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Triumph of the iPad

Presentations at NIWeek all seem to talk about how the applications work on iPads. The device has really taken over.

August 09, 2012


Returning from NIWeek, I was struck with the ways in which the iPad has become an extension of so much of what National Instruments does. Comments about controlling something from an iPad or seeing data on an iPad was an element of many presentations. The idea of mobility and ease of use figures highly into NI’s ethos, so this shouldn’t really be a surprise.

Perhaps the ultimate manifestation of this was the last 15 minutes or so of the Wednesday keynote, where Kyle Gupton and Shelly Gretlein did a demonstration on an iPad of how LabView is being adapted to work in a touch-screen environment. The two presenters were sitting comfortably on a couch on the stage to show that this can be done anywhere. Gupton did assure us that versions are in the works for Android and Windows 8 platforms.

A few minutes into the presentation, we heard a familiar musical motive (the climax of Vesti la giubba from Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci, a.k.a., No More Rice Krispies) and Jeff Kodosky (“the father of LabView”) came out and showed some of the concepts behind how they were configuring the software to make it so easy to use in that environment. Kodosky described his thought process: “While playing Angry Birds one day, it hit me that there’s an awful lot of computational power and graphics on the iPad, and we ought to use more of that while we edit. So I’ve been playing around with this idea that I call a physics-based editor. What are the best laws of physics that will make my diagram stay neat and compact?”

Earlier in the morning when he made his opening remarks, Kodosky also looked like he was using an iPad for his notes. Given NI’s history as a company that built itself on graphical concepts, the connection with Apple goes back many years. Much of the early development work was done on Mac computers since they offered the only practical graphical platform back then. One of the interesting bits of trivia from the presentations was that if you had to build an iPad using technology from 1976, it would cost $3.2 billion, and it probably wouldn’t be portable.

As Kodosky observed in his opening remarks, “It wasn’t until years later when the Macintosh computer was introduced that it became clear that graphics could turn the virtual instrument abstraction into something more meaningful. Graphical panels would make the software-virtual instruments more clearly analogous to real instruments, and graphical panels would also make the software modules just as intuitive to operate. The Macintosh computer came along at an opportune time.”

NI isn’t the only company to see the value of the iOS ecosystem. Apple has created an environment that even industrial developers cannot ignore and new iPhone and iPad extensions of industrial automation platforms are popping up all the time. Perhaps some of these extensions are too easy and users are making deployments that aren’t as secure as they should be.

I saw a group of attendees at NIWeek wearing Dell shirts. I have to wonder what they were thinking as they saw so many of those silver backs with Apple logos on the stage.

Peter Welander, pwelander(at)cfemedia.com