For the past couple of weeks we’ve been fortunate to have access to two iPads. Per the rules, they’ve been tightly locked away in a secure, windowless room that we affectionately have come to know as the dungeon.
One day — this was before Apple had posted more detailed tech specs on their web site — one of the iPads fell on the floor. Gasp! A quick examination showed no cracks in the screen. Relief! But something was definitely amiss. The screen no longer rotated to match the orientation of the device. Our first thought was that the accelerometer had broken, and we irrationally started thinking about how to explain this incident to Apple. “You know those two super top-secret devices that you were gracious enough to loan to us… Well something happened to one of them…” [duck, cover, insert earplugs]
Shortly thereafter one of us noticed this small button on the right side of the iPad. “I wonder what this does?” Of course it turned out to be the screen rotation lock button, and once flipped back, the “broken accelerometer” started working again.
So after surviving this near-death experience, we decided to go for broke. What else could we do with these devices? Video out is an interesting feature if you’re using the iPad to make a presentation. But we’re not PowerPoint guys, we’re developers. And as a developer you know you can’t have enough screen real estate when you’re working. The latest iMacs have this cool DisplayPort input feature whereby you can use the iMac screen as a monitor. Hook two 27″ iMacs together this way, place them side by side and you have a pretty decent development environment. (Granted, downgrading a full iMac computer to be used as a monitor might be seen as a waste of money. But it’s all about esthetics. Having two identical looking monitors side by side on your desk is just more zen.)
Would the iPad have a similar feature? Apple is known for building in secret features and capabilities into their products. And since we didn’t have any tech specs or even a manual to explain trivial things like the screen rotation lock button, there was only one way to find out. After hooking the two devices together, it took some trial and error to get the right startup sequence (turn on the master first, then the slave display). But it worked!
You’ve probably seen Microsoft’s concept pictures and videos of their Courier tablet, which has a two-screen clamshell design. Of course Apple had to one-up them with a dual display setup for the iPad.
If you had a difficult time transitioning your apps from the good old 320 x 480 “fixed” display size to the larger iPad screen, then just try to wrap your head around a dual 768 x 1024 display. No more 4:1 pixel ratio. And if that’s not enough, imagine one of the displays in portrait mode and the other in landscape mode. How does your app cope with that? As you probably know by now, the iPhone OS does not give you much support in handling different interface orientations or different screen sizes. Each app has to deal with that in its own way. But there seems to be a new framework that may offer some help today. In the Private Frameworks directory, checkout the new ITSaprIlfoOLsdAy.framework.
Update: Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. It has just come to my attention that there is an app for the iPad that extends your OS X desktop onto the iPad, effectively making it a second screen. The app is called iDisplay. But before you rush to install it you might want to checkout this review.