More Audiophile iPad Play! As External Display
iPad as External Display
My last article covered the numerous ways to use the iPad as a remote control: apps like PlugPlayer, SqueezePad, and iMediaControl let you take charge of Squeezebox or DLNA network audio devices and do a much better job than a typical physical remote. Even things like Blu-ray players often have their own iPad apps. But the possibilities don't end there. We can even use the iPad to control a desktop or laptop PC. Or a Mac of course, if that's your preference. This could come in handy in a number of ways---most commonly something like a small form factor PC or Mac Mini with no display, serving up music to an external DAC via USB.
The traditional method for this sort of thing is by using a Virtual Network Connection app. There are free options such as Mocha VNC lite or paid options like Remoter. These are powerful apps that can be confusing to the casual user, and they have many more options than we might be interested in if we just want to control audio playback.
The best option I've found that keeps things simple yet is powerful enough to do what I need is Air Display. It's not really a VNC app though it can accomplish many of the same things. The main focus of Air Display is its ability to act as a desktop extender for your existing screen. It works just like having two real monitors---drag your mouse to the border of your actual screen and it will then jump over to the iPad. You can drag icons over there, or configure programs to run in that area. As seen in the picture above, I have Foobar2000 running on my PC, and have it positioned onto the iPad portion of my desktop space. My main screen is then free for doing "real work", or just browsing InnerFidelity.
Aside from acting as a desktop extender, Air Display also enables control of the programs running on its real estate. Mousing is simulated by dragging and tapping with a finger, and a virtual keyboard handles whatever other input might be needed. It isn't the type of thing you'd want to do complex tasks with but controlling a media player is easily accomplished. It has enough precision to handle things like drag and drop playlists and the screen refresh is fast enough for visualizations to look presentable. Just don't expect to play first person shooters with it. I find this app especially useful with my smaller laptop---it really adds a useful chunk of space where I can position windows without having to tab back and forth on the main screen.