Testing The iPad and iPhone for Video Surveillance

Author: Benros Emata, Published on May 25, 2010

The iPhone and iPad are certainly hot, capturing popular interest around the globe. The question, for us, is: What value do these devices have for video surveillance? Will they improve surveillance monitoring? If so, how and in what ways? What material limitations do they have that would detract from surveillance use?

In this test, we examine the use of an iPhone and iPad using 3 video surveillance applications, including DComplex's NVR Viewer (Exacq), LexTech Lab's iRa and the Live Cams app. Our investigation of these 3 offerings display a broad range in functionalities and pricing.

Inside the Pro section, we demonstrate each application, examine usability tradeoffs among applications and between the iPhone and iPad, make recommendations on important optimizations to the devices and provide guidance on real-world security use of the iPhone and iPad.

Below is a preview/introduction of our report:

Overview

We tested the Apple iPhone 3G and the recently released iPad Wi-Fi+3G to see if both platforms are a viable venue for security use.

Key features:

  • iPad has 9.7 inch diagonal display at a resolution of 1024x768: weighs 1.6 lbs (Wi-Fi+3G model)
  • iPhone has 3.5 inch diagonal display at a resolution of 480x320: weighs 4.8 ounces
  • The iPad supports applications made specifically for the platform, in addition to supporting existing applications developed for the iPhone
  • The iPhone does not support iPad applications
  • Video Surveillance applications are available in the Apple App Store, but widely vary in price

While we tested 3 specific video surveillance applications, there are many more available. Indeed, at the rate of development we have seen over the last 6 months, it is likely that dozens more video surveillance applications (often vendor specific) will be released in the upcoming year.

iPad Specific Performance
 
In our use, the iPad easily ran without the need for charge for more than 8 hours (the device is specified for 10 hours). Additionally, the iPad launches from hibernation mode in less then 3 seconds regardless of whether the device has not been used for 10 minutes or 10 hours.
 
Pricing
 
The iPad can be purchased via retail or online from Apple from $499 USD to $829 USD, depending on the flash drive size and inclusion of 3g.  The iPhone is also available through retail or online from Apple from $199 USD to 299 USD, depending on flash drive size.
 
Important differences exist in ongoing costs for the 3G versions of both devices. While the iPhone requires a phone plan, the iPad does not. Additionally, in the US, the iPad offers unlimited 3G data for $30 per month with no contract. By contrast, the iPhone requires contracts for both data and phone offerings.
 
The price of the surveillance apps we tested varied greatly:
 
The iRa Series of applications have the following prices: IRa Direct $499 USD (supports viewing cameras only), IRa Pro $899 USD (supports VMS systems), and IRa C3 Command (supports VMS plus multiple platforms) is free to download but requires a user account - $900 per user or $250 per camera.
 
NVR Viewer is $49.99 and Live Cams is $0.99.  All apps are only available through the Apple App store.

iPhone vs. iPad Usability for Viewing Surveillance Video

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We look at both devices to see which platform provides the best experience for a security personnel to monitor video.  Key points include:

  • The iPad's larger screen real estate provides a better experience when viewing multiple cameras
  • The matrix view on the iPad is closer to an experience of using a desktop PC with a VMS
  • Precise PTZ control is difficult to achieve using the smaller screen space of the iPhone

We highlight three video applications of varying price and features that are available to download from the Apple App Store. 

iRa Series Applications

Lextech Labs has three applications: iRa Direct, iRa Pro, and iRa C3 Command Center. In the following screencast, we focus on Pro and C3 Command.  Key points include:

  • iRa Direct supports IP cameras only
  • iRa Pro has VMS support (Milestone Enterprise and OnSSI NetDVMS)
  • iRa C3 Command has VMS support (same as Pro version plus Milestone Corporate) and can be controlled from the app and web interface
  • iRa Pro and IRa C3 Command is viewed in landscape mode
  • Applications are for viewing live video only
  • iRa Pro and IRa C3 Command's matrix view is set: 20 camera view on iPad, 6 camera view on iPhone
  • iRa C3 Command setup is done through a web browser
  • iRa C3 Command does not currently support 3G mode in iPad but plans to add support in June 2010

iRa's C3 Command application aims to provide a broader platform beyond Apple devices that supports specific needs of large-scale organizations with monitoring teams. 

  • The web application option from iRa allows 3rd party responders to view specific cameras from a site without having to install a thick client and with an administrator defined set of cameras. On the other hand, responders would still require access into the site's internal network. Plus, responders could use the web application native to many VMS systems.
  • iRa's C3 provides additional levels of encryption and security, including the ability to remotely purge any video/data on remote iPhone/iPad devices.

For more information on iRa including 2 control methods not discussed (double tapping to center and tapping two fingers to zoom) review iRa's introductory/tutorial video.

NVR Viewer Application

In the following screencast, we highlight the features of NVR Viewer by DComplex LLC.  This app is available for both the iPad and iPhone. In addition, a demo version is available as a free download. Key points include:

  • The current version only supports a single VMS: ExacVision Webserver 2.0
  • Functionalities on iPad and iPhone are identical
  • Matrix views can be changed with the Layout button
  • The PTZ button opens up on-screen controls
  • NVR Viewer supports searching recorded video

Live Cams Application

In the following screencast, we look at Live Cams, an IP camera viewing application for the iPhone. Key points include:

  • Matrix is set to a 12 camera view
  • Viewing of live video only
  • Application supports a fair amount of IP cameras
  • Supports a limited amount of NVR software
  • Screenshots are saved in the iPhone's photo library
  • An on-screen display is available for PTZ control
  • Public IP cams displayed by default

Optimizing iPad and iPhone for Security Environments

In the following screencast, we discuss how to establish a VPN connection over 3G and how to lock the iPad / iPhone interface from other uses.

Setting up a VPN is key for use with 3G. Because 3G is a public network and most video surveillance systems are behind a firewall/router inside an organization's LAN, a VPN connection is the best way to access surveillance video with 3G.

While the iPhone and iPad are loved by many for their many apps, games, music and video, this is likely a distraction and problem for most security operations. In the video below, we show you how to disable such use to ensure monitors focus on their duties.

Recommendations

In general, we think these devices provide important benefits for surveillance applications and should be strongly considered by all segments of the market. Driving this is their ease of use (installation was fairly trivial), broad mobility/remote viewing capabilities (specifically 3G) and relatively low price (compared to laptops).

On the low end of the market, where dedicated surveillance monitors are impractical, these devices enable roving monitors or operational managers to check in on their surveillance video wherever they are. 

In the middle of the market, where one monitor might be used who is responsible for multiple tasks, these devices free them to do so, moving around while still have access to monitor the surveillance system.

On the high end of the market, where larger surveillance teams are common, 

To decide use for your specific application, 3 key questions should be evaluated:

  • Do I use WiFi or 3G?
  • Do I use the iPhone/Touch or the iPhone?
  • What apps should I use for monitoring video surveillance?

WiFi vs 3G

Given the low cost of adding 3G ($100 for the device, approximately $30 per month) and its significant advantage in terms of coverage area, users should strongly consider 3G. 
 
3G is essential for two common use cases:
  1. Areas on site (that is, inside your facility) where WiFi access is not available - common in security when monitors are patrolling outside).
  2. Remote viewing such as in a car or in a remote facility where you cannot obtain access to WiFi

iPhone vs iPad

The iPad shows many more cameras with much higher detail than the iPhone. It's a dramatic visual difference. While the iPhone can barely display 1 camera with any detail, the iPad can show 6 or 9. 
 
The key practical difference is that the iPad can be used to replaced a traditional computer monitor because of its large screen size. The iPad allows operators to quickly scan large areas covered by multiple cameras and determine threats. The iPhone cannot.
 
The iPhone is best used as a supplemental device for operators who only need to view a single camera at a time.
 
On the other hand, the iPhone's key advantage over the iPad is its smaller size and ability to fit in one's pocket. However, the iPad is about the size of clipboard or a 200 page hardcover book. For surveillance operators, carrying this around should not be a practical problem. Also, with a case, the iPad is fairly secure from damage or scratching. [We used inCase's Convertible Book Jacket.]
 
Choosing an App
 
When you using these devices with VMS systems / NVRs, options for applications are limited. While there are numerous applications, many only support IP cameras directly (not useful for most professional applications). Most of the other applications only support 1 or a few VMS manufacturers.
 
Limits in apps supporting specific VMS systems is the biggest limitation we find today. Check which app(s) your VMS supports and try them. As we mentioned in the introduction, we expect options to grow significantly given the growth in overall mobile communications and the benefits these apps provide to surveillance users.

3 reports cite this report:

DComplex's iPhone/Android Video Surveillance Apps on Nov 14, 2010
In this note, we examine DComplex, a US based software developer building a portfolio of mobile apps for video surveillance recorders (NVRs and...
Video Surveillance Monthly Report May 2010 on May 31, 2010
Most read May reports were the VMS Comparison and iPad test. Also, strong interest in our Milestone and Mobotix tests.[premium_content]NOTE: The...
How Apple Impacts Video Surveillance on Sep 03, 2008
Apple's interest in video surveillance is generating significant interest. This report examines the key areas where Apple will (and will not)...
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