Tech Review: iPad Pro

We started using the iPad Pro last year, shortly after it was released. We wanted to use this new device the moment it was available, but had to wait one (long, agonizing) week until we could get our hands on it, and then another four (longer, more agonizing) weeks until a Pencil found its way to us. Since then, we’ve used the iPad Pro almost daily. Clients and friends ask the same question in one way or another: What is the iPad Pro good for? Or for our English-degreed counterparts: For what is the iPad Pro good?

First and foremost, the iPad Pro is good for looking at things. It’s big. Very big. With a 12.9” (diagonal) screen, the screen real estate feels as endless as the lingering snow after Boulder’s last snowstorm. The graphics are sharp, photos and videos look clean and precise due to the retina display, and gaming apps seem more fun to play on the expanded screen size.

Better movies and gaming might not be enough to compel purchase, but we think the larger screen size offers benefits to two audiences in particular: the creative community and business users. For creatives, the additional real estate provides the opportunity to express ideas more fully on a larger canvas. Read More

Tech Innovations to Watch in 2016

We enjoyed a relaxing holiday checking out new gadgets and thinking about what new innovations might make an impact in 2016. Our tech-savvy employees are excited about a wide range of things, including some renewed technology from years past. While an incredible number of amazing items were recently showcased at CES in Las Vegas, our list highlights items our team members might utilize personally. In no particular order, we present our list of tech innovations to watch in 2016.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). While this technology has been around for awhile, hype is building around new AR and VR products to be released this year. Oculus Rift, running on a high-end PC with a powerful graphics card, will be our first choice for experimentation. HTC Vive offers another highly-rated VR experience, and PlayStation VR, running off a PlayStation 4, is also a noteworthy system in the mix.

Apps for Owner’s Manuals. AR is not only for gaming, and we think some of the business oriented uses are pretty compelling. For example, Hyundai updated its Hyundai Virtual Guide with AR, potentially making owner’s manuals a thing of the past. Just point your phone at your car, and the app uses AR to display information that details what you’re looking at.

The Internet of Things. The IoT is “the network of physical objects or ‘things’ embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, which enables these objects to collect and exchange data.” While IoT also has been around for many years, the use of connected things may rise 30% in 2016. Gartner forecasts that 6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide this year, and we anticipate daily life could be greatly enhanced as a result.

A $5 Computer. Since 2012 the Raspberry Pi Foundation has allowed computer hobbyists to create personal projects using its affordable boards. It recently announced its latest programmable board, called the Raspberry Pi Zero, will be available for only $5. The Pi Zero can be used to connect the computer to home devices, to build inexpensive robots, and to create games.

Smarter Smart TVs. Smart TVs have also been around for years, but have lacked a rich ecosystem of apps to run on them. That should change dramatically in the coming year, now that Apple has allowed the large community of iOS developers to build apps for the latest release of the Apple TV. We anticipate considerable advances in living room and board room TV experiences as a result.

Fitbit Blaze. This smartwatch offers a sleek design, color touch screen and interchangeable watch faces. With more features than the standard Fitbit, and an affordable price, it’s bound to make an impact for fitness and tech enthusiasts.

Podcasting. Serial, a podcast that debuted last October, introduced many new listeners to the medium, and fresh shows and subscriptions followed. The evolution of technology, and the ease with which you can listen to a podcast on your device or in your car, predicts that podcasts are here to stay.

Linux. We have a Linux enthusiast on our team who states, “The Linux Desktop has been solid and mature for a long time, but recently the efforts of polish have really started to show.” Additionally, Swift, a programming language created by Apple for iOS, OS X, watchOS and tvOS development, was recently open-sourced and is now available on Linux. We’re excited to see whether or not developers adopt Swift as a server-side programming language on Linux.

We are eager to see these – and more – new technological innovations come to fruition in the coming year.

A Developer’s Perspective on Creating Apps for the New Apple TV

Apple TV, a digital media player that can receive content from multiple sources and stream it to a TV, was first released almost nine years ago. In October of this year, Apple released the fourth generation of the device with its own “tvOS” operating system. Numerous changes occurred to the platform, and one of the most exciting was Apple’s creation of the Apple TV App Store and the unprecedented invitation to outside developers to create apps for it.    

We couldn’t wait to experiment with coding on this new device, and two of our app developers jumped right in to test out the experience. Apple hopes to see the new Apple TV impact everything from entertainment to gaming to business, so we explored some simple apps in two of those areas.

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Luminescence

Eric Miller, one of our talented software engineers at InspiringApps, has also been busy with an inspiring project outside of the office. He has been working with the Handweavers Guild of Boulder on an activation of the arches framing the entrance to the Dairy Center for the Arts at 26th and Walnut. The arches are woven with various metals and lined with 2280 addressable, programmable, RGB LEDs. Called “Luminescence”, the project is set to launch on the evening of November 19th. Volunteers from the Guild and community have contributed countless hours of labor and expertise so far.

Of his own role, Eric says, “Along with some modeling and design work, I’ve been building a WebGL-based 3D simulator for testing and speccing the project. The code is open source, and the hope is to release it as an authoring environment in which the community can develop their own programs both for this installation and other illuminated art projects.”

Other technical leads on the project are Dan Julio of Dan Julio Designs in Boulder and Mike Bissell from San Francisco. Dan designed the power system, LED drivers, and integrated the core hardware, while Mike has built a lightweight and powerful OpenPixelControl rendering engine in Java.

“Mike’s renderer is running on a networked Raspberry Pi, which is talking to Elizabeth Scott’s awesome little fadecandy boards over the OpenPixelControl protocol. Then Dan’s system carries data and power out to the 38 LED strips. A lot of the hardware has been sourced from our local DIY company SparkFun, which has been contributing as well.”

Meanwhile, Nederland High School teacher Mark Savignano has been working with his students on the the initial interactivity design, which is scheduled for unveiling in early December.

“It’s been a big open-source, community effort,” says Eric. “I’m really happy I could be a part of it.”

You can read more about the project on the Dairy’s announcement page.

Photocredit: Coil Lighting | www.coil-lighting.com

Always Inspiring: #WERUNDC

Our team members regularly inspire with the apps we make in the office – but our out-of-office projects can be pretty inspiring, too. Recently, part-time IA software engineer Eric Miller developed and helped produce interactive set pieces at the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in DC.

Can you provide some background on you and your work?

Like a lot of people, I’ve always felt torn between technical and creative worlds, never feeling entirely at home in just one. Maybe that’s because at some level it’s all “techne“, if you will, but in our culture it seems hard to find a way to do both—particularly the purely creative side—and make a living.

Lately I’ve been drawn to what seems like an intersection of worlds and I suppose the name for it is “interactive installation”. It can incorporate so many creative, human, and basically architectural concerns by means of technology. And it’s fun: the suprise and delight factor can be really high with these things since you don’t see this stuff happening everywhere yet and the possibilities are so vast. In urban contexts I think this kind of work could really change the experience of a space, a commute, or even a city. I think we’ll be seeing more ambient computing and “activated spaces” and so on in the coming years.

So anyway, I’ve put together or helped with a handful of interactive art installations. As a part-time freelance developer and creative coder, I’d really like to do more of it. The Nike project obviously wasn’t about changing anyone’s life but it was the largest-scale project I’ve done so far.

nikesign

How about some background on the project? How did you get involved, and what you were hoping to accomplish?

The idea was to take the RFID sensors used to track a runner’s time and trigger personalized, animated messages on great big screens. There were two places this would happen: right after folks picked up their bibs in an “expotique” tent, and towards the end of the race itself, around mile 12. I was approached by a Boulder creative/ad agency called School, which had been hired to produce the experience.

Aside from delivering the app in a robust and non-crashing way, I wanted to improve my chops with a couple of “newer” technologies. That’s newer, of course, only for someone who originally learned C++ and graphics in the late 90s!

thesetup

Did you use C++? What other technologies did you use?

I built the app with Cinder, which is a lovely framework for working with OpenGL in C++. The RFID sensors output a protocol called ChronoTrack, and we had to talk to them over direct socket TCP. We were running on OSX, so I used some Obj-C networking classes for that, and for fetching the name/bib database over HTTP, which was being updated in real-time as people registered.

And did you learn any “new” tricks?

It turns out that C++ has grown a lot since the old days and I’m still trying to catch up. Ha! I feel old now. And I’ve been dying to become more facile with GLSL—the “shader” language used to program the graphics pipline on modern hardware. I managed to sneak in some nice realtime glow and motion blur effects using GLSL. It was a very basic accomplishment in terms of what’s possible, but I was happy to make it work.

Anything else to add?

I think that historically we’ve often used technology to sever our minds from our bodies, if you will. We seem to habitually seek distraction from our immediate, physical, and feeling situation and we build technology to enable it. In my opinion this is really bad news for everyone. I don’t know if interactive installation can turn this trend around and use technology to instead “re-embody” our urban and personal experiences—maybe for just a few minutes, for a few people—but I’m really interested in asking that question in particular.

eReader with a stack of books

Blurring the Lines Between eBooks and Apps

We learned a lot in the process of creating our own eBook (Inspiring Apps: A business perspective on building mobile apps).  As app developers by nature, one of the biggest lessons we learned is that time and consideration put towards choosing the correct platform to share your information is invaluable. You can’t just assume an app is the way to go, even if interactivity is a requirement, in the same vein you can’t just presume that your prose is destined for a book. To make the best determination on which route to take you need to evaluate your goals for the product as well as the preferences and technical ability of your target audience.

As the lines continue to blur between interactive eBooks and apps, the best option isn’t clearly black or white. However, there are a few key things to consider that will help you decide.

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Book Excerpt: Devices, Hardware, Operating Systems…Oh My!

The iPhone took the mobile market by storm. In the early days, it was the only game in town. One operating system. One set of device capabilities. One screen dimension. It took time for competing device manufacturers to release their own hardware, and for others, like Google, Microsoft, and RIM, to release compatible mobile operating systems. Now that others have caught up there are seemingly limitless options to choose from. Variability and fragmentation in hardware and software not only present challenges to developers, but to you as you consider the platforms you want to support.

Form Factor

When Apple released its iPad, there were two prominent form factors to target—smartphones and tablets. Now there are many more choices, including smaller tablets like the Barnes and Noble Nook, Amazon Kindle Fire, and BlackBerry Playbook, as well as larger smart phones like HTC’s Inspire.

  • When considering form factor, think about the users’ environment when they complete the task at hand.
  • Will they need to operate the app with one hand (suggesting that a smaller device may be more appropriate)?
  • Will they need to interact with, view, or make decisions based on more information than can fit comfortably on a smartphone screen at one time?
  • Can your content and features be tailored to fit a wide variety of form factors?

 

Hardware Capabilities

What additional hardware capabilities will your app need? Is a device camera required? Some devices have a camera while others don’t—that is an easy one to identify. However, you may need to rely on your development partner to help determine if your app requires an accelerometer to detect motion, a gyroscope to detect rotation, or a GPS to detect global position.

Operating System

If you are building an app for internal use at your company, your operating system options may be dictated by your corporate IT group. If you are developing for the market, you will need to take into account the adoption numbers for your target users and develop your app for the dominant operating systems. Global percentages may not apply to your target demographic.

This post is an excerpt from our book, Inspiring Apps: A Business Perspective on Building Mobile Apps. Want to learn more? Download your free copy from the iBookstore and gain a valuable business perspective on building mobile apps.

Don’t have an iPad? You can download the PDF for an equally informative yet slightly less interactive experience.

The Definitive iBooks Author Review

Just a few weeks ago, Apple announce the release of iBooks Author, a Mac app for creating multi-touch books for the iPad. Now anyone can quickly and easily create professional iBooks with interactive widgets. Reading, as we know it, will never be the same.

Installing iBooks Author

iBooks Author is available for free from the Mac App Store. But getting set up isn’t as quick as you would expect. The app requires Mac OS X 10.7.2 or later. If you haven’t already upgraded to Lion, the download is $29.99 and takes about 30 minutes to install, not including download time. You will also need to upgrade to iBooks 2, which is free.

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Techy Gifts For Your List That Can’t Be Missed

Tis the season…for running out of ideas for your holiday shopping list. We put the tech minds together at InspiringApps to offer a few suggestions for those hard to buy for names on your list. Here are some of our favorite techy gifts sure to bring a smile.

GoPro HD Hero2 “It is the indispensable tool for hands-free video recording of your entire life, or at least the exciting bits.” — Ralph

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TV Speculation

I used to check Apple rumor sites on a surprisingly regular basis. I gave that up in favor of waiting for real announcements from Apple. But following Apple’s surge to the top, rumors about their works in progress now appear in the popular press. So they are harder to avoid. Recently there’s been a lot of chatter about an Apple TV coming to market–not the little black hockey puck of a box they ship today, but a real flat-screen television set. Although it seems like a bit of a stretch, that market, specifically network-enabled TVs, has some of the characteristics that have attracted Apple in the past. It is established, but existing players are floundering. Namely, Yahoo’s Connected TV and Google TV have made a run, but aren’t seeing the expected adoption of their technology. Logitech recently announced that it will no longer develop products for the platform after losing $100 million on its Revue product. Perhaps they’re failing because they’re doing it wrong, in Apple’s opinion?

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