If you’re a fan of the iPhone/iPod/iPad-controlled quadricopter AR.Drone, as we are, you might be surprised to learn that the App Store now hosts five different flying applications built using Parrot’s AR.Drone SDK.
In this special edition of iPhone + iPad Gems, we look at all of these apps, which range in price from free to $3, and vary in iOS device compatibility. Though each of the applications is early in its life cycle and not yet worthy of a full review or rating, we wanted to briefly let you know what’s out there today, as some of the new titles include useful features that Parrot’s Free Flight doesn’t offer, and even Free Flight has been updated since last we looked at it.
Free Flight is Parrot’s official AR.Drone application, and free for purchasers of the $300 accessory. Currently in version 1.5.1, Free Flight now includes an improved, smoother video framerate from AR.Drone’s cameras, a new piloting mode that doesn’t require you to use the accelerometer for N/S/E/W movement, and a left-handed mode. It otherwise remains largely the same as what was described in our AR.Drone review in August.
Tommy Kammerer’s DroneControl – Remote Control Your AR.Drone ($3) has one huge advantage over Free Flight: it’s a truly universal app with full-screen iPad support, upscaling the front camera video to fill almost the entire 1024×768 display, with a picture-in-picture view of the bottom camera, plus buttons and controls off to the edges of the screen.
It also has a two-joystick piloting mode as one of its many UI options, and the ability to log navigation data for later analysis. Though the revised interface graphics aren’t beautiful or particular improvements on Parrot’s, Drone Control has its own screen shot feature, support for iPhone 4/iPod touch 4G Retina Display graphics, and some HUD customization features. Just being able to see the AR.Drone’s video, albeit grainy, on the full iPad screen makes it worthy of consideration.
But then, there’s MatrixFlightHD ($1) by Stefan Casutt, which also offers iPad support—sort of. Instead of filling the entire 1024×768 screen with video, MatrixFlightHD divides the larger display into separate panes for video, controls, and navigation/orientation data, with large buttons that don’t make much sense until you start playing with them.
One notably allows you to animate the AR.Drone’s LEDs in different ways, and a screen grabbing tool saves images in the iTunes File Sharing directory—a little odd given that they could be exported directly to your Photos collection. We could see this app becoming better over time, but for our purposes, the UI is too difficult to decipher and doesn’t make great use of the iPad’s screen; it’s also the only one of these apps that doesn’t run on the iPhone or iPod touch.
All About Jake’s Flight Record ($3) is the only app here that runs solely on the iPhone and iPod touch, not the iPad, and is recommended for iPod touch 3G/4G and iPhone 3GS/4 users only—primarily owners of the latest models. Why is it so demanding? Realtime video encoding: it actually records 320×240 QuickTime movies directly from the AR.Drone’s cameras, providing a pause/record button directly on the HUD that can continually run while you’re flying or get turned off as you prefer.
While the videos have no sound, something that we’d love to see remedied with some tricky coding using the iPhone 4/iPod touch 4G microphones, they can be really fun demonstrations of what the AR.Drone is capable of doing—and its vulnerabilities. Revel here in the excitement of watching a demonstration video we filmed quickly with Flight Record, showing the AR.Drone flying briefly before being blown by the wind into the branches of a tree. If and when this developer adds automatic YouTube uploading support, and iPad recording capabilities, we could imagine this being an ever cooler app than it already is.
Last up is AR.PowerFlight ($1) by Max Baumle, a universal app that offers only low-res support on the iPad, but has token Retina Display support for the iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4G; video is still as low-res as in other applications. AR.PowerFlight’s primary feature is snapshot taking, which can be done manually with swipes or set to an automatic interval of 1-60 seconds, plus logging of flight data and an estimated altitude indication. A free demo version called AR.PowerFlight Lite doesn’t include the Retina Display optimizations, has no logging capabilities, and only grabs snapshots once every 60 seconds. AR.PowerFlight could really use some UI improvements and added features to differentiate it further from the look and feel of Parrot’s Free Flight, but users interested in automatically snapping photos rather than videos might want to give it a look.