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First Look: It's About Time brings widgets to the iPad with mini apps


Several years ago at Macworld Expo, I had the pleasure of meeting Saied Ghaffari, CEO of a small company called It's About Time Products, LLC. The company had created a training app which ran on the Mac and provided new iPhone users a chance to learn more about their devices, iTunes, and synchronization with the Mac. This application, called It's About Time: Learn the iPhone 3G, was followed by another training application called It's About Time: Learn the Switch. Learn the Switch was created to help Windows users make the migration to Mac OS X.

This app begat Parallels Desktop Switch to Mac Editon ($US99.00), which seamlessly combines the switcher training and a copy of Parallels Desktop. In all cases, the apps use a similar interface, with video of Saied telling you how to get started and then describing how to perform various actions on the iPhone or Mac. Saied is an engaging instructor, providing clear and understandable training to the user from his small window on your Mac.

Well, with the iPad looming on the horizon, It's About Time started thinking about what kind of products to produce for the new platform. I talked with Saied Ghaffari yesterday about the new product from It's About Time, called mini apps, and how it will provide iPad users with an answer to one of the three most frequently requested features: multitasking. Read on for more information about mini apps.
The three things that most people want in an iPad that won't be there on iPad Saturday (April 3, 2010) are a camera, Flash, and multitasking. As Saied noted, the first requires a hardware change and the second is something that requires two companies -- Adobe and Apple -- to quit fighting and come to an agreement. The one thing that It's About Time felt it could possibly provide was a modicum of multitasking.

How? By using something that has been available to Mac users for a while: Dashboard Widgets. While Widgets don't seem to be garnering as many headlines as they used to, there's still an active development community and literally thousands of Widgets available for installation.

It's About Time has created an iPad app that provides an environment in which Widget-like applets -- mini apps -- can run. The 1.0 version of mini apps will ship with five initial apps:
  • mini Browser -- a small browser window, many of which can be open simultaneously on the iPad screen
  • mini Sticky -- sticky notes for the iPad
  • mini 1984 calculator -- a faithful reproduction of the original 1984 Mac calculator desk accessory
  • mini NASA image of the day -- a picture frame displaying NASA's space image of the day, plus information about each image
  • mini Weather -- a transparent and beautifully rendered weather widget showing temperature and weather for any location
Any of the mini apps can have multiple instances running simultaneously. Want a couple of browser windows open to TUAW and Engadget, with weather for your home and another location floating alongside? Not a problem. The app will be available in the iPad App Store immediately upon launch, with an introductory price of US$0.99. What's even more fascinating than the initial app is what It's About Time has in mind for the future of mini apps.

Saied noted that the engine they've created for mini apps can essentially handle just about any Mac OS X Dashboard Widget with very little recoding. It's About Time wants to hear from widget developers who are interested in having their work included as part of mini apps. Saied mentioned that the company is looking at an aggressive update schedule, and plans to deliver an update with a vastly-improved mini Browser app within about a month.

I viewed a demo of mini apps on the iPad simulator, and if the response speeds are anything close to the simulator on the actual device, this will be a very snappy app. The company was going through some last-minute coding changes brought on by the release of the iPhone OS 3.2 SDK Golden Master, but mini apps still ran quickly and flawlessly during the demo. Whenever a mini app is launched, a tap on a small plus-sign icon launches a second instance immediately. I enjoyed the mini Weather applet, which is visually much more appealing than the standard weather widget in the Mac OS X Dashboard. The background of the app currently features a beautiful sunset photograph, but Saied mentioned that a future update will provide users with the ability to use their own photos for the mini apps desktop.

Check out the gallery below for some press kit screenshots of mini apps in action.

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