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 uber 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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50 year old infographic shows NASA’s first manned forray into space

Loving the way today's NASA image of the day looks on my desktop.

NASA’s Image of the Day Gallery provided this cool infographic showing Alan Shepard’s brief flight into space — America’s first.

It appeared magically on my desktop courtesy of John’s Background Switcher — a cool windows desktop wallpaper application that manages and displays many image sources.

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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