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iOS Monitors (And Cursors)

Gabe Weatherhead has an interesting take on my iOS-ification of Apple’s Ecosystem piece:

But there is one feature missing from iOS that will prevent it from ever being effective with an external display: a cursor. I know this seems blasphemous but if you have ever tried to us an iPad with mirroring, you know that you must still look at the iPad to get anything done.

To use the iPad as a desktop replacement, mirroring is not enough. I need a cursor displayed where my finger touches the iPad (or iPhone) so that I have context on the external display. Every time I see iOS app demo videos they are accompanied by cursor representations for the touch interactions, and I think “that would be a great feature on the AppleTV.

I have used AirPlay Mirroring with my iPad 2, and I agree that it’s weird to be forced to look down at your iPad’s display if you want to get anything done that’s not sliding presentations and photos. Even games, in spite of their less complex on-screen controls and interfaces than, say, an app like OmniFocus, can be hard to be played without looking down sometimes.

What I’d like to see – and something that likely won’t happen anytime soon – is a series of “desktop accessories” to better take advantage of the iPad when mirrored or connected to an external display. For instance, imagine some sort of Magic Trackpad for iOS that would allow you to retain gestures and multitouch, but have a cursor when the iPad is mirrored to an Apple TV. Something I often hear (and find myself into as well) is that some apps are just better with a cursor in the current state of software offerings – for example, image editing and highlighting text. Imagine if Apple built an official accessory that, through APIs (much like iCade does), allowed developers to enhance their apps with direct support for “cursor mode” when the iPad’s screen is mirrored or even when the device is held by a stand (magnetic latches could inform the system of the current orientation of the device). If I had to put my two cents in it, I’d say this could be a way to market the iPad as a device capable of switching to a more precision control-oriented environment if needed. Video professionals woud sure welcome such a move.

I’m not saying Apple should produce a convertible tablet that switches between iOS and OS X (albeit Apple’s direction seems to be making switching between the two a seamless experience) – I’m arguing that some specific software and functions are better with a cursor in the current state of things. So unless we’ll see revolutionary new touch controls that will obviate the need for such idea, I think cursor controls on an app-by-app basis is something worth considering for the future of iOS’ mirroring and external display connections.

Perhaps Apple is fully committed to multi-touch and we’ll never see new cursor-based interfaces/hardware coming out of Cupertino again. But I think cursor-based controls are still superior for some kind of apps, especially for professional software such as video and image editing.

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