I’d not given AirPlay (the capability in iOS 4.x to stream media to cooperating devices) too much thought, as I don’t have an Apple TV (yet). However, a conversation with my sister over the Thanksgiving weekend got me curious about the relationship of AirPlay and AirTunes and whether an iOS device could use an Airport Express to stream music. I use an Airport Express as a network extender in my house, but had never hooked up speakers to it. I checked my iTunes and it could see the AE and stream music – on to the iPad! But, no, the media redirect button was not there 🙁 . A bit of googling showed that it seemed to work for some folks and not others. A common theme though was a soft reset of the iPad. I was skeptical (some said that didn’t work) but it was easy to try. Bingo. Worked like a champ. Checked my wife’s iPad – was not showing Airplay, reset and there it was. Streamed iPod, YouTube, and Pandora. I’m thinking that this feature is going to grow in mindshare as folks play with it. I’m looking forward to that Apple TV that’s on my Christmas list 😉 So, the story seems to be that Airplay is an evolution of AirTunes, that it works in the legacy AirTunes environment and the emerging AirPlay ecosystem.
This is how printing on the iPad is supposed to work! I was disappointed with the way that AirPrint was rolled out in iOS 4.2.1 since it only supported a very limited set of printers. The word on the street is that technical problems were behind it, but still it’s not very as usable as-is. A friend mentioned that Printopia might be a solution to check out. I’d read up on PrintCentral, a $10 iOS app that handles printing but does it from the context of its own app, through the “send to” interface, its own browser, and other applets. Not exactly the way I wanted to see it work. Enter Ecamm’s Printopia. I was already a user of their iGlasses software, which provides extensive functionality for enhancing video to compensate for low light and many other effects.
Printopia is a $10 app for Mac OSX (no Windows version) that simply takes any printer accessible to your Mac and enables access to that printer thru AirPrint for any iPad on your network. I installed Printopia on my Mac (it installs into the system preferences) and immediately the “print” dialog on all AirPrint-enabled apps could see the two printers visible, plus a “print to PDF” option which stores a PDF image of the page on disk on the Mac. This worked on my iPad and my wife’s, and fits with the AirPrint model (much more elegant than a separate printing app). Speed was excellent, just as quick as native printing on the Mac, and image quality (to the Xerox Phaser) was also outstanding. Bottom line is that this is highly recommended!
I’m using an external keyboard with my iPad to write this. I had an Apple bluetooth keyboard (the newer aluminum one) with a laptop at the office. I consolidated computer setups a couple weeks ago, and found that I didn’t need the keyboard for my Mac, so I decided to try it on the iPad. I was skeptical, in that it sort of takes away from the portability of the iPad. However, after a few days of using it last week, I’m changing my tune. First, as with other bluetooth devices, you can walk in and out of range and reacquire the connection automatically when close enough. That means that I can have the keyboard on my desk, paired to the iPad, and when I leave for a meeting and leave the keyboard behind, the connection breaks; when I come back, it’s there again. Not novel, but sort of a “dock” if you want to think about it that way. Things that are handy are to use the keyboard to wake the iPad from sleep and enter my passcode, to start/stop iPod functions (such as podcast playback), change the volume, etc. Screen brightness can be controlled as well, which is handy, if I’ve been outside and had the brightness turned up, and want to turn it down when I get back to my desk. It really does make entry of text considerably easier, especially if you are a reasonable touch-typist, as I am. It’s also easy to turn the keyboard on and off easily. As you turn off the keyboard, the bluetooth icon dims on the iPad, and you can then use the onscreen keyboard normally. Of course, you can use the “eject” button on the keyboard to open and close the virtual keyboard. I have wondered about battery impact, but in my (so far) limited use, it doesn’t seem to have any observable effect.
All in all, a very useful addition to the iPad, and one that you can take with you or leave behind. That makes it a very flexible solution!