Gas station without pumps

2010 November 13

Why no digital oscilloscope for Macbooks and iPads?

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 00:08
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This summer I was playing a little with electronic hardware (something I’ve not done much since I left computer engineering as a field) and was wishing I had an oscilloscope at home.  I don’t want one of the huge old CRT oscilloscopes, like the Heathkit that my brother and I assembled as kids (I don’t remember the model number, but looking in the Heathkit Virtual Museum, I think it was the OM-11).  Neither do I want one of the little pocket oscilloscopes that look like graphing calculators, with the same sort of low-quality screens and fiddly interfaces.

What I’d like is a USB device that handles the analog part of a digital storage scope that plugs into my laptop and uses the laptop for storing, processing, and displaying the signals.  There are dozens of USB oscilloscopes on the market, but so far as I could tell, none of them had software that would run under Mac OS X.  I found this a little surprising, as the Mac OS X machines are much more popular with computer scientists and bioinformaticians than Windows machines are, and I thought that computer engineers would have established a market for USB scopes for Macbooks.  It is true that most of the EE students and faculty I know who would be competent to design the analog electronics for a USB scope do not have the programming ability to design multi-platform software.  I guess that the small companies that sell digital scopes don’t have the resources to hire two engineers (one to design the hardware, another to design the software), and so make do with half-assed designs that only run on one operating system.

I think that there is a market out there for USB scopes that can work with any of the common laptop platforms (Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux).  In fact, an all-software solution that works with several of the existing USB hardware devices would be ideal.  This seems to me like a great project for a computer engineering student who enjoys writing device drivers and working out communications protocols with hardware that was probably designed with no attention at all to the needs of software engineers.

If someone is looking for a hardware project, I think that the iPad looks like a great device to be the screen of an oscilloscope.  This would require a digital storage scope that is not a USB device but uses the weird iPad/iPhone/iPod connector.  It would probably need its own rechargeable battery, as the iPad is not going to provide much power.  I don’t currently own an iPad, and have no plans to get one, but if someone came out with a great oscilloscope based on it, I might get one just for that app.

UPDATE: December 2012

I bought a USB oscilloscope that does work with Mac OS X (the BitScope Pocket Analyzer).  Screenshots and comment at FET threshold tests with Bitscope.

UPDATE: January 2017

I bought a much better USB oscilloscope, the Analog Discovery 2 by Digilent, which works with Mac, Windows, and Linux computers. Both the hardware and the software are much better than the BitScope (which has not improved much in the intervening 4 years). Digilent has an excellent academic discount program also. I have a series of posts using the Analog Discovery 2.


  1. Here at my university, we have (mandatory) fourth-year design projects for our electrical and computer engineering students. If I wanted such a device, I’d try to talk a group into doing it for their project. The projects actually end up being quite interesting.

    Comment by plam — 2010 November 13 @ 11:19 | Reply

    • We have a similar senior design project class.

      I’ve tried to get a senior design team of computer and electrical engineers interested in the project, but so far I’ve not had any takers.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2010 November 13 @ 12:22 | Reply

  2. Check out the Oscilloscope app for the iPad ( Currently it uses the audio input, but we are working on a hardware module to scale down input voltage and allow higher frequencies to be measured. Cheers

    Comment by Oscilloscope App — 2010 November 14 @ 23:55 | Reply

    • An audio-input scope emulator is of no use to me. Back in the 60s, when I built a Heathkit oscilloscope, it might have sufficed. Now I want an oscilloscope to debug an Arduino hobbyist microcontoller system, so I want a bandwidth of at least 20 Mhz, and preferably somewhat higher. There are USB oscilloscopes with such specs, but their software doesn’t run on computers I’m willing to buy.

      It’s good to hear that someone has recognized that the iPad would make a good user interface for a scope. Now I hope that you have a competent analog engineer to do the front-end so that the resulting product is actually a useful instrument, and not just a toy.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2010 November 15 @ 08:38 | Reply

    • Hi-

      I am an amateur radio operator who has been looking for an interface product to allow HF RF waveforms from amateur transmitters to be viewed on iPxxx devices thru apps like Oscilloscope. Have you made nay progress on this?


      Larry Serra N6NC

      Comment by Larry Serra — 2011 March 22 @ 10:33 | Reply

      • I bought a Kikusui 60 MHz analog scope for about $100. It will meet my needs for several years, though it is not very portable. I think that there is still a market niche to fill, but I’m no longer looking for a digital scope for Apple laptops or iPads.

        Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 March 22 @ 12:31 | Reply

  3. I finally gave up on finding a digital oscilloscope that I could connect to my MacBook. Instead I bought myself a used analog oscilloscope on eBay (a Kikusui COS 5060 60MHz scope).

    Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 January 1 @ 12:40 | Reply

  4. […] Why no digital oscilloscope for Macbooks and iPads? […]

    Pingback by Blogoversary « Gas station without pumps — 2011 June 5 @ 10:51 | Reply

  5. […] year, I complained about the lack of oscilloscope attachments for Apple computers, particularly Mac OS X laptops and iPads.  Now there is a product for iPads: […]

    Pingback by iPad Oscilloscope « Gas station without pumps — 2011 September 24 @ 13:52 | Reply

  6. […] Why no digital oscilloscope for Macbooks and iPads? […]

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  7. There are some digital oscilloscopes for OS X now. I have a list on my web site:
    I have not purchased one yet, but I did get the Prologix Ethernet to GPIB for my LeCroy 342. Still working of software for that. I have other engineering on a Mac links at:

    Comment by Robert Rau — 2012 February 4 @ 20:39 | Reply

  8. Check out

    They have nice USB scopes that work with both os x and linux. Very nice ones. Considering the quality and flexibility, they are probably worth every penny of their (highish) prices.

    Comment by Chris — 2012 March 31 @ 08:33 | Reply

    • Thanks for the pointer. The BitScope Pocket Analyzer ( BS10U ) looks like a fairly capable device for $300 (Australian dollars). It has 20M samples/sec at 8 bits or (I think) 1M samples/sec at 12 bits. It even includes a DSP for getting an effective resolution of 14 bits below 200kHz. It has 2 analog inputs and 8 logic inputs and is USB powered.

      If I did not have the 60MHz Kikusui scope, I might have got the BitScope Pocket Analyzer, despite the somewhat low sampling rate. I’ve not (yet) needed the full bandwidth of the Kikusui scope, and I could have manged with only 20 Msamples/sec.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2012 March 31 @ 09:14 | Reply

    • Chris, do you have one of these? If so, have you gotten yours to work with Mac OSX? Their support is mia and I can’t get mine to work.

      Comment by gpw — 2012 July 16 @ 02:48 | Reply

  9. If quality and bandwith is not so much an issue, you may consider a cheap Voltcraft DSO. With HantekDSO this works (for me) both on OS X 10.5 and 10.6. You do need to compile HantekDSO yourself as there is no installer available. Here is short list on how to compile:

    Comment by blokkendoos2 — 2012 May 2 @ 06:53 | Reply

  10. […] Why no digital oscilloscope for Macbooks and iPads? […]

    Pingback by Second Blogoversary « Gas station without pumps — 2012 June 2 @ 18:15 | Reply

  11. […] of you may recall my complaining about the lack of USB oscilloscopes for the Mac a couple of years ago, when I bought myself a used Kikusui COS5060 analog oscilloscope.  In the […]

    Pingback by FET threshold tests with Bitscope « Gas station without pumps — 2012 December 21 @ 22:51 | Reply

  12. […] Why no digital oscilloscope for Macbooks and iPads? […]

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  14. […] Why no digital oscilloscope for Macbooks and iPads? […]

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    Pingback by 2013 in review | Gas station without pumps — 2013 December 31 @ 11:19 | Reply


    Comment by fulano — 2014 January 1 @ 05:55 | Reply

    • It’s nice to see that there are now iPad oscilloscopes available. I don’t have an iPad myself, so they aren’t much use to me, but I’m curious to see how well they fare in the marketplace—the iPad looks to me like an excellent platform for the display and control interface of an oscilloscope.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2014 January 1 @ 11:20 | Reply

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