Repurposing an old iPad as a picture frame/media player/digital mirror

In the past, I usually sell my devices when I upgrade. I’ve done this with phones, iPod touches, iPads, etc. Unfortunately, I inevitably regret that decision, feeling that I could have used the device I sold and really didn’t get that much money out of it (particularly after eBay and Paypal take their cut). So when I upgraded to the new iPad Air, I kept my iPad 3 and decided to make it a picture frame and media center.

As an AppleTV owner, its pretty easy to get spoiled by its awesome screensaver and not be very content with the boring built-in iPad slideshow. As such, I tried several iPad picture frame apps. I settled on Picmatic. It was the closest I could find to the AppleTV screensaver and even displays date and time. A feature to have it sleep (nice, if you use 24/7) was added recently which is very welcome. (However, it does this by reducing the screen brightness. If you try to use the iPad during the “off” hours, the display does not automatically return to normal brightness.) I did upgrade to the Pro version ($1.99) which unlocks more layouts and supports the developer.

Picmatic has a promising feature that lets you control the playback of music. The limitation is that it will only control the iPad Music app playback. It does not control general media playback like you would expect. So, if you are playing Pandora or Spotify, it doesn’t work.

Another limitation is that Picmatic only supports pictures on your iPad. It would be great if it also supported RSS and Flickr photostreams which is fairly common for Internet-connected photo apps.

Initially, I was able to get around the mediaplay control limitation because I had a Logitech keyboard that has keyboard shortcuts to control media playback–still, not a very satisfying solution. So, despite adding yet another remote to my pile of remotes, I took a chance on the Satechi Bluetooth Remote ($35) based on its rave reviews. It’s basically a Bluetooth media playback remote control. I’m happy to say that it works perfectly with Picmatic. Just press the pause/play button and the iPad starts playing Spotify or whatever media is active, independent of what is being displayed.

I also use my iPad to stream video via AirPlay to the AppleTV, freeing my iPad Air of that chore. The Satechi remote works great to control the AirPlay streaming as well.

I am really enjoying my new iPad picture frame and my biggest wants are for Picmatic to support Flickr and general media playback control. I’ve shared my wants with the developer and we shall see if it leads anywhere.

2013-12-03: It’s also kinda cool to just use the camera app for a digital mirror :-)

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