Using your smartphone as a Windows or Mac secondary display: iDisplay

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about ways to use your old smartphone once you got a new one.  A reader asked that I expand on this post, so I am.

idisplay4One of my suggestions was to use it as a secondary display.  There are several apps out that will do this, for the iPhone/iPad and for Android.  The one I am writing about today is for iPhone/iPad/iPod touch.

Called iDisplay, this little gem does a terrific job at adding a second display to your Windows or Mac PC (because, you know, the Mac IS a PC.)

There are two parts to the setup: the iDisplay app for the phone and the desktop app that streams to the phone.  Installing on the phone is as easy as going to the App Store, searching for iDisplay, purchasing (it is .99) and downloading. Then, go to the iDisplay web site and download the appropriate desktop app and install that.  Please Note: it is also available on Android via the Google Play Store, but I am focusing on the iOS version here.

idisplay1Once running, the desktop server uses Bonjour and Wi-Fi to talk to the phone.  In Windows, it acts as a driver, allowing full video and audio as well as adding touch to a non-touch computer.  On my Windows 8 desktop that does not have touch, using this app on my iPhone adds touch.  And, works very, very well.

On my desktop, I let it use the default, which is to extend my display to the second device. The cool thing is that in the Windows 8 desktop, I get the full experience, task bar and right click action all work.  Apps that were running already, will remain on the primary display, apps that you start from the phone will display on the phone. I have to admit, I rather like seeing Windows on my iPhone.

idisplay3Among the features in the phone app are: gestures, integrated on screen keyboard, audio playback, touch, full interaction with your desktop.  From my desktop, I could even watch a video that was streaming from the desktop with relatively high frame rate. Of course, that will depend on your Wi-Fi network and how busy it is.  Also, the phone app works great with Windows 8 Start Page.  So far, it all seems to work nicely. One really nice feature is that the phone app can show you a list of currently running apps on the main display and allow you to move them to the secondary display, pretty nifty and useful. And for an application that has multiple windows or instances, you can select which one to view.

idisplay5I tried running the server app from my VivoTab Smart tablet running Windows 8.1 preview. It works, but only to a point.  I think it is a problem with the video driver and the Atom processor. It is slow and the only mode supported is mirror of the desktop, not very useful. And, really, for a tablet, you won’t need a second screen, but I had to try anyway.

Now, even though this app works very, very well, there are a couple of drawbacks.  One, it does put a load on your Wi-Fi network, so keep that in mind; two, using the Windows Desktop on an iPhone screen is a laborious task. The ‘chrome’, so to speak, is just too small. I had a difficult time closing windows or tapping on the address box to enter a URL. Now, you can zoom, which helps, but using full screen is pretty tough.  Using the extended mode on the phone app allows this.

Overall, I think this is a very well and highly useful application.  Not only is it a secondary display, but it also acts as a remote desktop as well.  Well worth the purchase price.

UPDATE:

I downloaded the Android version to my Kindle Fire. While I am still evaluating it, it looks just as good as the iOS version. Since the Kindle Fire is somewhat bigger than the iPhone, it is much easier to use Windows on the this device. It also works better with the system mouse. In addition, you can use USB to connect your Android device to the PC (or, presumably, your Mac.)  I have a Mac Mini, so I think I may try that as well. How about full Mac OS X on your Android or iPad?

Kindles, iPods and crappy ear buds…high tech is not always best

LD-660If you’ve read a few of my posts here, you probably know how tech centric I am. I am a geek. A tech fan. A tech fanatic. I love technology. But…

I get tired of technology every now and again. And, just because I love technology, does not mean I loathe non-techie things. Like magazines. And books.  And things analog.

As much as I love my Kindles and iPad, I like to pick up a magazine, fresh from the newstand. The feel of the slick paper. The smell.  Having to actually, you know, drive to a store and walk inside, gander through the magazines and find the one I want. Yeah, I like doing that. I miss it. I subscribe to several magazines on my Kindle. One of them is no longer in PRINT, but still publishes a digital edition. While the publisher has done a fantastic job replicating the print edition in digital, the digital edition just isn’t the same.  Oh, sure, it has the same features, writers and even ads, it just is not the same thing. It is convenient to carry around and receive wirelessly, but I miss the paper edition.

Digital cameras have replaced film. Traditional film companies like Kodak and Fuji have abandoned film altogether. Digital seems to have won.  Now, don’t get wrong, I’m not a photographer and I love my digicams, but there is something missing from the photos I take. I’ve not been able to quite pinpoint it until recently while playing around with my HTC smartphone. I discovered that the camera app has settings to reproduce the LOOK OF FILM. Yep. All of the technology that went into the digital camera simply isn’t the same as film.  A friend of mine, recently, lamented the loss film saying that most digital photos lacked ‘life’.  I dismissed it (sorry) as being old fashioned. But, while playing with my phone, I discovered what my friend meant.  You can get really sharp photos with even a cheap digicam, but, without help, those photos look kind of lifeless. Take the same photo with a film camera and the photo takes on character.  My HTC phone replicates it via software. The color pops and the slight fuzziness all add up to a certain character that they would otherwise lack. It is hard to put into words, put I do understand now. I still love my digicams, but have a new respect for the old medium.

One thing I will not acquiesce on, however, is vinyl albums.  While they are still quaint and have a unique quality of sound, I rather enjoy the full range of digital audio. My complaint with modern albums (of the CD type) is the harsh and overly modulated sound and it is not a fault of the technology but of the producers.  More specifically, it is Apple’s fault. Those crappy little earbuds forced producers to play games with the audio so the tracks would sound better in those damned little cheap ear buds.  They, correctly, figured out that the majority of listeners use those crappy earbuds and NOT quality sound systems. iPods and other MP3 players are capable of decent quality audio (my Zune HD has superb output) but most of them will be used, solely, with those crappy ear buds.  Did I mention they were crappy?

Television. A medium that, in the United States, changed very little for nearly 50 years.  The last major change was color, and that took nearly 25 years. Then it was stereo and that took about five years. Then, digital came along.  After several false starts, it finally was real.  Only problem was that most stations still treated their broadcasts like it was 1980.  Most stations were slow to adopt high definition technology to enhance the digital broadcasts. Those expensive HD televisions were, for a while, nothing more than expensive standard definition monitors.  As more and more HD programming hit the air, stations converted to HD and such, I found myself wanting to watch my older stuff.  Like my LaserDisc and, wait for it, my VHS tapes. I have programs I recorded 25 years ago. I have LaserDiscs I bought in 1989. I have video games that I only play on the last remaining CRT television (a Zenith, at that!) What the hell is wrong here? Well, the HD programming, for the most part, is just as bad as its SD counterparts. The technology got better, but content did not.  Sigh. 

Other technology that I thought would be a great thing but did not turn out that way…

Digital picture frames.  When I first saw them, I was enamored with them.  They were cool. You could have a live slide show in your bedroom, living room or on your desk. They were expensive at first, but the price came down. When I finally got one, I was…well, less than than impressed. The one I got, a Pandigital, was mediocre.  The quality on most was just OK. And that was part of the problem. Quality devices were, and still are, ridiculously priced. And then you have to rotate pictures out. And there’s the power cord. The reality of them was that they were just a pain in the ass.  It is a product category that needs fixing.

Digital watches. A fad that came, went, came again and is going away.  I want a nice, quality digital watch but they are hard to find.  A nice analog watch is easier to find and cheaper, so that is what I use. And, yes, people still wear watches.  Oh, and no, I don’t want an iPod mini in a watch band with crappy ear buds.

In the end, I’m still a techie, a nerd, a geek, a lover of things high tech.  Still, that technology is not necessarily the best thing all the time. Sometimes, it is just better to sit back, un plug and read a book while listening to some good music. On a ‘hi-fi’. No crappy ear buds in site.

Snoopy gets a new phone! Or is that Apple announces new iphones?

Today was THE big reveal day…the day we had been waiting a very long time to take place.  Yes, we finally heard the big news today.

And, what’s the big news? Kings Dominion is adding a 7 acre Planet Snoopy kiddie area to the park! Isn’t that exciting?

Oh, wait…not THAT news.  Ah, got it.

iPhone5_001You want to know about what APPLE said, right? Well, they sold a boat load of computers and iOS devices and iOS 6 is right around the corner. There are new iPods coming and, oh yeah, a new phone too.

iPhone 5 will sport a bigger 4 inch screen, an Apple A6 Microprocessor which, according to Apple, along with the new GPU, will double the performance of the device over the 4S.  Apple says ‘we added a fifth row’ of icons.  Naturally, with all of that space, applications need to be redesigned to use the resolution and full screen.  Of course, Apple’s own apps are updated. Non-Apple apps, however, get displayed letterbox style.  No stretching to fill the screen.

New cameras, iOS 6, bigger phone, higher resolution display, improved WiFi and…the biggest news? LTE.  LTE is the next generation cell radio. Higher speed, referred to as ‘4G LTE.’  Two times – or more – faster than 3G but not as ubiquitous.  Sprint, AT&T and Verizon in the States, Rogers in Canada and in Japan. The UK will also have an LTE version.

One other major change…the dock connector, long rumored to be going away, is now much smaller. Called Lightening, the connector is only nineiPhone_5_34Hi_Stagger_FrontBack_Black_PRINT pins and can be plugged in either way. There is, of course, an adaptor to let you use all of your current accessories with the new phone.

The software, naturally, has been enhanced and much effort was placed in the camera software. A nice panorama feature was added and the camera itself got a major update from the lens to the image sensor (which is now 8megapixels and, if the photos are real, the pictures look gorgeous.)

The iPhone 3GS is history and now the iPhone 4 fills the low end spot.  The 4 is going to be fully subsidized, meaning it is free on contract, the 4S is $99 and the 5 is $199. The price points are very enticing, if you want to lock yourself in a two year contract and the Apple ecosystem.

iPod_nano_7Up_PB_PF_wPods_PRINTSpeaking of ecosystem…iPods got updates as well. The Nano was most dramatic.  Sporting a 2 and a half inch touch screen, the new Nano is bigger, but thinner, than the previous model. It now plays video (again) and features an improved touch interface. 

iPod Touch gets much of the same improvements as iPhone 5, but instead of the A6 processor, it gets the A5, still a capable processor. It also gets the 4 inch retina screen, iOS 6, 8mp camera, improved WiFi and a built in Wii Controller like strap.  Apple seems to be positioning the Touch as a game player first and foremost (why else would the include the strap?) and a media consumption device second.

The improved products should bring in billions more for the company, but, really, none of it is earthshattering. The changes to iPhone are nice and the bigger screen was necessary but, really, nothing all that great.  I think I was more excited over the Nano than anything else. Well, that FREE iPhone 4 doesn’t look to bad, but it isn’t a Windows Phone 8 either.

Steve Jobs steps down. Now what?

Few industries have leaders that people love to both despise and worship at the same time.  Those industries that do have such people do not have anyone close to what the computer industry had, but now does not.  The computer industry has had the fortune of having not one, but at least three such people but, even then, two of them were not of the caliber of one Steve Jobs.  I speak of Bill Gates and Larry Ellison.  Of the three, only Ellison remains.  Gates abdicated a few years ago and, just this week, Jobs has stepped down.

Steve Jobs IS Apple.  Apple IS Steve Jobs. The two are so closely tied that the company stock actually went down a bit when his resignation was made public.  The news of his departure rippled through the press fairly quickly and caused a lot of angst among the Apple faithful.

Regardless of whether you like him or not, he, more than anyone else, including Bill Gates, has had more influence on the computer and, now, consumer electronics industries.  The introduction, a decade ago, of the iPod, ushered in a renewed interest in both music and personal audio that had been lost with the Sony Walkman.

Indeed, since his return to Apple in 1996, Jobs has spearheaded the domination, by Apple, of several markets that, prior to the Apple entry, were teetering on non-existence, or, at least, were insignificant. The portable music player market was a disaster. The tablet computer was a niche market and a dismal one.  Smartphones were all the same and difficult to use.  Online purchasing of music, television and movies was disjointed.  Apple, one by one, went in and dominated those markets.  They did so following the mantra of tightly controlled ecosystems. Forcing users to purchase applications and peripherals with the Apple stamp of approval.  This end to end control was something that Apple did not have on its Macintosh product line and it languished for years before it finally got any kind of real market share.

Jobs is one of those rare types that can elicit excitement about pretty much anything.  He is so well known for his ‘reality distortion field’ that even Saturday Night Live and the Simpson’s parodied him.  Indeed, his legendary ‘Stevenotes’, keynote speeches at various trade shows, where he introduces new products or major (or what should be major) updates to existing product lines.  I have found myself , at times, wanting the product he was selling only to realize, once I thought about it, that,no, I didn’t really need that product.  He is very influential indeed.

That power of influence is what led to the plethora of online media outlets to purchase music, movies and TV shows.  He made many deals with various media companies at a time when such deals were unheard of and, when iTunes got so popular, those same companies went to other brands to keep the iTunes juggernaut in check.  Competition is a good thing, even when it is only the impression of competition.

Jobs turned the cell phone world upside down with the introduction of the iPhone.  Regardless of how easy it really was, every cell phone maker on the planet had to have an iPhone like device. 

The same thing happened with iPad.  iPad turned the portable computing market upside down and blew open the tablet market.  Almost overnight, the ‘netbook’ market tanked.  The tablet market exploded. Problem is, people want an iPad, not an iPad like device.  So far, none of the competitors have had any measurable success. The failure of the TouchPad by HP, the Blackberry tablet and the Samsung Galaxy Tab prove that people want the ‘real thing’. 

The departure of Steve Jobs from Apple leaves a lot of questions. Questions about Apple’s future loom over the company.  Tim Cook, Jobs’ hand picked replacement,  says it is business as usual and that Apple would not change.  Indeed, the brain trust is still there.  Jobs did not actually develop any of the successful products that Apple currently markets.  He had a hand in molding those products and was, perhaps, the best spokesperson for those products, but he didn’t actually create them.  Apple has many talented people working for it and they will continue to churn out innovative and consumer friendly products for quite some time.

Will Apple continue to garner the ferocious devotion that it currently enjoys? Probably. Will it continue to get the attention of the press? More than likely, for the near future anyway.  However, the moment an Apple product falters, and it will, the luster will be gone.  It is doubtful that there will be another Jobs to step up and polish over that faltering product, and it won’t matter what the product is, it just needs to give the impression of a failed or failing product.  That’s all it will take and people will say that they wish Jobs were back. And, so will Apple.