A few days ago a nasty thunderstorm was approaching. A text message showed up on my iPhone telling me we had a lightning strike with 25 km of our house so I fired up the lightning display telling me it was a large storm coming up from North Carolina along the coast and the lightning activity in the past five minutes was fierce along a several hundred mile long front.
I picked up the iPad and tapped RadarScope giving me access to NEXRAD level 3 data from our regional NOAA NEXRAD Doppler weather radars. This isn't in the form of smoothed over jpgs, but rather is the raw information rendered locally on my iPad. I have about two dozen channels to select from each of the 155 radars around the country much of it requiring a bit of knowledge about how the systems work and what they are reporting. A bit of work, but I spent an afternoon reading NEXRAD papers last year and it is great to be able to play with the information streams.
Sort of what one could get on the web with a lot of hunting, but web browsers usually don't deal with this data well and I haven't seen any sites that have reasonably good displays and interfaces. A bit under $10 to Apple's AppStore gave me the fix I wanted and on a very portable device. While the storm was underway I could move around among a group of solid weather apps and get an interesting picture of what was taking place rather than the highly filtered loops that appear on TV.
It is reasonably easy to write interfaces to this sort of information - certainly within the capabilities of one or two programmers spending a few months tooling away. The tools Apple provides are getting better all of the time and there are a reasonable number of iPad and iPhone users who happen to be using (mostly) the same version of software. You don't have to do a lot of platform testing and targeting and it is possible to find good enough markets even in relatively obscure niches.
So far this is sort of obvious...
But a larger revolution is taking place using iPads as links to specialized tools. My dentist can link to his x-rays machine to give himself and me a good indication of what is going on. It is a lot better than conventional film x-rays as he can look at earlier scans to see if problems had started earlier and he has command of several digital filters to get slightly different views. He also is able to look at the output from a 3d tooth scanner that can make caps and he has a modeling tool to tune and finish his designs before they are fed into his 3d machining tool. Just the thing for caps and crowns.
I've seen them replacing the old PCs on carts that you used to see in hospitals. Many pieces of instrumentation now talk directly to iPads going beyond simple display, but actually having the control elements on the display. This can remove a great deal of cost from the instrument and give the maker the ability to easily improve the control and reporting of their machine without hardware design. Some of the tools allow the user to configure the control panels how they want them.
This ability to tap into information from your local tools and to control them - potentially dozens of tools - all from a single tablet. The cost is much less than the design of conventional interfaces and thousands of programmers have the capability of doing this kind of work.
Now you can tap into less expensive devices - some music equipment in the sub thousand dollar range have serious control panels and displays and soon, using wifi and Bluetooth 4.0, this will start showing up in home devices. The Nest thermostat can talk to an iPad or iPhone anywhere, but it really doesn't need its own display or even a connection to the Internet. It could be your local intranet of stuff. It will be possible to monitor nearly everything for a very low cost as sensors and Bluetooth chips are extremely inexpensive. For a few dollars extra it may be possible to buy a toaster that looks at the temperature and color of each piece of toast given you an accurate rendition of what is going on along with the ability to control each piece individually. You should be able to more accurately control your washing machine and dryer using some seriously sophisticated tools in the iPad application rather than the trivially simple programs that currently live on an eight bit microprocessor in your machine - if that.
There will be a huge explosion of data within your house, but it will be under control and you will be able to interact with your stuff at a deeper level. Perhaps the most important information will be around the clock real time health monitoring - something that isn't easy or inexpensive at the moment. "Smart shirts" may become common undergarments. It is likely much of these tools will be over the counter as they are just providing directional information for you or your physician - cutting through the mounds of red tape to get FDA approval. This could be a very big thing for people as they age - I saw a nice piece of kit that examines gait and flags potential balance problems...
The iPhone changed how we look at mobile phones, but the iPad goes beyond that and may be the beginning of a standard. A popular device with a standard API, display, interface model, mobile connection to the Internet as well as local intranets, often location, and an army of programmers. It is necessary to have a somewhat constrained device to enable all of this - Android, cool as it is to programmers, doesn't really stand a chance for this type of application. Perhaps Microsoft can mount a challenge, but iOS may be way too popular at this point.
There are so many Maker class projects that suddenly become possible. Measure almost anything for very little effort and money. So many potential small businesses are possible. I'm going to guess curious high school science teachers could put together some inexpensive kit and perhaps even their own cottage industries. And the same for motivated high school - and even middle school - students.
But not only can the iPad be used to read information and control, but it can also be a coördination point among many devices as well as becoming a node for information for use on a broader scale. This is a tool that can enable dot-connection and information mashups.
It is easy to spend and afternoon thinking of literally hundreds of applications.
Now excuse me while I spend some time balancing out the speakers in our home entertainment system. There are tools that would have been state of the art at Bell Labs fifteen years ago for very little money. I should borrow a nice microphone ... I did use it to diagnose an annoying rattle.
a historical bonus - yesterday marked the 109th anniversary of a classic hack - from the New Scientist
Mentally decoding the missive, Blok realised it was spelling one facetious word, over and over: "Rats". A glance at the output of the nearby Morse printer confirmed this. The incoming Morse then got more personal, mocking Marconi: "There was a young fellow of Italy, who diddled the public quite prettily," it trilled. Further rude epithets - apposite lines from Shakespeare - followed.
As is usually the case the amounts are an approximation.
Sweet potato wedges with lemongrass sauce
° 3 medium sized sweet potatoes (maybe 1 kg or 2 pounds total)
° 4 tbl olive oil
° 1-1/2 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp finely ground sea salt
° red chili - finely diced
° 15g coriander, leaved picked
crème fraîche sauce
° 1/2 tsp lemongrass stalk
° 200g crème fraîche (you can do a version with a plain greek yogurt too for something a bit healthier - even full Fage Total plain is excellent here. )
° 2 limes - juice and zest (I like using a microplane)
° 50g fresh ginger root- peeled and grated
° 1/2 tsp finely ground sea salt
° Set oven to 415°F with the rack in the middle
° Wash, but don't peel the sweet potatoes. Cut lengthwise into eights and put them into a roasting pan lined with baking parchment and brushed with a bit of olive oil. Brush the wedges with the olive oil and sprinkle with a mixture of the ground coriander and salt.
° Roast the sweet potatoes for 25 to 30 minutes until they are tender and golden brown. I like to finish at broil for about 2 minutes. Let them cool. They are really good if still warm and pretty good at room temperature.
° Chop the lemongrass into very fine pieces and whisk with all of the other sauce ingredients.
° To serve place the wedges on a serving dish and sprinkle with the diced chili and coriander leaves. Severe with the sauce on the side for dipping.