Daily Archives: June 14, 2010

5 iPad Apps That Changed My Mind

I was not optimistic about the future of the iPad prior to its release. It seemed a unicorn among horses in the tech world, something precious and therefore expensive, but without any real tangible benefit over its brethren in terms of functionality, at least for the average person. Clearly, I was wrong.

But what convinced me that I truly was wrong about the iPad and its prospects for the future weren’t the reports coming in about its tremendous retail success. That could still be accounted for by initial fervor for a new product by Apple, which, few will argue, has become the “it” company of late. No, it was a few select apps that convinced me that the iPad was here to stay, and that that was a good thing. Below are those apps, along with why I think they’re serious game-changers.

Air Video ($2.99)

When I found this app for my iPhone and iPod touch, it was like a godsend. But when I booted it up for the first time on my iPad, it was more impressive by far. The added screen real estate and resolution makes the iPad a terrific portable video device, and having access to my entire media library on my home computer from wherever I am, well that’s just a fantastic combination.

So fantastic, in fact, that I still feel like I’m getting away with something when I use it, that Apple will at some point come in and shut it down for being too competitive with iTunes. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, because Air Video’s developers say that an update will also support audio streaming of your iTunes library. Only thing this is missing is support for Apple’s video out accessory, but that’s recently come to GoodReader, so we could be in luck shortly.

Air Display ($9.99)

Similar in function to Air Video, but also completely different, there’s Air Display. Long have I coveted a Mimo monitor, or some other similar small equivalent for bringing a multimonitor workspace with me when I travel. But then there’s the price tag, and the question of whether or not I’ll actually do enough work with it to justify the purchase.

Air Display provides an inexpensive software solution, provided you already have the iPad to begin with. It allows you to extend your computer’s desktop wirelessly using VNC technology to your iPad. Though it isn’t smooth enough for advanced editing or other intensive tasks, it works great for having Mail, Twitte, or an IM client constantly open without grabbing precious laptop screen space.

Documents to Go Premium ($11.99)

So many times I’ve wished I could just leave my MacBook behind and still get writing work done on the go in a manner that wasn’t clumsy or awkward. Documents to Go Premium, with its built-in support for Google Docs, which is what I use more than anything else for my own writing, fits the bill perfectly.

Now I just pack my iPad and an Apple Bluetooth keyboard and I’m working easily in Starbucks or wherever I happen to pause to rest my heels. Better still, the nature of the iPad with its lack of true multitasking actually inhibits distractions, so I feel like I get more done.

Sketchbook Pro ($7.99)

A long while ago, when the software that turns your MacBook’s trackpad into a drawing surface for a stylus came out, I bought a Pogo Sketch. It’s a capacitive stylus that you can use with iPhones, iPads and iPod touches, in addition to MacBook trackpads. It stayed in the closet until I got my iPad.

Now, in combination with a powerful drawing program like Sketchbook Pro, the iPad becomes the perfect on-the-go drawing and painting device. I’m not skilled enough to pull off any masterpieces, but rough sketches for graphic design work and even some basic speed paintings are well within reach. I’d have preferred genuine Wacom input options, but you can’t always get what you want.

Comic Zeal Comic Reader 4 ($7.99)

I’ve saved the best for last, because no matter how much I may try to convince myself and others that the iPad is a productivity-boosting device, there’s no denying that it’s also just downright fun. And one of the most fun things to do on the platform is read comics. It seems tailor-made for the task. Even if you haven’t ever read comics before, you should try it on the iPad. I can almost guarantee you’ll enjoy the experience.

In order to accomplish this, there are a number of comic book format (CBR and CBZ file) readers you could try available in the App Store. For my money, Comic Zeal is the best, because of its interface, its sync options, and its app-specific format and desktop conversion tool. It may even be a little bit buggier than other offerings, and Comic Book Lover doesn’t require conversion, but it’s the one with which I’m most comfortable. I can honestly spend an entire day with this baby and not know where the time went.

The iPad has drastically changed the way I interact with, enjoy and produce digital media. Sure, sometimes it’s hard to get a good, comfortable grip on the thing, but it’s definitely a far cry from the niche-less device I expected it to be. And Apple has developers to thank for that.

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Announcing OpenGL ES 2.0 for iOS 4

Okay, it’s finally time for me to announce Super Secret Project B, which is a new book I’m writing on OpenGL ES 2.0 for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

Yes, I know I said I wouldn’t be writing any books in 2010, but the nice folks at the Pragmatic Programmers approached me after I made that statement with an economically feasible way for me to write a book this year. I couldn’t say no.

My original plan had been to take my OpenGL ES from the Ground Up blog posts, supplement them, and turn them into a book with step-by-step projects to reinforce the points of each posts. My week at WWDC has caused me to change that approach. I went to all the OpenGL ES sessions and spent a fair amount of time bending the ear of Allan Schaffer, Apple’s Graphics and Games Evangelist, as well as a number of Apple engineers who work on or with OpenGL. After a lot of hard thought, I came to the conclusion that the approach needed to change. Although modern hardware supports the fixed pipeline, Apple has stopped making phones that require OpenGL ES 1.1. The iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPad all not only support OpenGL ES 2.0, but they all require it if you want to take full advantage of the hardware.

OpenGL ES from the Ground Up, however, focused on the OpenGL ES 1.1 fixed pipeline.

Since OpenGL ES doesn’t maintain backward compatibility the way workstation OpenGL does, much of the material from the fixed pipeline, such as lights, the model view and projection matrix, and the stock functions for submitting vertex, texture, and normal data are all gone from OpenGL ES 2.0. Instead, you have to handle all that work manually when you write your shaders. Shaders add some complexity to the process, but give you a tremendous amount of power and the ability to write more efficient OpenGL code.

In the Desktop world, it still makes sense to learn immediate mode first, then regular fixed pipeline, and then finally the programmable pipeline, because workstation OpenGL maintains nearly 100% backwards compatibility across releases, and you can get up and running quickly. On Workstation OpenGL ES, you can even mix and match the different modes, accessing the model view matrix and lights from your shaders. That’s not the case with OpenGL ES, so spending a few hundred pages teaching things that won’t be applicable to the programmable pipeline seemed like a poor use of time, both mine, and my readers’.

But, for the new programmer, the programmable pipeline is really hard to grok. I’ve been banging my head this past week looking for a way to present that rather complex topic in a way that people without prior graphics or OpenGL ES experience will be able to understand.

Thanks to a lot of people willing to talk with me, I think I’ve come up with an approach that will work, and I’m really excited about it. So, if you find OpenGL ES confusing, especially if you find the programmable pipeline and shaders confusing, look out for OpenGL ES 2.0 for iOS4. I don’t have a release date yet, but I will post here when I have updated information about the production schedule.

©2008-2010 Jeff LaMarche.
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