Controlling NodeBox from an Apple Watch

We are always on the hunt for interesting new uses of the Apple Watch, so when my colleague Ben Bendig alerted me to AstroPad’s new iPhone/Apple Watch app, I downloaded it immediately.

The app, AstroPad Mini, is intended to let you use your iPhone as a graphics tablet and controls Photoshop nicely right out of the box. But it will work with any Mac app; it lets you map any area of your Mac screen to the iPhone and map up to eight keyboard commands to buttons in an Apple Watch app. I reprogrammed it to work with NodeBox.

Although you can zoom and pan the Mac screen from your iPhone, this seems awkward for precision work (the iPad app would work better for that). It was more useful to map a small control area of the screen to the iPhone instead. For Photoshop you could arrange palettes (tools, layers, history) and dialogs (e.g. color picker) into a corner somewhere (maybe on a second monitor), map the iPhone to that, and use the iPhone as an auxiliary screen so you don’t have to keep moving your mouse back and forth. This worked particularly well for the color picker.

iPhone display when controlling a typical NodeBox node

iPhone display when controlling a typical NodeBox node

For NodeBox I mapped the node pane, a small area which displays properties of the currently selected node. I could then select any node on my ginormous screen using a mouse or trackpad and then scrub its properties from the phone (without having to relocate the mouse).

Some of the Apple Watch buttons I use to control NodeBox

Some of the Apple Watch buttons I use to control NodeBox

Even more fun: I mapped common actions to Apple Watch buttons: Save, Full Screen, Escape, New Node, Undo, Redo, Play, and Rewind. When creating animations, it’s pleasant to lean back in my chair, put the display in full screen, and play and rewind to my hearts content all from my watch.

I was also able to focus the iPhone on the slider of my transforming table (running as a web app) and could then stand back from the display and move the slider back and forth from my phone. You could do the same thing by just running the table app on the phone and mirroring it via AirPlay, but AstroPad let me focus the entire iPhone screen on the slider so that it was easier to manipulate.

The app did occasionally lose its wifi connection for a few moments, but otherwise worked fine.

I think with a little thought and practice this setup could speed my workflow somewhat. The benefits are marginal, though, not revolutionary. One tip: if you use the Apple Watch be sure to set “Activate on Wrist Raise” to “Resume Previous Activity” instead of “Show Watch Face” so that you don’t have to keep relaunching the AstoPad app.

We could conceivably use this app in some of the concept demos our group does. It would be a quick and dirty way of controlling some features from an iPhone or Apple Watch without having to write any special code. The catch is that the demo would have to run on a Mac. One advantage: they have an option for controlling the Mac via USB cable instead of wifi, a handy workaround at HQ or demo grounds when sharing a local wifi router is problematic.

Hmmm. I wonder if I could aim and fire my USB Rocket Launcher from my watch. Now THAT might be a killer app.

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