Second Life on iPad?

Folks have been wondering about running Second Life on an iPad since before Apple formally announced the device back in January. And now that iPad (and over 3,000 iPad-specific apps) are out on the market (in the US, anyways), it’s time to revisit the question. Can you use Second Life on an iPad?

Yes. There are two different ways of going about it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll point out that I do not yet have an iPad. While I would love to tell you I’m holding out for the 3G model or some future version of the device, we have some other financial priorities and my iPad purchase is still several months away. Hopefully BlakOpal will be able to get one by summertime.

One is through remote access. In a nutshell, the program you run on the iPad is an app that lets you access a desktop or laptop computer that is running somewhere. Currently there are a number of remote access applications for iPad, with LogMeIn Ignition receiving high marks from some (a ‘first look’ review can be found here). Remote access does have its drawbacks. First, you’ve got to have a computer connected to the internet somewhere (of course, since you use Second Life you probably already have that), and second, you’ll need a fast connection for your iPad. Streaming what the SL viewer app sees on your desktop/laptop and your pointing and clicking on the iPad back to your computer will use a lot of internet bandwidth, and most likely choke on a 3G connection. But if you’re on a wifi network, things should be okay. They’ll be more sluggish than as if you were sitting directly in front of your full-powered PC, but it will work. Probably not the sort of thing you want to do if you plan on going in-world to fly airships or stage battles with friends, but for casual SL use, socializing, and even shopping a remote access application should be up to the task.

The other way to access Second Life on an iPad is through an app. Linden Lab does not have an iPhone or iPad Viewer (though that would be great to see), but there is a program out there. Pocket Metaverse and the premium version Pocket Metaverse Pro currently runs on iPhone, iPod Touch, and on iPads (since the iPad runs all the iPhone apps) and lets you do a lot of stuff. IM’s and chats, teleport, access your inventory, and even upload photos. And it works reasonably well even on a 3G mobile connection. Even better, the makers of Pocket Metaverse Pro have recently announced (via their Twitter account) that their iPad version (as well as the next bugfix release of the regular app) is coming soon. No word yet on what additional features or functionality the iPad version will offer, but even if all they do is optimize the layout and improve the graphics for iPad’s larger display it’s going to be a hit.

Are there any full-on 3D graphical SL Viewers for iPad? Not yet. But it’s still early - very early, in the product’s life. While iPhones have been on the market for a few years now, they’ve lacked the computing power to handle a fully functional viewer. Let’s face it, if full-powered laptops and desktops can sometimes struggle with Second Life, getting SL to run on a phone would be near impossible. On the back-end of things, each successive iPhone has been faster than the last. With the iPhone 3GS, speeds are around 50% faster than 2008’s iPhone 3G. iPad performance is about double that of the 3GS, and it’s well within the device’s capacity to render SL at up to 1024x768. It’s just a question of time before a native 3D graphical Viewer becomes available.