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Review of SpyderGallery: How to Colour Calibrate Your iPad

21st July 2011 Product News

While the Apple iDevices have come to have quite good screens since the release of the iPhone 4 and iPad (the earlier iPhone and iPod screens were pretty awful) – one major missing feature in iOS of interest to any image maker is colour calibration. There are no iOS facilities for colour calibration, which may limit the usefulness of the iPad as a serious portfolio display tool.

The good people of DataColor are attempting to rectify this with the release of the SpyderGallery app for the iPad (iTunes link). This app is free – if you have a Spyder3 (now Spyder5) and an iPad, then you should download it and give it a go.

The SypderGallery App - making iOS colour better....

What It Does, How It Works & Results…

First, you download and install the app from the Apple app store. You then click on the Spyder icon to get started, and it will email you a link to a desktop application you must also install (on to a computer on the same network as your iPad). This is needed because the iPad has no USB port so you can’t plug the Spyder in directly to take measurements – instead the Spyder gets plugged into your computer and the measurement data is sent back to the iPad via this small application on your computer.

Once everything is installed, calibration works much as normal – you start the SpyderGallery app in your iPad and choose the Spyder icon to kick the process off. It prompts you to place the Spyder on your iPad’s screen:

Spyder3Elite calibrating an Apple iPad
Spyder3Elite calibrating an Apple iPad

Click ‘OK’ and away it goes – a bunch of colours are displayed on screen and measured by the Spyder. The process takes a few minutes and requires no further user intervention.

Once it is done you can check the ‘SpyderProofer’ for some basic visual feedback on the results. In my case (I’ve tried it on two iPad2s) the improvements are quite noticeable but not earth shatteringly dramatic.

Note the calibration only works within this app – iOS offers no facilities for system wide calibration unfortunately, so you won’t see any improvement in Safari or your email, for example. But within the SpyderGallery app, all images are now displayed with colour management. You can also get it to automatically add a watermark to all of your images as an overlay when displayed – this can either be text or an image such as a logo or copyright symbol. This is a nifty time saver – you don’t need to watermark the images before sending them to your iPad, it can be just done dynamically in the gallery app. Nifty.

So – all in all, it’s pretty good and certainly improves the display of images noticeably from an accuracy point of view. Plus you can’t beat the price! That said, the difference with a new iPad is not dramatic and it’s debatable whether it will make a big difference to anyone but the image maker – likely people viewing the folio will not notice the improved colour as the default display is already very good. That said, as the iPad screen ages, the pre- and post-calibration results may widen so it may be that this app really shows its strengths in the longer term.

Downsides, Areas For Improvement

  • There is no control over (or advice about) brightness during calibration (much like with the Spyder3Express model and regular monitors) – I think it would be handy if it encouraged you to lock your iPad’s brightness before calibrating (or even did this for you), and when using the gallery side of the app. It would be great if you could be sure that the colour was accurate AND the brightness at an appropriate and constant level.
  • The gallery app is MUCH slower than the regular iPad gallery app and this really needs to be improved if it’s going to work well in front of clients – people are used to silky smooth instant image display and zooming and this takes away a lot of the iPad’s wow factor.
  • You can only use the SpyderGallery app to display the images with colour calibration, no other apps – this isn’t DataColor’s fault and I doubt there is much they can do, but it would be awesome if the app operated at the OS level and worked everywhere….but I doubt very much this will happen in a hurry as the screen is already good enough for most consumer uses even without calibration.
  • The default calibration intent is ‘Saturation’ intent?? I believe it’s actually just a misnamed relative colorimetric intent but I find it odd they either a) misname this intent or b) actually use saturation intent, which basically no one else uses for anything (at least in the photographic world!). This is actually one of the issues I have with Spyder3Print as well – they encourage you to use their printer profiles with the Saturation intent and the results can at times be odd. Everyone else on the planet uses Perceptual or Relative Colorimetric and I can’t see any good reason to use Saturation…