Image Courtesy of Apple.

I’ve already expressed my personal disappointment (though not surprise) with Apple’s direction on the iPad, on Create Digital Music. Having gotten that out of my system, however, you can expect remaining iPad coverage on CDM to stick to the facts – and, as always, to track the way people use technology.

On the specs side, though, there’s not much good news to report. Some of the facts remain unclear, so expect more details to emerge over time. Here’s what we know so far:

  • No camera(s). Status: CONFIRMED. The iPad not only lacks the dual-facing cameras some expected, but it doesn’t have even a single camera. That means the Nintendo DSi is a more capable video capture device.
  • No video input capability. Status: CONFIRMED (for now). The only connector on the iPad is a dock connector. It’s possible that someone could make a video capture device or add-on camera. It’s likewise unlikely that you’ll be able to connect your own camera and use live video signal, as you could with a slate or netbook that has a USB port.
  • Limited video output; no (true) HD. Status: CONFIRMED. This one gets tricky. The iPad supports 720p video playback – so long as you’re looking at the screen, and so long as H.264 is the codec. But for output, you’re again limited to the dock connector. Right now, Apple specifies video output thusly: “Support for 1024 x 768 with Dock Connector to VGA adapter; 576p and 480p with Apple Composite A/V Cable, 576i and 480i with Apple Composite A/V Cable.” As this is an output hardware limitation, it’s possible a future accessory could change this, but that’s what the specs say. (The device itself appears capable of output to 720p.) 1024 x 768 ain’t bad, of course, but that leads us to the next limitation:
  • Third-party apps may be unable to output video most likely do have the ability to output video. Status: UNKNOWN. My sources tell me that the current iPhone SDK lacks (official) support for video output from an application. A source I can’t identify believes that the beta of the upcoming SDK, which adds iPad support, still lacks a public API for video output. Update: See note below. I’ve received conflicting reports, but the trend is toward the ability to target external devices. The presence in the SDK is important. The lack of a public API would mean mean that applications might not work across OS releases, and that most likely Apple would block them from being published via iTunes. For visual applications, of course, even if you had the API, you’d still have other questions, like whether output could be mirrored or even used at the same time as an interface. With 1024×768 output, a cheap netbook could easily best the capabilities of the iPad, technically speaking, if you just want to play back video.
  • Will USB device support be possible in the future? Status: UNKNOWN. Apple does offer a USB adapter for its memory card reader, but this still relies on the dock connector, and whether Apple will allow full device access – something not presently in the SDK – would qualify as a rather large “if.” Don’t bet on it, but then, information at this point cannot be considered final.

How does this compare to the competition?

Apple compared the iPad to a netbook – in fact, suggesting an iPad is better than a netbook. However, for visualists, there’s no comparison. Many netbooks offer at least basic high-resolution graphics, and increasingly not only basic video playback and VGA out, but full-HD output. You can buy a full-blown laptop for $500. It’ll be an uglier, less elegant solution, but it will be demonstrably more capable.

Looking at the mobile arena, even the Zune HD offers 720p HDMI output, provided you connect it to an overpriced dock. Unfortunately, if you’re imagining building a live VJ app, you’d better go talk to Microsoft: the company has provided a (slightly limited version of) its XNA developer tools, but they seem unwilling to actually publish applications in any volume.

The Android is comparatively more open than the iPhone, but I can point to some of the same restrictions in the Android developer tools. Android needs device support (which could embrace existing standards rather than reinvent the wheel or introduce weird new dock connectors), and it needs video output. It’ll be interesting to see if Google delivers any of those features now that tablets and slates are running the Android OS and not just phones.

For everything else, of course, there’s Windows and Linux – and Mac OS – and once you get in that category, there’s no comparison.

This is for video output only, and the dream I know at least some visualists had of carrying an iPad to a gig and using it as a video source. As a controller, it’s a whole other ballgame, and this means the ability to use a nearly 10″ multitouch display with applications like TouchOSC, making a $500+ controller. The question there is, will you be able to buy similar alternatives running other operating systems – and how will your options compare? Expect more on that question in coming weeks, unless all of this bores you to tears and you want to get back to your PC / MacBook Pro, in which case, we’ll entertain that, too.


Updated: might a future SDK add video support? Note that at least some of my technical criticisms could be theoretically addressed by an updated SDK. Specifically, the issue of whether third party apps can support video remains unconfirmed, but now multiple sources tell me external display is possible. That leaves some details yet to resolve – like whether you can run the iPad display and external display at the same time, and how much can be on each – but signs are generally positive. (Realize that all of this is covered by Apple’s NDA. I haven’t seen the documentation, myself.)

See also MacRumor’s take on the 3.2 SDK.

The only thing that can be said with any certainty is that this feature would depend on a future SDK, and we won’t know all the specifics until someone buys a device. So, don’t buy a device if this matters – erm, unless you want to buy one and tell the rest of us. (Think the Apple Store will be down with us playing with Xcode on a display model?)

If there is video support, it’ll be limited to VGA, of course, until Apple changes what is possible with the hardware.

  • Hi Peter,
    I would totally agree that it is sad that Apple chooses to dumb down the device and pull out what would be paradigm shifting features such as true HD video output, a video camera, etc.
    This could have been such a cool platform for VJs and electronic musicians.
    Perhaps in a few generations of devices they will get real with the technology. Until then, this is a glamor device.
    Cheers, Tim

  • massta

    I was just hoping for a slightly larger iphone.  This thing is too big.  Should be small enough to fit into a back pocket (5×8).  Apple missed an opportunity.  Nvidia will have more powerful tablets in the future.

  • Jeff Gray

    Hi Peter.  Loving your take on this so far, and in agreement on almost every single point you've made.  Looking through the 3.2 SDK, however, it appears "Third-party apps may be unable to output video" is incorrect.  There are SDK hooks for video output to external displays (through a new Windowing API) as well as new support for video in and out of fullscreen.  These (in tandem), I believe, will make it possible for video on the external screen.  We'll have to wait and see however, since this is not a testable element until the device is in hand.
    Looking forward to seeing how the tech community as a whole consumes this device (hacking, modding, 3rd party devices, etc).

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  • rw

    Just want to confirm the post above -there's definitely SDK support for external display.

  • Peter Kirn

    The only remaining questions I have about the external display SDK:
    How much can you do on two screens at once?
    Will it work on the iPhone, too? (Performance issues there, I suspect…)

  • A Jazzmutant Lemur Pad costs about $1,500 to $2,000 and is not portable.
    If Jazzmutant came out with something like this (with only multitouch OSC and Midi output and nothing else) they could sell it for $3,000+.
    At $499 a pop, I could get two of these, connect them to Mrmr or something similar, and use it as a portable multitouch VJ/DJ interface.
    As a complete VJ in a box tool, it is lacking, but if you just think about it as a control interface, it is pretty sweet.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Daniel: absolutely. Of course, $500 is still an investment, and I'm curious to see what other options may appear.
    They could suck, of course. πŸ™‚ But I'm intrigued by the options.
    For instance, what if you spent $1000, and replaced your laptop – what if the multitouch interface was also the computer?
    I also think, as a developer, that we ought to find a way to make solutions portable across the iPad and those other Windows / Linux / Mac / Android options.

  • Video output according to the SDK is available at *either* 1024×768 or 720p.

  • Oh, and the SDK also states not mirrored output, but a separate output content is availble, similar to what "Keynote" might be able to do, output your presentation, and on the tablet, er, pad (ugh), have your UI for next, back, and preview/notes.
    Same could be done for other apps, in theory. It remains to be seen what options there are for streaming video to the GL world, if more than one stream is possible, etc etc. Clearly procedural stuff and basic texturing is possible via OpenGL ES however. Curious about shader support. Could prove interesting!

  • it is a pity it doesn't live up to expectations. as usual the first generation are lacking with it comes to new products from Apple.
    i was most disappointed with it not having OS X.

  • jay

    Just wait for the awesome appz developers will come up with…
    Always complaining. It's a CONSUMER DEVICE people !!!!
    It will be great for Pro's in all area's sooner or later.

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  • dasketch

    it will be my own personal Lemur! πŸ˜€

  • I think the idea of a midi controller like the Lemur definitely gets my fingers tingling. I've messed with the midi apps on my iphone but the screen is too small for more than a few buttons or sliders – and I like to have my phone on and as a phone generally.
    A VJ loop playing app for either my phone or an iPad would be good – for now I have a bunch of loops in iTunes but as there is no loop function its only an emergency back up if anything. So any devs out there – make it happen – I've got $5 with your name on it.

  • Flux

    As Daniel pointed out, I have to say I am really interested in this as a multi-touch interface for use with VJing. The Lemur has always been a bit out of my price range, but this iPad thing is much closer. Plus, through the use of WiFi it means I can walk away from my computers and still be able to manipulate video wirelessly. We'll have to see if any developers out there  can create some apps to achieve this.
    As far as using this as Apple intends…. not so interested.

  • I too am excited about the iPad as an inexpensive multitouch controller (poor man's Lemur). I agree about waiting and seeing what else will come out that's multitouch using Android, but one thing that Apple did really well when comparing iPhone to other smart phones (I have a G1 because I hate AT&T) is their "touch" is remarkably stable and sensitive with little glitching or hanging. If that carries over to the iPad, I'm willing to pay Apple prices for it.

  • I'm actually rather excited about this as a developer.  part of my excitement does hinge on the vid out capabilities though.  @Vade-  I'd be willing to bet this is an OpenGL ES 2.0 device just like the 3GS,  and so will have a completely programmable graphics pipeline.   also just noticed  this: <a href="http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/28/apples-a4-is-an-arm-based-system-on-a-chip-a-la-tegra-2/” target=”_blank”>http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/28/apples-a4-is-an-arm-based-system-on-a-chip-a-la-tegra-2/

  • “Support for 1024 x 768 with Dock Connector to VGA adapter; 576p and 480p with Apple Composite A/V Cable, 576i and 480i with Apple Composite A/V Cable.”

    Wait a sec…this can do composite video out without a scan converter, but they decided to eliminate that feature from my Macbook Pro that probably costs 5x this? What's good?

  • lemur like midi controlling?

  • Tom

    So instead of carrying one device to the gig you would have to carry the pad and a computer that you are going to drive with it. What is the point? In a while there will be plenty of powerful machines with touch on their screens, and USB ports for your other devices, cameras, keyboards etc.
    The word keeps coming up: 'Meh'

  • @Tom
    My point was that if you are using something like the Jazzmutant Lemur you are already carrying something extra to the gig, not to mention projectors, video splitters, midi devices, etc.  Why not make it something that is portable and (relatively) cheap?

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, let's put it this way — if given a choice between a device that was roughly $500, had multitouch like the iPad, and did one or more of the following:
    * added more storage
    * added open development and better application support
    * added a webcam, so you could use it as a video *input*
    * had standard I/O (like a USB port)
    …which would you choose? What if that device that was a controller could also be a source?
    It's not entirely clear what the competitors will look like, but I'll at least be interested to see. MSI should have a 10" Android-powered netbook within the next few months, with a webcam, very likely 1080p out (in place of 1024×768), more open development, and the ability to run Processing.
    I think this is the beginning of some interesting options.

  • Mudo

    <a href="http://www.ifreetablet.com” target=”_blank”>www.ifreetablet.com

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  • What I'd really like to see for the iPad and the iPhone is something I would like to call iConnect:
    Video input and output
    Stereo/Dual mono Audio input and output with phantomfeedable inputs for condenser microphones.
    Midi input and output

  • I'm unsurprised by the frustration people feel towards the iPad, but disappointed. It's a new, distinct platform with a narrow focus.
    We visualists are used to either focused hardware or general-purpose, hackable OSs. This is something new.
    We need to calibrate our expectations. It's early in the game. We'll see completely new and awesome uses emerge over time.
    Forget the 'feature list' (cam, storage, etc.). This device is all about redefining how we interact with computers. Bringing a 1.5 lb. slab as a control surface, that's more expressive and… fun! than my laptop alone? You betcha! It'll happen.
    And if Android OS heads that direction, with more hardware flexibility – we'll be all over that, too. Good times ahead.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Allan: Android as a control surface? That's a no-brainer. The SDK has the hooks to support as many touch points as the hardware provides. And I'd be really blown away if the Android tablets this year — which use the NVIDIA Tegra hardware with its 1080p HDMI out — *didn't* do proper video output, as well. OpenGL ES 2.0 support is confirmed in upcoming devices, so I expect that's due in the SDK any day.
    What's missing on Android: native hooks for OpenGL ES, which would allow writing native code and porting more libraries, other hardware support (same problem as iPad), video codec support that might come from additional NDK native support. Quality of the screens and multi-touch input are a concern, too.
    Anyway, I don't think we're going to have to "settle" for anything — this market is going to be very competitive, and very fast-moving, based on all indications. You'll have lots of choices in OS, form factor, and capabilities.
    For that reason, I'm honestly a bit surprised by the lack of HD out on this tablet; it's not hard to imagine that showing up in v2 of iPad.

  • vj tomtom

    the iPad is a realy great touchscreen controller !
    it is  definitly a lemur killer !
    cant wait to order one ….

  • ctrl+f point "point camera at screen" not found.

  • @Peter – great points. I'm a little bummed there's no Mini Displayport (or Micro-D) out; I saw what was happening on the laptops as an indicator. =(
    Sidebar: anyone know if the new iWork Keynote for iPad will play slides with videos in them? I really need that for presentation clients.

  • *bump*

    Well, we've finally got an iPad (since we're developing Apps for iPhone that we need to port to iPad) and one single factor has convinced me that my eeePC will never get used again – battery life. The iPad lasts at least 12 hours using internet over wifi and watching videos etc. eeePC – maybe 2 or 3 hours on dimmest screen setting.

    Jasper has been playing around with Touch OSC on it, with good results. When he tried that on our old iPhone, we got blue-screen output when the battery died. Which was at a gig. Oops. iPad's superior battery life and much bigger screen makes it much more viable for gigging.

    Keynote second-screens beautifully, so I can't see any reason that a basic VJ app with second-screen wouldn't work.

    We're also looking at Apps to use for live-drawing on buildings, hooked up to a projector. Will be buying a stylus for it, and checking out the existing drawing apps. If we can't find something that does what we want, we'll knock together our own App to do it. I <3 Scriptlance, you can get an App built for a couple of hundred $. Sketchbook Pro by Autodesk is looking promising though.

    Would love to hear what other people are doing with their iPads now they're available πŸ™‚

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