Using Aperture 3… on the iPad?
First thing’s first: No there is no news about an iPad version of Aperture! A real companion app for Apple’s professional photo workflow software would be greatly welcomed by many users all over the world, however this workaround will have to do for now.
Adobe published a Lightroom companion app last month. The app is only available by their subscription plan though, and is a pure companion app which does not make sense without using Lightroom on the desktop—but it works, is officially supported, and last but not least: it’s available now. An app like this would make a lot of sense for Aperture 3.
Remote Desktop Apps
The good news is that there is a veritable workaround to the missing Aperture companion app, at least if you have access to a running Mac with Aperture 3 and your libraries: use a remote desktop app to access Aperture 3 and control it directly from your iPad. This may sound cumbersome but some of those remote desktop apps are very sophisticated tools that are capable of building an illusion of Mac OS X apps running natively on your iPad.
The following video shows the Splashtop Personal and the Aperture 3 fullscreen mode (no audio):
Splashtop Personal by Splashtop Inc. is a commercial iOS app which claims to be 10x faster than the competition. They do not over-promise—as you can see in the video the app is really fast. In my local wifi network, established using a third generation AirPort Extreme station, it often feels like using a native Mac OS X tablet. Videos play smooth and most important to me, Splashtop seems to have solved a problem which made many Remote Desktop apps such a bad experience before: They somehow managed to magically make tapping small controls very reliable. This doesn’t change the fact that Mac OS X applications are not designed to be used on a touch device, but Aperture 3 is not too bad—particularly in full screen mode.
You need the app itself and the so called Splashtop Streamer, a free Mac OS X program that implements the proprietary streaming protocol all Splashtop products use.
To get the best experience from Splashtop one should allow it to reduce the resolution of the Mac OS X screen to the iPad device’s native resolution. This reduces screen real estate, but makes most apps feel more like native touch apps on a tablet. Controls get bigger and rendering is more crisp.
Aperture can be used in windowed and full screen mode. If you have a stylus, you can use it to brush in adjustments, but you can feel a noticeable lag when doing so, so this is only an option for very simple things. You can scroll through the image browser quite fast using two fingers. Tapping and dragging with one finger allows dragging photos or selecting them with the selection rectangle. Generally the touch system feels like a mix of an iPad app and using trackpad gestures on a Mac.
All features that rely on hovering the mouse are not suitable for a multitouch interface. There is a workaround though: The video shows how to use the loupe with the target area set to mouse pointer: If you single tap with two fingers Splashtop Personal switches in “Trackpad Mode”—you can then indirectly control the mouse pointer similarly to how you would use the trackpad on your Mac. This also makes it possible to hover the mouse without clicking or dragging.
What is possible? You can browse your work. Using the loupe is often a good thing to quickly check details within the browser on the small iPad screen. Dragging keyword on images works very well. Rating, flagging and so-on of course do too.
If there was one thing that would really make running Aperture 3 through Splashtop Personal even better, it would be customizable key buttons. Splashtop already offers virtual cursor keys which makes navigating between images easier. Some actions like zoom are just a single tap away, but the extensive keyboard configuration of Aperture allows to access nearly any action using some key. What if we could add our own virtual buttons on the screen?
The second app I found usable to simulate an Aperture 3 companion app is Parallels Access, which is sold as a subscription service.
Many Mac users know Parallels for their desktop virtualization software Parallels Desktop. It was the first x86-Virtualization software on Mac and is since then a strong competitor to VMware which came later with their “VMWare Fusion” which is essentially the same product. Contrary to VMwares earlier Windows based VM-Products, Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion both strive to integrate the virtualized guest OS (mostly Windows) as seamless as possible within Mac OS X.
There lies the parallel to Parallels Access (pardon the pun); the developers tried very hard to create the illusion of Mac OS X running as an iPad app. They created a home screen variant to launch Mac OS X programs:
They created a task switcher, which easily allows to switch between programs:
Last but not least, they put any program on its own iPad-sized virtual screen. In many ways Parallels Access works more app-like when compared to Splashtop Personal. You can scroll with just one finger, like one is familiar with running native iPad apps. But this has a cost; it is not that easy to make a tap & drag gesture, so drawing a selection rectangle is more uncomfortable. And using a stylus to draw in adjustments is completely unusable; you have to tap and then hold until a small circular progress bar wanders around the shown loupe. Then you can drag. The delay on this gesture is just too long for frequent use. I really would wish Parallels finds a different, quicker gesture for this feature—perhaps tap, tap drag?
Using Splashtop Personal or Parallels Access as an alternative to a real companion app works amazingly well. There are several things like custom virtual keys or another tap & drag gesture that would make Parallels Access work even better with Aperture 3, but overall these are very likely the best way to use Aperture on your iPad today.