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Only smarties have the answer

Following the launch of Lighting magazine’s mobile site, we ask a panel of reviewers to give us the lowdown on the latest smartphone applications for lighting designers. Nick Martindale reports

The boundary between work and personal life, which started with the ability to access email from mobile phones, seems to grow more blurry with each passing year. Much of that is down to the huge success of Apple’s iPhone and similar devices such as the iPod and iPad, and the ability to download apps that can help individuals in their professional lives as well as entertaining them on a personal level.

Users of Android phones, or even those supporters of BlackBerries, may sing the praises of their respective platforms, but there is little doubt that Apple has become by far the platform of choice for both developers and those wanting to gain access to as wide a range of apps as possible. Apple itself claims there are over 350,000 out there waiting to be downloaded, and that number increases every day.

Ask the experts

With this in mind, Lighting magazine put together a panel of reviewers and asked them to assess the pros and cons of a variety of apps for the Apple platform, all of which have direct relevance to lighting designers in their professional capacity.

“Apps for lighting designers broadly fall into two categories,” says Christopher Knowlton, a designer at Christopher Knowlton Lighting Design. “One is directories on your iPhone and the others are a bit more interactive. Catalogues on your phone can be useful sometimes, although I’m not sure I would generate an entire specification from one because it’s easier to get a catalogue on your computer. The interactive apps, though, are far more interesting in what they do and where they could go in the future.”

The market so far is still fairly immature, suggests Graham Rollins, senior designer at Lighting Design International. “Some of them are a little basic,” he says. “There’s obviously a need for people to start developing these apps but they’re a little one-dimensional for professional use.”

Ultimately, such products are likely to become a much bigger part of the modern lighting designer’s job than is the case at present. “This is really just the beginning,” says Rollins. “The more apps that are available for lighting professionals, the more people will develop. I’m certainly going to start looking for more things now.”

Catalogues

ROBE LIGHTING APP

Developer: Robe Lighting
Compatible with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Operating system: iOS 4.0 or later
Cost: Free
Size: 0.5 MB
Rating: 3/5

This is a typical example of a manufacturer’s catalogue app, offering details on, and specifications for, Robe’s product range.
Designed primarily for those working in the entertainment field, it offers detailed information and use of photos for most products (although not for all fittings).
Our reviewers found the layout easy to navigate and the information well presented.
The ability to split products by category and download these individually was also praised, as downloading the whole catalogue has obvious implications for data usage. The onsite DMX charts were also welcomed.
The general feeling, though, was that applications such as these which offer no more than the manufacturer’s information, which is all available on their websites anyway, will need to do more as the market grows. The manual deletion of PDF information stored was also seen as a downside.

ZUMTOBEL MAP OF LIGHT

Developer: Zumtobel Lighting
Compatible with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Operating system: iOS 4.0 or later
Cost: Free
Size: 3.2 MB
Rating: 3.5/5

This is perhaps an example of a manufacturer that is trying to do something a bit different to the traditional catalogue approach. In addition to information on Zumtobel’s lighting range, the app provides information and impressions on over 500 architectural projects and lighting solutions from around the world.
The high quality and number of images impressed our reviewers, as did the potential to save interesting projects as PDFs to show colleagues or use in meetings and the ability to build a library of favourites. The listing of architects and lighting designers on each project was also well received.
The general feeling among our panel, however, was that this was little more than an advert for Zumtobel, despite the projects being of interest. It was compared unfavourably to the IALD Light Map, which features projects from a range of manufacturers.
Other criticisms included the length of time it took to focus in on a particular project and the lack of both an advanced search function and a news section highlighting new content.

Light touch

DAYLIGHT CAL

Developer: Bureau for Visual Affairs
Compatible with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Operating system: iOS 3.1.2 or later
Cost: Free
Size: 0.4 MB
Rating: 3/5

Daylight Cal provides lighting designers with the ability to visualise the duration, angle and quality of sunlight anywhere in the world, using weather reports and astronomical data, as well as offering sunrise and sunset times, annual light distribution and a four-day weather forecast.
Reviewers paid tribute to the graphic interface in particular but felt the design of the app was perhaps more advanced than the content. The panel felt it would only really be of practical value in the very early schematic design of projects but added that it would be useful as a quick reference tool for planning site trails. The ability to search locations around the globe was also praised.
The fact that the app is unable to give sun angles for more than the very highest elevation of the day was, however, seen as a drawback, while one reviewer encountered issues with the GPS functionality.

SUN SEEKER

Developer: ozPDA
Compatible with: iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad
Operating system: iOS 3.1 or later
Cost: £2.99
Size: 2 MB
Rating: 4.5/5

Enabling designers to see the path of the sun at hourly intervals for any date or location in the world, this was generally perceived as a much more practical and useful app than Sun Scout (an alternative app that is available for £2.39 in the Apple Store). The use of a 3D model, in addition to the augmented reality function, to demonstrate the predicted path of the sun was seen as particularly useful for offsite meetings, and one reviewer had already used this in discussions with clients and architects on a recent project.
As well as plotting the path of the sun, the app also includes information such as sunrise and sunset times and maximum elevation points.
Some concerns were raised over the accuracy of the shadows taken from the static satellite, while the manufacturer also warns of the potential for “impaired accuracy when used near metallic objects or electrical equipment”.
The price may also be an issue for some but a Lite version is available for users to try before they buy.

Practical applications

AUTOCAD WS

Developer: Autodesk Inc
Compatible with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Operating system: iOS 3.0 or later
Cost: Free
Size: 10.8 MB
Rating: 5/5

This effectively allows designers to access, edit and share CAD files using their iPhone or similar device from the Autodesk cloud servers, making it possible to amend documents on-site or review them offline during dead time such as commuting into the office.
Our panel of reviewers found the ability to access files across all devices hugely beneficial and gave the example of being able to show files to clients in meetings even if the printouts had been lost or left behind. It can also be used to open, read and alter .dwg files without having to purchase the software itself.
There are obvious drawbacks to using an iPhone or iPad to actually draw files - “difficult” and “impractical” were the terms used - but the ability to conduct measurement counts and update files while actually in the field was seen as a huge plus point.
The only notable downside identified for users was the potential to rack up high data usage by downloading or uploading large files.

POWERCALC

Developer: West Side Systems
Compatible with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Operating system: iOS 2.0 or later
Cost: £1.79
Size: 0.1 MB
Rating: 1/5

A simple app that performs basic electrical calculations, including watts, volts, amps and motor power factor, which can work in DC, AC resistive and AC inductive modes and across any voltage in any country.
Our reviewers acknowledged that the app could come in handy for those designers with less of an electrical or mathematical bent, and the ease of use was also singled out for praise.
The basic nature, though, did not appeal to our panel, which pointed out that all functions could be performed by a calculator and questioned the value of paying for it.
Suggested improvements included allowing designers to input lamp wattage, voltage and a gear factor to generate a circuit watt reading, and the ability to input cable lengths and wire thickness to calculate voltage drop.

LUTRON HOME CONTROL+

Developer: Lutron Electronics
Compatible with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Operating system: iOS 3.1.2 or later
Cost: £1.79
Size: 7.4 MB
Rating: 4/5

The newly released upgrade of Lutron’s free Home Control app, this allows installers and operators of Lutron’s home control systems (RadioRA 2, HomeWorks QS or HomeWorks Illumination) to manage light levels and other settings over a Wi-Fi network.
Users can edit scene settings, adjust individual light and shade levels, and control timers for lights to come on and off remotely.
The new level editor feature also allows users to make simple changes to the programming of the system, giving designers and installers the ability to customise elements for customers, while the new version also offers the ability to control temperature.
Our reviewers found the system easy to use and particularly liked the use of sliders. There were some less favourable comments about the graphics of the package but generally this was well received.

CRESTRON MOBILE

Developer: Crestron Electronics
Compatible with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Operating system: iOS 3.1.3 or later
Cost: Free
Size: 9.7 MB
Rating: 4.5

Crestron Mobile allows users to control devices and settings for lighting, security and climate within their homes and offices while on the move, and this latest release also provides support for sliders, gauges and timers.
One major advantage of this system, according to our panel, is the ability to customise the user interface, meaning designers can tweak this according to their preferences or those of customers. It does not, however, offer a programming function, which could be a drawback for designers wanting to commission onsite.
The ability to control other aspects of the home, such as security cameras, was also seen as a positive, while the intuitive and easy-to-operate nature of the app also stood out.

Something a bit different

PHOTOSYNTH

Developer: Microsoft
Compatible with: iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPod touch (4th generation), iPad 2 Wi-Fi, iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G
Operating system: iOS 4.0 or later
Cost: Free
Size: 4.4 MB
Rating: 3.5/5

Not specifically designed as a lighting application, Photosynth is nevertheless a favourite with our panel. The app allows users to take panoramic shots and create 3D spheres of vision from a single location, offering enormous potential for site visits to existing buildings and newbuild plots.
It is also possible to extract data from the files to create a 3D model, although our reviewers found this was not an easy process and files required a good degree of tidying up once created. Images also suffered from gaps or overlaps, limiting the reliability of the tool for use as anything other than a rough guide.
However, reviewers were keen to stress the potential for designers to record a site’s conditions and highlighted the ability to share this information quickly using social media.

Did you know?

You can also use your smartphone to determine whether a fluorescent fitting has a conventional or an electronic ballast.

Simply point the phone’s camera in the direction of the fitting in question and a conventional ballast will give off a telltale flicker on the phone’s screen. This is because the low frequency of the fitting – 50Hz – is similar to that of the camera and interferes with its scanning frequency.

An electronic fitting, on the other hand, will appear to glow steadily because its operating frequency is far higher, at 70kHz.

Panel of reviewers

Christopher Knowlton, designer, Christopher Knowlton Lighting Design

Graham Rollins, senior designer, Lighting Design International

Brendan Keely, associate lighting designer, BDP

Stuart Alexander, Designer, Sutton Vane Associates

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