Splashtop's new app lets developers run Metro apps on an iPad

Splashtop's new app lets developers run Metro apps on an iPad

Summary: If you're developing Metro apps for Windows 8, how do you test touch features? One option is to use a new app called Win8 Metro Testbed, which allows an iPad to access a Windows 8 machine over a network. The remote connection is surprisingly responsive.


Anyone developing a Metro app for Windows 8 faces a real dilemma: How do you test touch features without a smooth, touch-capable device built for Windows 8?

The best, most widely deployed touch hardware available today is, of course, Apple’s iPad. But you can’t run Windows 8 on an iPad, and widely used remote-desktop programs aren’t built with Windows 8 touch features in mind.

That’s where a new program called Win8 Metro Testbed comes in. It combines two pieces—an iPad app and a small “streamer” component that runs on a Windows 8 system. The combination offers a remote connection that is surprisingly responsive and faithful to the Windows 8 experience.

I had a chance this morning to experiment with the combo briefly. (Splashtop, which makes the app, provided me with a free code for review purposes.)

Installation from the iTunes App Store was simple: On the iPad, Win8 Metro Testbed starts quickly with the tap of an icon, just like any other app. On the target Windows 8 system, you download and install the small (15.7 MB) streamer file. Making the connection requires that you set up an alphanumeric passcode of at least 8 characters. After you tap the computer name on the iPad and enter the passcode, you can get to work.

What you see on the iPad is a faithful representation of what’s on the target system, as you can see in this screenshot:

The bar that runs across the bottom of the screen here is normally hidden, with only a small symbol visible in the lower-right corner of the screen. Tap that symbol once to display a full-sized keyboard, double-tap to display the Hints Control Bar. The icons on the Hints Control Bar enable specific features. You can lock the screen orientation, for example, or switch into Trackpad mode, where moving the finger mimics a mouse pointer instead of scrolling.

The on-screen keyboard seems redundant at first. After all, both the iPad and the Windows 8 touch interface have their own onscreen keyboards, don’t they? But Splashtop’s keyboard (which resembles the gray iPad keyboard more than the black Windows 8 version) offers a full set of Windows-specific keys not available on either native alternative, including function keys, the Alt key, and the Windows logo key. In essence, it’s a complete replacement for a physical Windows keyboard.

Update: A well-hidden option in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview menu (PC Settings, General, Make the standard keyboard layout available) lets you add a full standard keyboard that contains the normally hidden extra keys.

Responsiveness on the remote desktop was excellent, with very little lag over a WiFi connection. Apps snapped into position smartly, and there was no noticeable lag for common gestures like swiping from the right for the Windows 8 Charms menu or pinching to zoom an image. That’s to be expected, given Splashtop’s experience with remote-desktop software—its remote app is a perennial bestseller on the App Store.

The Splashtop Streamer includes the option to connect the Windows 8 client to a Google account, so that you can create a remote connection over the Internet. I didn’t test this scenario.

The biggest drawback of Splashtop’s clever solution is the native screen resolution of the iPad. With each connection, the desktop display adjusted itself to the iPad’s native resolution of 1024x768. That’s the minimum resolution for a Metro app, making it possible for a developer to test the functionality of an app running in full-screen mode. However, that resolution doesn’t support the snapped configuration, where an app is docked to the side of a screen. It’s possible to adjust the resolution of the iPad to 1366x768 (the minimum for snapped app support) or larger, but doing so makes for an ugly experience.

At a regular price of $50, the Win8 Metro Testbed isn’t cheap. For its launch, Splashtop is offering the app at half-price, $25. If you’re developing apps for Metro and you already own an iPad, it’s an easy and effective solution.

It's also ironic—and a sign of our changing times—that the first non-Metro commercial app built for Windows 8 is designed for the iPad.

Topics: Windows, Apps, Hardware, iPad, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software

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  • Different than SplashtopHD?

    Ed, do you know what the difference is between this 'test' app and SplashtopHD? I've been using SplashtopHD on my iPAD and TouchPad with mostly very good results hitting my Windows 8 test machine... including over the internet which is a bit choppy due to slow DSL connection.
    • The Win8 Testbed has full Win8 Gesture support

      Thanks for your support of Splashtop! Yes, current Splashtop HD can support remoting into Win 8 PC, but various Metro gestures are not support. You can check out all the supported gestures at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwIeWfvcZ_o&feature=player_embedded

      thank you again for your interest and support,
      CEO Splashtop
      • Win8 Gesture support

        Thanks Mark. I actually went out and purchased Testbed before seeing your response. I sort of knew what I was missing with the regular HD app but now you've made my HP TouchPad look like the little shunned tablet it really is! :(
  • Currently, Splashtop products are optimized for the iPad 2 with it's

    1024 x 768 native resolution. Unfortunately, the new iPad's retina display with it's 2048 x 1536 ppi resolution has a side effect of showing non-retina optimized apps in a "less than flattering" sharpness. (Much like viewing the Bing app on the "iPad 3".)

    I verified that unfortunate result when I used Splashtop HD on my new iPad. However, the other VNC client app, LogMeIn Pro is optimized for a retina display and it shows.

    After looking at Splashtop's website regarding this new app, I could not determine if this Metro App test bed is optimized for a retina display and, as such, could take advantage of Win 8 Metro Apps set a higher resolution.
    • The only bane of the ipad 3 not many ultra HD apps are availible just yet.

      The retina screen is amazing but apps need to be re done for ultra HD.

      Though i would think a remote desktop session will not accurately convey the mobile version of Windows 8 as it must be totally rewritten for ARM anyways.

      Touch screens for a desktop is not really usefull as it's a pain to reach over to touch the screen. For apple the magic track pad gives me the gesures that are common place on ipad with also the percision of a mouse. Any one with a desktop mac running lion should definately get the magic touchpad. It's the best of both worlds. Touchscreens for desktop are a novelty at best. Tablets and smartphones are where touchscreens make sense.
  • I wish this came earlier!

    Ed, this is an excellent tool. Thanks for pointing it out. Wish this came earlier as I recently spent about ??270 to buy Exo PC slate on Ebay. which works (sometimes :-)) but the battery life is bad and the touch sensitivity is not as good, not to mention it does not flip orientations..

    I'll be buying this soon.. thanks again.
  • Good God, Why FUGLYFI the iPad

    With Windows 8 Metro nastiness????
  • Microsoft should implement this for free.

    This would be a great idea to offer users a way to test windows 8 and to get the new os additional exposure. Not sure why microsoft is not picking up on this.
    • Well

      The only way to test touchscreen input by selling hardware, which is expensive.
      Jeff Kibuule
  • Let's be absolutely clear here ...

    Splashtop doesn't "run Metro apps on an iPad" - it merely renders UI elements streamed from a remote machine and sends that remote machine user interaction with the local input-mechanisms (touch interactions with the iPad's screen in this case).

    This is just a remote-desktop app, nothing more.
    • It's not "just a remote desktop app"

      I've used a lot of remote desktop apps and I haven't seen any that are this well optimized for the specific gestures used with Windows 8. Most remote access apps just treat taps as mouse clicks and swipes as mouse drags. Do you have an alternative product you can recommend that does what this one does on an iPad?

      What is remarkable about this app is that it really does allow me to simulate the experience of using a Metro style app even though I'm using an iPad.
      Ed Bott
      • "It's not "just a remote desktop app""

        Basing my assessment entirely on your description of this app Ed, I would not regard fifty bucks as expensive for what it does and it's considerable utility from a dev's point of view. I think that our subjective feelings about what is "expensive" when it comes to apps are far too influenced by $1.99 downloads from various app-markets! Serious enterprise apps that work well are not cheap to produce - in the context I regard this app as keenly priced.
      • Sorry Ed, but yes ...

        ... it IS "just" a remote desktop app.

        The only thing this app is doing that's "remarkable" is send touch-gestures back to the client OS running on a remote machine.

        The Windows 8 Remote Desktop client also sends multi-point touch gestures to remote machines too. Try using Win8 tablet (e.g. Samsung Series 7 Slate) to Remote Desktop to control another Win8 virtual or remote machine. I think you'll find that your gestures work seamlessly.

        Is this the first iPad Remote Desktop app to support gestures? Perhaps, and if so, they are to be commended, but, again: [b]This app doesn't allow one to run Win8 Metro apps on an iPad - it just allows an iPad to control Win8 Metro apps running on a remote machine.[/b]
    • That being said . . .

      That being said - that's actually what you want if you want to use the iPad. Apple has basically outlawed emulators and virtual machines on the iPad, and I don't think you have the direct access needed to virtualize an ARM VM on the iPad anyways.

      And you certainly don't want to try to emulate the x86 on the iPad, that would slow it to a crawl.

      This really is the only solution that you have on the iPad.
  • This will bite Microsoft bad..

    Unless hardware vendors spend a lot (and ruin their margins) to provide hardware at least that good as the iPad, this situation will simply make Windows 8 tablets experience not what is expected -- especially if the applications are tuned to iPad + wifi lag.

    Microsoft should have invested in reference design tablet to hand their developers so that they don't design software in the blind.
    • They have several reference designs

      And the big developers are provided hardware. In fact last year BUILD attendees received a test unit.
  • Like putting a Yugo's body over top of a Ferrari

  • It seems a lot of folks are missing the point of this app...

    This is not a way to run Windows 8 Metro on your iPad. It is also not a replacement for the iPad desktop interface. So, it isn't making the iPad uglier or prettier or whatever. It doesn't even run the Metro applications on your iPad. It runs them on your desktop. This app simply uses the iPad as a remote display and interface for the Metro applications running on your desktop. It is intended for Metro developers. It allows the developers to test the interface and display characteristics of their applications BEFORE the real Win 8 Metro devices become available. In that context, this is a really valuable tool for developers.
  • Splashtop on HP Touchpad

    Splashtop for Windows Remote Desktop is one of the few very useful apps for the HP Touchpad. Now if they'd only port the Win 8 version over and make my bargain basement touchpad even more useful, I'll be a Splashtop fan forever.
    • re: Splashtop on the HP Touchpad

      Frank. Having just installed the Win8 version, it is a more rounded solution then the SplashtopHD. That being said, I had been using Spashtop HD on my iPAD and Touchpad to play with Win8 Metro without any issues - Mostly a better experience then using my Dell touch screen monitor attached to the Win8 box! :)