Who says the iPad isn’t a laptop replacement?

Imagine you’re sitting in a coffee shop, and you suddenly feel the need to do some coding. Your iPad has some decent code editors, but you’d like to execute what you wrote. How about connecting a Raspberry Pi and running it there?

The above is my new fave home-away setup:

  • 11″ iPad Pro
  • Brydge keyboard
  • Magic Mouse
  • Raspberry Pi 4 / 4Gig

What makes this work is that the Pi is both powered and gets a network connection over the USB-C port. To enable that, all you have to do on recent versions of Raspian is:

  • Add dtoverlay=dwc2 to /boot/config.txt
  • Add modules-load=dwc2,g_ether to /boot/cmdline.txt
  • Reboot

Assuming you’ve got SSH on your RPi, at this point you should be able to connect it directly to the iPad with a USB-C to USB-C cable, then use your favourite iOS SSH client to do the equivalent of ssh pi@hostname-of-pi.local, with “hostname-of-pi” being whatever you chose (“raspberrypi” by default). Usually, I use Remoter VNC for SSH but that’s mostly because I’ve owned the full version of it forever.

If you’re astute, you’ll have noticed that it’s not ssh running on the screen above. 🙂 There are many ways to get an actual GUI desktop attached to the RPi, but the one I’ve found works the best for me is (believe it or not) using Windows Remote Desktop. To enable this, on the RPi, you can sudo apt-get install xrdp, and on the iPad install Microsoft Remote Desktop or whatever RDP client you like best. When you create the connection, use hostname-of-pi.local just like you would have for SSH.

There are a couple of downsides to this setup.

  1. The microsoft remote desktop client, at least, is tuned for using a finger on the screen, rather than a mouse. In fact, support for mice on iPad OS is still in its infancy, though I expect it will improve over time.
  2. The RPi is being powered from the iPad, so you can expect the battery life to be reduced — it’s not impossibly bad, but it’s visible. (Btw, if anyone knows of a good USB-C hub that will power multiple devices with a data passthrough, let me know.)

Anyway, if you’re looking to try this, there are lots of good tutorials out there on YouTube and elsewhere, by people who have invested more effort than me. Regardless, I’m happy to try and help if you get stuck, so leave a comment.

Yes, the 9.7″ iPad Pro is the iPad you want.

(This is an old post from June 9, 2016, recovered via the Wayback Machine…)

If you’re looking for a tablet because you draw stuff for a living, then there’s no doubt the 12ʺ iPad Pro is the tool you want. It’s fast, the Pencil is as responsive a tool as you could ask for, and it has all the benefits of being part of the iOS ecosystem. And I can say this as someone who also owns a MS Surface Pro.

The thing is though, if you’re actually in it because you want an iPad, you’re better off going with the 9.7ʺ. It’s almost exactly as fast as the 12ʺ, but its weight and form factor make it a tool that you will carry around with you all the time. By contrast, as Deb said, the 12ʺ is something you’d “always be worrying about bending”. It’s just too unwieldy to be anything but something you put in a laptop bag when you’re not using it.

The other side of the question is whether an iPad Air would be just as good as your main iPad. All I can say to that is, if you want that to be true, do not try the iPad Pro. The Air is a great device, but the Pro really is materially faster. Really, with the lighter weight iOS running on it, the iPad Pro feels like it’s faster than my MBP for many tasks. It’s definitely the best way to read Notes email now.

And speaking of which, I did indeed put the IBM security package on it, so I can now read my Notes mail and calendar, and get access to VPN, etc. To give you some idea of how much faster this is than my old iPad. My first gen iPad Mini took about 2 hours to install all the software. The Pro took just under 10 minutes. Very nice.

Anyway, the iPad Pro is too expensive to be an impulse buy. I was lucky enough to have my wonderful wife Deb give me permission to get one as an early Father’s Day gift. Thanks, love. It’s awesome.

iPad 2 Wish List

Here’s what I’d like to see for the next iPad, along with any related, current rumours…

  1. Higher resolution display — the rumours say everything from “no change” (== 1024×768) to “retina display” (== 2048×1536). Retina display seems unlikely, but I would like something higher than we have now, at least when I’m reading books. Can we do 1280×1024 maybe?
  2. Cameras front and back — this is widely believed to be part of the story, but the current rumours are that the cameras will be low resolution (0.3Mp front; 1.0Mp rear). Honestly, if they put in something less than what’s in the iPhone, they’re idiots.
  3. Lighter — using the current iPad to read is equivalent to strength training. There are rumours of the next iPad having a carbon fibre back to reduce the weight. I’ll believe it when I see it.
  4. Faster — this would be both as a result of a faster processor, and because it would have more RAM. A big part of the experience for this device is browsing the web, but the iPad is not the best tablet for doing this any more; let’s fix that.

SlingPlayer for iPad — don’t buy it.

I have to say, when I finally got a chance to get the SlingPlayer Mobile app for my iPhone, I was quite upset to find that they were charging $30 for it — more than 5x the price of any other app I have purchased for that platform.

On top of that, after using it for a while, I can honestly say that it was not worth the price. The control scheme is unwieldy (to say the last); the actual interactions with the PVR are unresponsive to the point of being nearly useless; and the picture quality is poor (even with the latest 2.0 version).

Essentially, it’s a tech demo: I have never used it for anything other than explaining to people what is possible on the iPhone.

I’m an optimist though, so when the iPad version of SlingPlayer came out, I thought maybe they will have made use of the improved screen real estate and horsepower to provide a better experience, so I’ll just go to the App Store and… WHAT?!?!?! Another 30 dollars!!!!

Um… In a word, no.

Even for an iPad app, that price is off by (at least) a factor of two, and they simply haven’t demonstrated that they can deliver an experience that justifies that cost. Hey, SlingMedia, take a look at StreamToMe it’s one tenth the price and offers a streaming media experience (albeit a simpler one) that is significantly better than SlingPlayer.

Still no iPad camera connection kits?

For those who don’t know what they are, here is what the iPad Camera Connection Kit looks like:

picture of the kit from Apple Site
(Image is on Apple website; if it gets moved, follow the link above to see them.)

It’s basically just two plastic doingles with iPod connectors on one side and a USB port and SD card slot (respectively) on the other. Not exciting, and presumably not particularly difficult to make.

So, why is it that still, months after the iPad was released, these things are basically impossible to find? I just polled the Rideau Apple Store, Carbon Computing and Best Buy/Future Shop. Result: Nada — and several places indicated that there was a waiting list when they did show up. Even the online Apple Store is saying 4..6 weeks delivery. WTF?

Maybe Apple misjudged the popularity of this add on initially, but surely in the first few days it must have become obvious that nearly every person who has an iPad wants one.

I’m too sane — now, be nice — to believe that there is some kind of conspiracy here, but maybe Apple just doesn’t want us to have these, for some reason. In any case, I’m tired of waiting, so if anybody sees aftermarket versions out there, please let me know.

How to read any document on your iPad

MacFixit has a nice little workflow for simplifying the task of getting a document onto your iPad for offline reading. It’s not surprising what’s going on — you just create a PDF and then copy it to iTunes to make it available in iBooks — but did you know it was trivial to add a “Save PDF to iTunes” menu item in the standard print dialog?

Easily save Web pages, documents in iTunes for use with iOS devices

iOS and the iPhone 4

As I’m sure everyone knows by now, Apple finally announced the new iPhone yesterday. There are much better sources than here for all the details so, just for grins, I’ll point you at Gizmodo’s summary.

Some of the more interesting points:

  • The processor has been bumped up to be the same as the one in the iPad. That’s good, because it will help with sluggish web page loading, but also because the display has been increased in resolution to the point where it needs the horsepower just to paint it.
  • Speaking of the display, the resolution is now 960×640 which gives it >300 dpi resolution. To keep that in perspective, that’s better than a cheap laser printer. I’m not sure how they have pulled off changing the dpi without effecting the way applications look, but the claim is they’ve got it to work. Let’s hope it’s not the “2x” mode from the iPad. 😉
  • Really for me, the best new feature is an improved camera. I actually use the camera on my 3GS, but it’s absolutely terrible in low light conditions. The new one is supposed to be better resolution, better low light behavior, and it has an LED flash. I guess we’ll see. Any of the example pictures I’ve seen so far still seem to have a fair amount of noise in them.
  • They’ve also added another camera on the front of the display, for doing video conferencing. There’s an app called “Facetime” (ugh.) to support iPhone-to-iPhone calling, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why they didn’t just put iChat on it. If I could video conference with Deb on her Mac, I could actually imagine using it. Also, currently at least, it only supports calling over wifi. boo.

The device will, of course, be running the new version of the iPhone OS, which has been renamed “iOS”. I suspect this was in keeping with the rumours of the new Apple TV box, which is purported to be running this OS. They probably have dreams of running it on other devices that don’t look anything like phones.

The good news about iOS 4 is that will be a free upgrade for any iPhone/iPod that can run it, and should be available June 21. The bad news is that won’t be available for the iPad until “this fall”.

Of course I got an iPad

I’m sure no one is surprised that I did, indeed, go and pick up an iPad the first day that they were available in Ottawa. As I had been telling people, I didn’t pre-order one, since I wanted to use one first, to make sure that it was going to work well for my most important usecase (i.e. eBook reading) before I leapt onto the bandwagon.

So, Friday morning, I went down to Carbon Computing and spent some time playing with the ones they had on display.

[Aside: The iPad release to retail in Canada was odd. I have no inside information about this, but it’s pretty clear that the only outlet that was allowed to say they would have stock on the first day was the Apple Store. As a result, there were hundreds of people waiting in line when the Rideau Apple Store opened that morning, which is I guess the effect they were going for. By contrast, I just walked into Carbon Computing, wandered over to the display machines, played with one for a while, and then said “I’d like the 32Gig, non-3G model” — in and out in about 20 minutes. Having been in the line when the Rideau store opened a few months back, I can tell you that this was a much more pleasant experience.]

In any case, the iPad does make a perfectly acceptable e-reader. It does not have as high a pixel density as the Kindle, and the glossy screen might get tiring in some lighting conditions, but overall it’s excellent. The screen is bright, and the colors pop.

One clear win over the Kindle et al. is the availability of multiple book stores. Although Apple’s iBooks store currently only has the public domain books from Gutenberg Press in Canada, you can also get all of the books available for the Kindle, and all those for Kobo. This feature alone seems like it will doom the dedicated readers.

As of writing this, there are no iPad versions of the eReader or Stanza apps. I can tell you that using the iPod versions in “2x” mode is simply not a viable way to read, so hopefully they will come out with updates. Unfortunately, it may just be that these “old school” readers will fade away in the face of the new players. This would be a shame, in both cases; I have a lot of eReader content that I’d like to be able to re-read on the iPad, and Stanza has been also very useful for reading my current ePub formatted content.

Anyway, this is also the traditional “post done on the new device”. I used the WordPress app [Warning: iTunes link], which runs on both iPod and iPad. It’s an excellent way to manage your blog on either device, but the iPad layout is significantly better for entering new content.