­tially pegged at $32.99. Today the price dropped to half at $15.99.

No update. No improve­ments. Just a change in the land­scape tomor­row and an app is worth $15.00 less.

Sure, com­par­ing a $4.99 iPad Gar­age Band against a full fea­tured $32.99 $15.99 synth is Apples to Oranges. But is it? Many buy­ers of iPad Gar­age Band have Macs, which already have the full com­puter ver­sion of Gar­age Band installed as part of the stand­ard Mac bundle. A built-in audi­ence and income stream for the iPad app.

Win­ning!
In the end, the con­sumer is win­ning, it seems. With Gar­age Band, they get a new, reas­on­ably priced and power­ful app for their iPads. And they’ll also bene­fit by some price cuts on oth­er apps whose developers will feel the need to com­pete with Gar­age Band’s price, bring­ing them into line with con­sumer new expect­a­tions. Win­ning — for the con­sumer.

For the app developers? That remains to be seen.

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