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10 things your iPad can do with a little extra help

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The App Store has allowed a wide range of talented developers to think of new ways that people can use the Apple’s iPad to make people’s day-to-day lives better. But sometimes in order to be useful, your iPad needs a little help from an external accessory to extend and enhance the capability of the iPad. Here are ten such useful extensions that you can take advantage of with your iPad:

iPad Accessories

Attach a USB desktop keyboard – Sure, there are many different bluetooth keyboards for the iPad; they even come in the form of cases that you can attach and make your iPad appear and feel more like a laptop than a tablet. But many of these keyboards are small and don’t have quite the same feel as a full-sized desktop computer keyboard. If you are looking to attach your favorite, desktop style keyboard to your iPad, try using either the Lightning to USB Camera Adapter for $30 or the iPad Camera Connection Kit also for $30. Not all keyboards will work, as the iPad does not supply much power to attached devices, especially ones with additional features like a USB hub or trackpad attached. The cheaper the keyboard, the more likely it is to work. Keep in mind that this feature is also not officially supported by Apple.

Watch movies off of a SD card – While the SD expansion capabilities of the iPad may be limited to photos and movies, those movies do not have to be limited to the movies you have taken with a camera. In fact, you can transfer the full length movies you have in your home media library onto your iPad using an SD card. This will require either the Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader for $30 or the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit also priced at $30. First ensure that you have copied all of your movie files in a folder on the SD card titled /DCIM/100VIDEO. Then, rather than accessing the movies from the Video app, use the Photos app to watch your movies instead; a minor inconvenience for being able to offload additional movies to a SD cards when traveling. Just be sure that the movie format is compatible with the iPad.

Find your way with GPS – If you happen to have purchased a cellular iPad, then you have also purchased the built-in GPS receiver that comes with it. Even with just a Wi-Fi iPad all is not lost, you can still add GPS capabilities using a compatible bluetooth GPS receiver. With either the Bad Elf GPS Pro for $150 or the SkyPro XGPS160 GPS Receiver also for $150 you can add GPS to any iOS device. Either device is capable of supporting multiple connected devices simultaneously and will provide much more accurate GPS location information. Pair that with a collection of downloadable offline maps and you can use you iPad to get you just about anywhere on the planet, no network required.

iPad Accessories

Play and record a song from a MIDI device – Many of the musical instruments you have which support a MIDI interface will be able to connect to your iPad using the same USB connectivity kits from Apple mentioned above. Once connected, you can use apps like GarageBand on your iPad to record and play music. Some MIDI keyboards like the M-Audio Keystation Mini 32 for $50 are portable enough to take your recording studio with you. They even have a video showing you how this works.

Capture video of your screen with AirServer – There are times when you may want to record some of your best iPad game playing events to share with your friends. Or perhaps you just need to create a quick how-to video for a someone to explain how to do something simple on your iPad. To record such a video you must first get the video onto your computer. App Dynamic’s AirServer for $15 will turn either a Mac or PC into an AirPlay ‘receiver’ just like the Apple TV. Once installed, use AirPlay mirroring on your iPad to stream your iPad’s screen to your computer. You can then use the QuickTime Player on your Mac  or CamStudio on Windows to record the video being displayed.

Extend your computer’s desktop – There are many ways to display what you see on the iPad’s screen on an external display; using Airplay to an Apple TV or directly connecting the iPad to a television or monitor using one of Apple’s video cables for iPad. Doing the reverse — using the iPad as a secondary monitor connected to your computer — will require the use of something like Avatron’s Air Display 2 for $10. Once on your iPad, you will need to download and install the necessary video driver for either your Mac or PC. With the latest update from Avatron, you can wirelessly mirror your computers screen on up to four separate iPads at once.

iPad Accessories

Review DSLR photos as you take them – Setting up your own photo studio where you can review the photos you are taking is possible when using an iPhone as the camera and iCloud’s Photo Stream on the iPad to review. But what if you were using a different camera or are nowhere near a Wi-Fi or cellular network? Enter Eye-Fi Mobi starting at $45, a SD card with a built-in Wi-Fi network. The Mobi version of the Eye-Fi can set up its own network and link directly to your mobile device. Using the available Eye-Fi app for iPad, you can then share your photos instantly with your iPad.

Control your media playback from across the room – When it comes to watching movies and listening to music, iPads can also be used quite effectively in group settings by displaying its content on a HDTV using AirPlay and an Apple TV or using one of the many different video cables available from Apple for you iPad. When using an iPad in such a manner, you can use a remote control like the Satechi Bluetooth Multi-Media Remote Control for $35 to control playback from across the room. It can be used to play/pause, fast forward/rewind and control the volume. It works great with music and movies and can even be used as a remote shutter control to click a photo.

Talk on the phone with a Bluetooth headset – One thing you don’t necessarily think about when it comes to an iPad is making phone calls. Pairing a Bluetooth headset like the Jawbone ERA for $99 or even a pair of Bluetooth headphones with a built-in mic like the Beats Wireless by Dre for $279 will allow you to listen and talk to your contacts on your iPad using apps like Apple’s FaceTime or Microsoft’s Skype. You can take thins one step further and use Google Voice to place and answer phone calls from a regular telephone number. I have found that the combination of GV Connect for $2.99 and Talkatone make the whole experience much better than using Google’s own app for iPad.

Scan important documents over AirPrint – The ability to print documents form your iPad using an AirPrint capable printer should come as no surprise. But what about going the other way, scanning a paper document onto you iPad? There are apps that use the built camera on your iPad to take a flattened photo of a document. Some of which, like SmileOnMyMac’s PDFpen Scan+ available for $5, can even perform OCR which will allow you to edit the document after you scan it in. This can become a tedious process when the document has several pages to it.

The good news is that you can use the document scanning features of your all-in-one printer by using the supported app directly from the printer’s manufacturer. iPad apps by HPEpson, and Brother can each scan in documents from many of their products that have a scanner. And if your all-in-one printer is not AirPrint capable, you can try to use Ecamm’s Printopia for $20 to connect to your printer’s scanner through your Mac.

13 Responses to “10 things your iPad can do with a little extra help”

  1. Christopher Mesquita

    Well, the iPad is one of the best tool I use at work.
    Thanks to Apple recommendation i use Beesy (, a really impressive task management app.
    Before that I was a Evernote fan but now it’s over…

    Moreover with the iPad, I don’t have to use my laptop on meeting so that a pretty good new for my back….

  2. Geoffrey, I can’t get the movies-on-SD-card thing to work. The movies are in .mp4 format and I can copy them via iTunes onto my iPad mini and watch ’em fine. I’ve copied a batch onto an SD card and, although the Photos app opens up automatically when I connect the Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader, I cannot see the files anywhere in Photos. I copied the folder name as you listed it (/DCIM/100VIDEO). I tried renaming a few of the movie files, but so far no dice. Any advice?

    • BrianForbesColgate

      Here’s an item from a Mac forum that might help …

      This hint requires the Apple Camera Connection Kit and some SD cards.

      You may find it useful for all sorts of reasons to have extra storage space available on your iPad. In my case as a regular traveller I like to take a number of movies to watch on my iPad but there is a limit to how many large-sized films that can be stored on the device; especially if you have one of the smaller memory sized ones. I know apps like AirVideo can stream from your home computer even when travelling away from home, but this is not always practical depending on where you go.

      I have discovered, after reading a hard-to-find hint elsewhere on the web, that photos and videos can be stored on an SD card, and imported with the SD card adapter in the Camera Connection Kit, as long as the filenames are in a recognised format. The original hint I found suggested that just naming the files correctly would work but I found that the files need to be in a specific folder to be recognised.

      The SD card you use needs to have the folder structure that is created when the card is used in a camera, so I just used a card that already contained this structure, but one where all the old photos/videos have been removed.

      The folder structure on my card looks like this: DCIM » 100DICAM, but yours may well be different. The important thing is that any movies or photos that you want to be able to import to the iPad need to be in the embedded 100DICAM (in this case) folder. I have another camera where the second folder is not there and on this card I put the movies directly in the DCIM folder.

      Than all you need to do is add movies to this folder with the naming structure as used by your camera. An 8 digit name with sequential numbers. Examples could be P0000001, P0000002, etc. or DCM_0001, DCM_0002, etc.

      When you then put this card in the Camera Connection Kit and plug it into the iPad, the iPad will ask to import the files. They will be added to the Photos app, but they play just fine from there. I have successfully imported a large HD movie (formatted with Handbrake for the AppleTV). You need a big card for this size of movie though.

      With this process you can delete movies from the iPad when they have been watched and add new ones. The only difficulty is that the name structure required means that you don’t know what film is what — a good set of notes would be needed, unless you have a very good memory that is!

  3. I am almost the same way when it comes to opting out of buying navigation systems on a new car. The last new car I bought I decided to forgo the navigation system and buy an iPad instead. It was cheaper. I could have even bought an entry level MacBook Air and come out ahead.

    There are even some really nice headrest cases that allow you to mount an iPad to the back of a car’s headrest in order to watch a movie. It is almost cheaper to buy each passenger their own iPad than purchasing an integrated DVD system in your new car.

    Perhaps I should have listed a car as one of the ten.

  4. Good article. How did many Gigaom readers come to think that hardware manufacturers and app developers should give them everything for free? What a bunch of thieves we’ve become.

    • Does the scanner on the Canon app work well? It was one that I have not tried yet as I have not been on the same network as a Canon multifunction printer scanner and had the occasion to scan in a multipage document. Most if not all of the Canon printers I have seen (in the ‘wild’ that is) have been photo printers, not the multifunction versions.

  5. Michael Perez

    Why should I have to buy things to add new capabilities to my device?!?! I swear, it’s almost like Apple were a business, selling me goods and services or something. ;)

  6. Harsh Raj

    iPhone app development and iPhone app marketing are the fastest growing sectors in the world of mobile technology. iPad too has now joined the race, thanks to its portability and multimedia features. With the invention of iPad Tablet PC the usage of apps has been transformed entirely. iPad app development is another striking wave that is making this gizmo popular all over the world. To learn more about Techcronus iPad application development services join us here:

  7. Love Apple. Did you happen to notice everything you suggest you can do on the device requires me giving Apple another donation! What a bunch of lemmings we’ve become.