Like most technophiles, I've been intrigued by the Apple iPad. Well, at least after I stopped laughing at the name. My first reaction was skepticism...Oh great, another electronic reader. Sorry, but the Sony Libre and the Amazon Kindle are not that exciting to me. I'm an AV guy. I like images on my displays, not text. Text is for books, magazines, and newspapers with a tactile feel that just can't be matched by plastics and composites. Nonetheless, as the hype built for the iPad, my interest grew. Apple has a way of doing that. Once I realized it wasn't just another electronic book I started to take notice. As it turns out, my precious video was alive and well on this really big iPhone. But so what? I'm interested in products that make work more fun, not just play. Play is already fun. So I started thinking about how this could be used in an office environment. Wireless devices aren't allowed inside the buildings at my agency, so I should have just stopped thinking about the iPad. But I couldn't. Maybe it was because the device has so much potential, or maybe it is because I think we're getting closer to protecting the data that will finally allow wireless in the Intelligence Community. I'm not sure, but I do know that technology is changing faster than ever and the convergence of AV and IT we were all talking about at InfoComm five years ago already happened. Now we're talking about the convergence of AV (as an IT component) and mobility.
With that as the backdrop I submit the following observations about the iPad. First, there's no camera. What's up with that? Everything has a camera on it. I can't even find a mobile phone without one these days. That is pretty lame, but I think I have a pretty good idea why Apple chose to leave the camera off of the iPad. It is because they are the masters of product extensions. You had better believe their iPad product roadmap has a camera coming in the not so distant future. Once the hype wears off and sales start to decline, they will make waves again by adding the camera and other features. But knowing Apple's flare for the dramatic it might not just be a simple camera, it may come with an advanced software codec that makes the iPad into a transportable videoconferencing system. Who knows, it may even be HD. The bigger question is -- will it seamlessly integrate with professional VTC systems or will it be a consumer level iChat or Skype capability? My money is on both. That's the beauty of apps-based platforms, they can support different types of end user requirements.
While the implications of portable videoconferencing may be significant to AV managers, it is still nothing more than another technology that must be managed to support the end users. But what can the iPad do for us? Well, for starters it can become our command center. At first I was concerned about what implications the iPad had for the traditional AV control system companies, AMX and Crestron. I was going to go with a "watch out AMX & Crestron -- the iPad may revolutionize AV control interface" type of approach. That was before I started my research. Once I started digging, I found that both AMX and Crestron were embracing the iPhone and iPad platforms and were also developing for Google's Android.
Crestron released a press release on February 19, well in advance of the iPad debut, stating that, "Crestron Mobile Apps Turns the Apple iPad into a Crestron Touchpanel." Not to be outdone, their rival, AMX, released a white paper in April called, "Comparing Apples to Apples: AMX Interfaces with Apple Products in Many Ways." Good for them. It is refreshing to see AV industry players at the forefront of the tech wave. But I still wonder how long will it be before there is an app for iPhone/iPad control that can run complex AV facilities using a basic control server with open source code? Probably not long. Until then I'll keep thinking about other ways this interesting device can help make work easier and more fun.
Some useful links:
Apple's iPad: www.apple.com/ipad/
Crestron press release: http://www.crestron.com/press_room/press_releases/show_release.asp?press_release_id=1470
AMX white paper: http://www.amx.com/ui/apple.asp
Gary L. Hall is the Geospatial Metadata Officer at National Geospatial - Intelligence Agency in Washington, DC., and the CEO of LocalShare and The New Green Economy.