✱ Using the iPad as a Design Presentation Tool

The other day I gave a presentation to a client. Sounds normal, right? As designers, we should be doing this often. But this time, I tried something new - hooking up an iPad to a digital projector for a full, high definition presentation. Let me be the first to tell you that it was beautiful. Let me also be one of the first to say that I can’t wait for this to be wireless over Airplay when iOS 5 comes out.

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My main goal of doing the presentation this way was to engage the client with what I was showing them. They’ve seen a PowerPoint slide show before. They’ve seen renderings on boards. I wanted to show them the design concepts in an innovative way because they are an innovative company themselves. The direct manipulation of images on a screen is a huge leap away from directing things with a mouse click or push of a button to advance to the next slide. It is much more interactive and tactile to be able to pinch and spread and swipe though imagery. It’s a lot more like thumbing through a magazine which is a comfortable, normal thing for everybody. It makes the presentation much more dynamic.

Hardware

So here’s what I did to pull it off: I’ve got an iPad that I hooked up to an HD projector. For this to work, you have to have an iPad 2 because the first generation iPad will not output over HDMI. The connection to the projector was done via an HDMI cable so I had HD resolution mirrored image from the iPad to an HD projector.

First generation iPads only do VGA output as opposed to HD. This all works with an iPad 1, but the resolution is not as high, so you might lose some detail. Luckily I have access to an HD projector, so if you don’t, using the VGA adapter instead of the HDMI adapter is fine whether you have a first or second generation iPad.

Software

I did two different things during the presentation. First, I had a slideshow of diagrams and renderings of the project to show the client. I was going to show four different design schemes to them, which totaled about 30 renderings. A normal Keynote slideshow would have been fairly dry, and I wanted to make the presentation feel fluid. To accomplish that, I used the Photos app on the iPad, which is the default storage program for all of the images on the device. It’s a beautifully designed app which gives you the sense of being a photographer looking at your images on a lightboard. Photos are represented in organized stacks based on events or albums that you can easily thumb through.

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The setup - an iPad 2 and an HD projector

In the app, you can spread open a stack of images, swipe through them quickly, and then pinch the stack closed to move on to another stack. This made sense since I was showing them 4 different design schemes. It just comes off more naturally - the technology is getting out of the way and not putting up roadblocks. If there’s an image that I don’t feel is important to show, I can easily move past it quickly or skip it altogether. I probably would have bored the client to death by presenting a monotonous slideshow of 30 images waiting for each transition to fully develop. Instead, the client loved the interactivity of the presentation. Some images flew by while we were able to stay on particular ones for longer and have a conversation about them.

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Second, I wanted to show them their existing building in 3d by orbiting around it in realtime. I loaded the model into the iRhino3d app via Dropbox. This app allowed me to spin their building around, and more importantly, allow them to do it themselves. This was a huge success for obvious reasons - the client got to play with it. Introducing technology that allows someone to play with something they have a vested interest in only makes the relationship stronger. It’s fun watching your client’s eyes light up when they are manipulating their project on the large, projected screen as if they are allowed to be a kid again for that short moment. It’s like they the first time a child plays with Legos.  Sidenote: if you’re not already using Dropbox, you should be. It’s unbelievable, and free.

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The model in iRhino on iPad

This all sounds like a great experience, but what about actually making it happen? Getting great images onto the iPad was a bit of a trick, so I wanted to take you through the process of setting up a proper stack of slides, and take you through the process of preparing a model to be viewed in iRhino.

How to do it

For the first part of the show, I prepared the imagery in Apple’s Aperture. All of my renderings were at least 2500 pixels across. This is sufficient for 11x17 printed pages, and is usually the resolution I render at so that I have lots of options with the final output. In Aperture, I found that just syncing the albums to the iPad through iTunes gave poor results. The images were compressed heavily with jpeg artifacts. I then went through a process of exporting the images to iPad screen resolution (1024x768), reimporting them into Aperture, setting up additional albums, and syncing those to the iPad. This wasn’t a good idea - the resolution was really bad. 

The display on the iPad is set up so that ideally the images can be zoomed in to 200%. If you setup the images to be exactly the default resolution of the iPad screen, in addition to iTunes compressing them, look absolutely terrible. And you’ll never want to zoom in on them and make them look even worse.

I ended up finding out that you can set up the image previews in Aperture to be a certain size. iTunes then reads the preview size directly from Aperture and imports them properly. If you go into the Aperture preferences, you can choose the preview resolution to be proportionally constrained within 1920x1920, which is true HD (the same resolution as the projector or flat screen TV you’ll be presenting on). Once you do that, select the images you are going to sync and force Aperture to recalculate the previews by right clicking on them and choosing the appropriate pull down menu item. Then, sync it with iTunes. The images will look amazing, and let you double tap to zoom in on them in the photo viewer app for beautiful results.

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If your presentation is like mine, you’ll want to organize your images in Aperture into albums. By using albums, you can set the order of the slides so that as you swipe through them on the iPad, they are in the correct order just like when you organized them on your computer. Just drag the images into the order you want them before you sync. I used several albums to group the different design schemes into groups. When all of them are synced, you get the same groups in the Photos app on the iPad.

Next up is preparing your 3d model to be displayed on the iPad. First, you’ll want to download the iRhino app which is $4 in the App Store. One of the new options in this app is that you can load models via Dropbox which makes getting files into the app so much easier. If you’re familiar with modeling in Rhino, you’re all set to just save the model to your Dropbox account and load it into the iRhino app. If you prefer to work in other modelers, you’ll have to import your model into Rhino and mess with it a bit before saving it.

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Rhino 5 for Mac interface

When working with Rhino on the computer, you want to make sure you make your model displays exactly how you want it to show up on the iPad. You should choose either shaded or rendered display mode for the perspective view, as that view is the only one that gets picked up by the iPad app. I prefer rendered view so I can see transparent materials like glass in the model. Set the material parameters (color, transparency) for your objects accordingly in the Object Properties palette so they have some level of materiality during the presentation, otherwise the entire model will be the default grey plastic.

By the way, did you know you can get a beta copy of Rhino 5 (Work In Progress) for Mac OS X for free right now? Look over here.

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Shaded or Rendered display mode

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Rhino’s Object Properties palette

Once you have the model how you want it, just save it as a default Rhino .3dm file to your Dropbox. Then, on your iPad, load the model into iRhino3d by tapping the (+) button. Make sure you tap on the new model in the list to actually download it onto the iPad. When it loads you can spin it around and zoom in with the normal multitouch gestures you’re already used to using. There’s even a red/blue split button if you have the old school 3d glasses which is really cool.

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The model running in the iRhino3d app

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The model in iRhino

What’s Next

I want to take this to another level soon. If you hook up an AppleTV to the projector via HDMI, we should be able to do this wirelessly using AirPlay. And now with Apple’s announcement of iOS 5, mirroring the screen of the iPad will be done wirelessly which is going to be even better. Currently, every time you pinch out of an album, the AirPlay feature turns off. I’ve tested this at home with my own AppleTV setup, and it makes for a very discontinuous presentation. With wireless mirroring over AirPlay in iOS 5 this won’t happen - it will stay connected the entire time. This is further proof that we live in the future.

I also have a couple more posts planned focusing on presentation techniques, so stay tuned. Topics include more iPad apps, Augmented Reality and using specific hardware for moving through 3d environments.

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