Vimov helps developers test multitouch iPad apps

Vimov LLC is offering developers writing for the Apple iPad a head-start in testing their apps, using an iPhone as a multitouch controller for Apple’s iPad simulator. The tool is designed to help developers who otherwise face problems testing some hardware-dependant features of their apps until they can get their hands on a real iPad.

Apple provides the iPad simulator as part of the software development kit (SDK), but the desktop machines on which the SDK runs don’t have GPS receivers, an electronic compass or screens with multitouch input, so apps relying on these cannot be tested fully, said Vimov’s technical director Osama Abd El Karim.

Vimov sells a small iPhone app, iSimulate, which streams video to the phone from the iPad or iPhone simulators in Apple’s SDKs, and sends back information from the iPhone’s multitouch screen, GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver, accelerometer and electronic compass to the simulator. While the trackpad in Apple laptops allows developers to test some apps relying on touch inputs in the simulator, it’s awkward to test software designed for use with the phone held in both hands and operated with the thumbs, Abd El Karim said.

Version 1.5 of iSimulate costs US$16. Developers need the appropriate iPhone or iPad SDK to use it, and will also need to download code libraries from Vimov for iPhone or iPad and incorporate them in their project to enable communication with the iSimulate client. The libraries are only needed during testing and simulation, and will not ship as part of the final application.

The app can save iPhone developers time, said Abd El Karim, because compiling and testing software on a desktop machine is quicker than transferring it to an iPhone. The savings can be up to 80 per cent, according to Vimov’s site, cutting the time to test each incremental change in code from 36 seconds to six seconds.

For iPad developers the savings will be greater still, as until Apple begins selling the iPad, most developers will have no way at all to test their code on real hardware. The iPhone doesn’t have the same screen resolution as the iPad will have, so Vimov lowers the screen resolution in the video stream displayed on the iPhone, and scales up the multitouch gestures it sends back to the SDK simulator. “It’s adequate for testing,” said Abd El Karim.

The iSimulate app can also be used to create clean demo videos of apps dependant on multitouch inputs or data from the phone’s accelerometer, compass or GPS, data which is not available from Apple’s simulator, Abd El Karim said.

On its stand at the Cebit tradeshow in Hannover, Germany, Vimov demonstrated iSimulate playing the classic first-person shooter game Hexen II, which Vimov is in the process of porting to the iPhone. The game engine code is now open source, and Vimov plans to release the source code for its port soon. The original game was played with a keyboard, so Vimov had to develop a new input method for the iPhone: sliding the left thumb over the image moves the player around, while two buttons under the right thumb are used for shooting and jumping.

The files containing the game levels are still under copyright. Only the demo level can be freely distributed, although that should give gamers plenty to chew on: “It’s a big one: it took me three hours to finish on the iPhone,” said Abd El Karim.

The game will have a limited audience for now, though. Inless Activision, the company that owns the copyright on the game levels, gives Vimov permission to package and distribute them with the app, so only developers will be able to install and play the Hexen II app on their iPhones, Abd El Karim said. That’s because there’s no way for a packaged iPhone app to access game files distributed separately.

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