Tech Corner – What If?

What if …? That is the initial question when I spot a new technology. I’m always on the lookout for something new. Something to try. Software or hardware. I will invent a reason to buy/use something if it seems cool. I’d been fascinated years ago watching a photographer use a Wacom Cintiq tablet with Photoshop to edit his pictures. But thought the Cintiq at $800 a rather expensive choice for any other use besides a photography touch screen. What if … nah. Then a recent bout of RSI (repetitive stress injury, i.e. ‘moving a computer mouse all day makes my hand hurt’) provided a reason to find a mouse alternative. Over many years I’ve tried every computer input device available. Regular two-button mouse. Four-button track ball. Mouse with a small track ball. Wacom tablet. Vertical mouse.

A seventeen-button mouse. All have positives and negatives. Two-button mouse: well … not enough buttons. Why move your hand to a keyboard if you can program a mouse button to do the same task as the keyboard input?

I bought this software ($20) and attached an iPad mini to my Mac laptop via the lightning cable. And it works. Really well, in fact. There is some delay in this second screen, but minimal. What if … and this is where I sometimes get a little too imaginative for my own good … what if I had an iPad Pro? You know, the really big 12inch one? That would be cool! Since it was released in late 2015, I’ve wanted an iPad Pro. Because … well, it’s Pro, right? Must be better. But never could figure out what I could use it for. It is just big and beautiful. Yet, when I tried one at the Apple store, the problem became obvious: I can’t do anything with it. What really separates the iPad Pro from any other tablet is it has a stylus with which you can draw on screen. But I can’t draw. And have no real need to draw. The stylus could be used with Photoshop to adjust various on-screen controls and effects, like with the Wacom Cintiq. But I don’t use Photoshop that much. It’s a cool tool without a purpose. Now in 2017 I found its purpose. With Duet Display software, here was an opportunity to integrate an iPad Pro into my editing system. I purchased the larger 12-inch model, from the Apple refurbished store. And the Pencil. This could open up for me a touch-screen editing system. The iPad Pro arrived. It is enormous. And heavy. You can’t hold it in any comfortable way. And there is no easy and safe way to set it on a desk. So, I invested in a stand. Then there was input: Apple’s solution is the Pencil. A pretty simple, white stylus that links to the iPad through Bluetooth.

It is no more a ‘pencil’ than a stylus is a ‘pen’ but that’s Apple being different ‘just because.’ Touching and dragging with the Pencil to control the iPad is accurate and easy. Technology problems come in an escalating series of obstacles.

I can’t run a piece of software on my computer without it asking, “There is a newer version. Want to download?” Of course I do! Never mind that task I was doing. Ah, but this update requires a newer version of ‘x’ (Java, Flash, OS X, et al.) to run. ‘Download?’ Of course. I never actually wanted to do that original task. What I really wanted to do was a series of software updates. I encountered the same series of obstacles with my new editing toys. Setting it up the iPad Pro was the new technology problem to solve. Installed the Duet Display software on the iPad and the Mac tower editing system. Plugged the iPad into my editing system with the Apple lightning cable. And nothing happened. The Duet company responded to my email. Turns out, the computer’s OS was older than the version of Duet, so they provided a link to an earlier release. That problem was solved. The iPad Pro was connected as a third screen. Now I had three monitors instead of the standard editing system two. Duet Display allows you to set the iPad to mirror either of the two editing monitors usually on a system. Or it can be set to be a third monitor, available to place a mixer, AudioSuite window, bin, etc.

Now to fire up the editing software. Here arrived the second problem. The iPad frame doesn’t exactly fit a computer monitor. The latter is 16 x 9. The former is about 12 x 8. When mirroring a wide-screen monitor, the iPad scales down. It fills from side to side, leaving black borders on the top and bottom. This makes the Avid interface rather small. I don’t have the best eyesight nor digit dexterity, so controlling with the Pencil would be only more challenging. I could use the iPad Pro as a second screen, perhaps holding Avid audio tools. Yet I have a physical audio mixer, the Avid Artist Mix. It would be redundant to have two ways to move sound faders. I decided to have the iPad mirror one of the system monitors. Editing on a computer requires a lot of click+hold+drag: to scroll through a timeline, to move a window, to open a tool.

It also requires a lot of double-clicking: to drop a clip into the source monitor, open a sequence in the record monitor, open a setting window. Here is where I ran into two insurmountable roadblocks: I can click+hold+drag an object in the left monitor where scene bins are usually parked. But I can’t drag it into the other monitor that holds the source window. You get to the end of the screen and can move no further. I would need to double-click a clip/sequence to load it. Oops.

The Pencil cannot double-click. Tap twice on an object, such as a clip in a bin to load it into the source window, and nothing happens. The Wacom tablet pen has buttons on the side to double click and right click. Oh, and there is also no way to right click with the Pencil either.

Mixing a touch screen, with two screens that aren’t, wasn’t going to work. To add a second screen to my laptop or third screen to my edit system, turns out I need simply to buy another monitor. That would be $889 + $129 + $100 = $1118 for iPad, Pencil and stand. Versus $150 for a small monitor. Hmm. Buying a goldplated hammer to hit a nail? Although an interesting challenge, turns out you don’t need a computer (iPad) to work as just a monitor. One needs something more along the lines of a Cintiq which is an input surface that contains a monitor. Which is about $800. What if…