While the iPad is ideal for listening to music or watching movies and TV shows, one feature that it’s missing, at least until iOS 4.2 arrives with AirPlay in November, is the ability to accept streaming music and video from an iTunes library on a computer.
Given that the iPad doesn’t have a great deal of capacity – especially the 16GB entry-level models – the ability to stream could come in handy. You may want to stream music to listen to while you’re reading a book, without having to worry about exactly what music you last added to the iPad from your plentiful iTunes library. Or you may want to watch a movie stored on your Mac. As the saying goes, there’s an app for that – more than one, actually.
For starters, there’s what you might call ‘passive’ streaming of music from an iTunes library to the iPad. You can use Rogue Amoeba’s $25 (£16) Airfoil (www.rogueamoeba.com) in conjunction with the company’s free Airfoil Speakers app (while not yet optimised for the iPad, you can run it in pixel-doubled mode). You’re limited to streaming from your Mac, and you can’t choose what to listen to from the iPad itself.
But streaming music and video is something that clearly interests developers. Two £1.79 iPad apps provide this functionality, in similar fashion, by creating a local server on a computer (Mac or Windows) and an app on the iPad: Matthew Gallagher’s StreamToMe (www.projectswithlove.com) and InMethod’s Air Video (there’s also an Air Video free version at www.inmethod.com that limits the number of displayed items in each folder).
Both apps require free server apps that you need to install on your computer. You can share your entire hard drive, just your Music and Movies folders, or if a child is watching videos on the iPad, a folder of your choosing. With StreamToMe, you download the ServeToMe application (www.projectswithlove.com/streamtome), launch it, choose which folders to share, and then just leave it running. StreamToMe is good for video – though it can’t stream protected video files from the iTunes Store – but not so much for music. You can’t choose your playlists, and you can’t even play the contents of a folder. If you play one song, the program stops afterwards and awaits your next selection. However, as far as videos are concerned, it plays all the main video formats (including some that iTunes can’t), as well as MP3, unprotected AAC, and FLAC music files.
Air Video uses a program called Air Video Server (www.inmethod.com), which works only for videos. Like ServeToMe, it lets you choose shared folders, as well as adding iTunes playlists, though this feature is buggy. Air Video supports many video formats, but doesn’t play protected iTunes Store videos. It does, however, offer on-the-fly conversion on your computer so that the iPad won’t have to do so much work, and individual settings for quality, resolution, and zoom for each video.
We would like to see Apple provide a way to tap into an iTunes library, especially for listening to music while reading. But the apps’ ability to work with formats that Apple doesn’t support make them good choices for people who want to watch videos on their iPads right now.