I was worried at first when asked to research the problem: how to share the screen of an Apple iPad within an Adobe Connect meeting. My hopes were nearly dashed when I Googled something like “iPad screen sharing” and found lots of interesting reading about how iPad apps run in separated sandboxes for security purposes, which meant that no iPad app has the ability to read what another iPad app is doing. The upshot of which is, screen sharing using an app is not just unavailable, but prevented by the iPad’s basic design. But then I had a glimmer of an idea, and thus of hope: AirPlay.
Airplay Can Help You Stream Your Media
AirPlay is Apple’s local network streaming solution. Intended to work primarily with the AppleTV appliance, AirPlay is what allows iDevice users to stream movies, pictures, and other content to their televisions via Wi-Fi. In the case of AppleTV, the unit itself works as an ad-hoc wireless router.
The user can connect their newer iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone to the unit’s wireless network and stream video. Pretty sweet for home use — but it’s not easy to implement in a secure Enterprise network like William & Mary’s. I hear that there are a couple of professors using them for getting wireless projector access for their iPads, but that even getting it to function took quite a bit of finagling on the technical end. If only there were some way to use AirPlay to send a screen to a PC or Mac ….
AirServer Treats Your Computer as an Apple TV
Enter AirServer. I found this nifty little piece of software while poking around the Web for a solution to my quandary. AirServer uses a little bit of magic plus Apple’s free Bonjour network protocol to let you use your Mac or PC computer as if it were an Apple TV. And if you have iTunes installed, you already have Bonjour — it’s what enables easy music sharing within that program, acting as a resource location service for things like iTunes music shares and printers that support it.
As long as your computer and your iDevice are connected to the same wireless network, the iPad can find AirServer over the network and beam video to it accordingly. Once I could see the iPad’s screen on my laptop, I could use Adobe Connect’s built-in screen sharing capabilities to insert it into the virtual meeting. Problem solved!*
Of course, as with any technology, I had to do some playing around to get it to work correctly. On the PC, AirServer requires DirectX 9, which wasn’t installed on my laptop (but the setup process provided a handy link). The first time I installed it, I foolishly put it on my desktop which is not connected to wireless. I didn’t have iTunes on my laptop, either, so I had to install something so that I would have Bonjour. I didn’t particularly want iTunes installed on a machine that doesn’t contain any music, so instead I installed Bonjour Print Services for Windows, which is just as good for AirPlay’s purposes. Finally, I did have a little trouble getting the iPad to find AirServer even after I had all my ducks in a row–until resident Apple expert Sean Pada found that the AirPlay icon would pop up in the Music app even when it didn’t show up in the iPad controls area.
We’re Investigating Making this Possible for W&M Classrooms
In all it was a nifty solution to a very specific problem — how to do an iPad App demo in a VTC session without resorting to, say, pointing a document camera at the iPad screen. I think next I’ll investigate how well this kind of solution would work in the classroom for projection purposes. At $3.99 per installation for institutions (if you’d like it for home, it’s $14.99 for up to five machines; $11.99 for three installations for faculty and students, and you can get a seven-day trial for free) the price is certainly right, and not many lecturers prefer to have their tablet devices permanently perched on a podium. I’ll let you know how it goes!
*Note: Video to the desktop looked okay when I tested it with Netflix — maybe not film studies quality, but good enough for most purposes. In Adobe Connect, however, video-via-screen-sharing doesn’t work at anything better than something like two frames a second without pre-uploading FLV-formatted video.