Astropad, released today, is a new piece of software that connects the dots between two pieces of technology you might already have - an iPad and a Mac - and allows them to work as one. Our iPads can now be used as so-called professional graphics tablets for $50 ($20 if you're a student).
The developers of Astropad have solved a problem that has nagged this kind of interoperability for years now which is to cut down on the lag between input and results on the screen by creating something they call Liquid:
Creating Astropad required innovative new technology we call LIQUID. The result is stunning image quality and responsiveness never before seen in similar tools.
LIQUID is true to your source material with color corrected output and retina resolution. What you see on your iPad is the same as on your Mac.
Previously using Airplay we got 30 frames per second (FPS) and with Liquid we get 60 FPS. This helps a lot.
I'm hopeful of Astropad because it solves the very real problem I've always had with standard graphics tablets which is the disconnect between the hardware and the screen, and I've never considered myself to be a person that could justify buying a Cintiq. Being able to have direct input between the stylus and the pixels is a big deal, and I'm excited to try this out and see how well it works while keeping in mind it's a v1 product. Will it be as responsive as a Wacom tablet? Nope. But it also doesn't cost $350.
What do you think about it?
(h/t Chris Grant)
Update: I've tried Astropad out, and it works surprisingly well. I used it on the Mac version of Notability and Photoshop CS6 connected between my iPad Air and my 27" iMac.
When you download the Mac app and install it, and then install the free iPad app, you go through a simple pairing process to connect the two over wifi or USB. The instructions are very well done. Except... I tried it in my office where I have no control over the wireless system, and it didn't work. Both devices must be on the same wifi network, which they were, but for some reason they couldn't communicate. To be fair, there are hundreds of devices on that particular wifi so I'm not surprised they couldn't find each other. I ended up simply creating a wireless network on the iMac and connecting to it through the iPad. Once that was setup, they found each other right away. Another option is to do a hard wired connection but I don't carry a Lightning cable with me. Plus, I really wanted to test it out over wireless to see how well it would perform over the air.
Notability is a note taking app that has some really nice ink technology and I wanted to see if I could use it with a graphics tablet to do markups (redlines) on PDF's in realtime during a GoToMeeting while sharing my screen. I don't think the developers were really thinking of this particular use either, which was another reason I chose to do it.
Astropad excelled at what it was designed for, which was allowing me to have direct input on my iPad with my stylus and having my work be mirrored on my Mac. There was little to no lag between the two. For a first release, it is very impressive.
What it did not excel at was giving me Notability's controls on my iPad screen, which again I can't really blame them for. What this means in real world applications is that I had to do a lot of back and forth between my work on the iPad and using the mouse on my computer to switch between tools, brush sizes, and colors. I don't think Notability has keyboard shortcuts for what I need, and that would make things much easier.
Astropad works even better in Photoshop, which seems to be the app's initial target market. It's the same great painting interface, you can zoom and pan around your document right on the iPad, and there are common tool shortcut buttons on the iPad's screen for brush sizes and more. These really help make the experience much better because you spend a lot less time switching over to your mouse to get to your most-used tools.
It would be great if more Mac app developers look to have an Astropad connection now that it's out. Having software shortcut buttons right on the iPad's screen would be welcomed and would lead to more sales for sure.
Never once did the connection fail. Even after long pauses between uses, I could just pick up and continue without re-pairing the devices.
Probably the biggest challenge is using Astropad between two devices with such different physical screen sizes. I was going between 27" and 11". There is a lot of time spent panning around to see what you want to see on the iPad. I'm sure with more use I would get much better at it. There are three zoom settings that you can access on the Mac side - full screen, 100% and 200% modes. I was usually in 100 or 200% mode because I was painting and the scale of the image on the iPad made sense. Full screen between these particular two devices makes no sense, but it might for other people if their devices are closer in size (like a notebook for instance).
I can't wait to see where they go with this. What if Apple comes out with rumored iPad Pro? what if Apple comes out with their own stylus? This could really change the graphics tablet game for professional use.
My advice is to give it a try for yourself. The app comes with a 7 day free trial and you can see if it would work for you. Let me know how it goes.