Okay, so the iPad wasn’t quite what people were hoping to see when Steve Jobs took the stage last month to unveil Apple’s latest gadget. But let’s not dwell on the past. Instead, given what we know of the iPad’s specs, how can app developers take an overgrown iPod Touch and turn it into a device that we can’t imagine living without?
Here are two activities that would make the iPad worth the price of admission for me…
1. The best darn universal remote – Period.
I’ve been a long-time fan of Logitech’s Harmony universal remotes. They combine ease-of-use, no-hassle programming and fairly intuitive help feature when things go awry. But their touchscreen edition – the Harmony 1100 – is $399 U.S., only $100 less than a base iPad.
Why not use the iPad instead? I’m not the first person to think of this. Add-on and app developer ThinkFlood, which has already created a universal remote solution for the iPhone/iPod Touch, known as RedEye, is now working on their next iteration for the iPad. ThinkFlood uses Wi-Fi to communicate with their infrared transmitters which means walls and other objects aren’t an issue. It’s superior to other solutions that use BlueTooth.
ThinkFlood transmitters aren’t a bargain at $188 U.S., but their app is free as are all updates that they release.
2. Appliance/electricity monitoring
Helping people make more efficient use of their electricity and other energy sources is something that a number of the big tech companies are working on. Google’s home-grown PowerMeter initiative gathers data from the smart meter on your house and displays the stats on your iGoogle homepage.
Intel has created a proof-of-concept called the Home Energy Dashboard, an OLED touchscreen panel that is intended to display the vital stats of your home’s energy consumption. Using a new wireless technology known as ZigBee (a wireless protocol similar to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi intended for tiny, power-sipping sensors and other home appliances), the panel can also gather consumption information directly from individual appliance from around your home. Similar to PowerMeter, the idea is that by simply seeing your energy use in real-time, you are more likely to engage in conservation. Unfortunately, Intel’s concept is just that – a concept, with no pricing or availability dates.
A similar execution by SilverPac, will cost $600 and is scheduled for a Fall 2010 release.
But why buy a dedicated device when the iPad could easily fill this role? It only lacks ZigBee communication but I’m sure a small ZigBee dongle could be fitted to the iPad’s dock connector, or better yet, someone could build a ZigBee-WiFi bridge that would facilitate communication between the two protocols.
The app could be created by Google, which would make sense if it displayed PowerMeter data, or by individual utilities. Here in Ontario, home owners who have a Toronto Hydro Smart Meter can already access their energy consumption online. A recent Toronto Hydro program called PeakSaver, gave away free iPod Shuffles and a $25 rebate check to customers who agreed to let the utility take control of their AC systems during high-demand periods. Giving away free iPads would make an even smarter (if more expensive) incentive for reducing electricity needs during peak times.
So there you have it – a Universal remote and a home energy monitor. Two potential uses for the iPad that go outside the traditional spheres of web surfing and media consumption. What else would you like to see the iPad do?
Update Feb 18, 4:25 PM
If you’re still doubting the case for an iPad as an uber-remote control and/or energy monitor, check out what the President of Savant AV, Jim Carroll, has to say about the release of the device. He’s very impressed by the iPad, and that means something. Savant is the creator of a whole-home automation system based entirely on Apple technology. I recently had a chance to see the Savant system in action and was amazed by the way everything in your home could be controlled from a touch-screen interface. Savant’s control scheme not only looks a LOT like the iPhone interface, they’ve created an app that can run the whole system from an iPhone or iPod Touch. Clearly a specialized version of this app for the iPad’s larger screen is the next move for Savant. I have no doubt the combination of Savant’s automation technology and the iPad will be positively drool-worthy!