The iPad and Music Production
Will Apple and 3rd party manufacturers deliver?
The iPhone and iPod touch has seen a plethora of apps designed and released specifically aimed at the musician, guitarist and sound engineer over the last few years: guitar tuners; drum machines; tab resources; 4-track recorders; DJ apps and DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) controller apps such as Novation's Automap and Far Out Labs' ProRemote, the latter on the pricey side just short of £60. But will Apple's new iPad, with its larger screen encourage manufacturers such as Ableton (Live), Propellerheads (Reason), or even Apple, to develop an iPad version of their music production software?
The first thing to consider is whether the iPad has enough "boot" to run a power hungry music app. The new Apple A4 chip runs at a clock speed of 1GHz, but I wouldn't read too much into this as early feedback has suggested that the iPad is very quick by 1GHz standards. Ultimately the A4 chip will be the deciding factor in what music software developers can do with the iPad in terms of music software on the iPad or even upscaling existing apps, but I think they would really be missing the boat if they don't release an iPad "light" version of their counterparts.
The large multi-touch screen is the iPad's best attribute, especially when it comes to interacting with music applications. The possibilities are endless - synth modelling, samplers, amp modelling, drum machines, DAW controllers et cetera, but the most important development would be to have a sequencer. The hugely popular Fourtrack by Sonomo Wire Works works really well on an iPhone/ iPod touch but it is very limited, mainly by the screen size of the iPhone and also control of faders, pan pots, no. of tracks etc. so it would make sense for Sonomo Wireworks to either up-scale the app or create an 8, 16, 32-track version for the iPad.
I would also like to see a manufacturer like Novation create a Launchpad or Nocturn software version of their very popular hardware controllers, which could then be used to control your DAW over Wi-Fi - essentially a wireless Launchpad! This would appeal to a lot of DJs and electronic performers. With no need for cables this could really change the way we interact with our DAWs in a live performance setting and negating the need to buy multiple hardware devices: just switch between the different apps you want to use in a matter of seconds.
The iPad is very limited when it comes to ports and connectivity. In fact, there are no standard ports whatsoever, enabling Apple to have complete control over the hardware made for the device. Therefore, any musical devices made the for iPad have to either work wirelessly or connect via the iPad's proprietary dock connector, which is identical to that seen on current iPhones and iPods. It also has a headphone out, a built in speaker and a microphone. From a musician's point of view, a small compact portable keyboard or drum pad controller (Korg nanoKey/iPad keyboard dock hybrid?) would be an essential addition to the market - one that I think would have a massive appeal. Getting audio recorded into the iPad is limited to the internal microphone or with the addition of something like the Blue Mikey - an iPhone/ iPod microphone. But what would really turn this device into a musician's best friend and truly portable set-up would be an audio interface that would allow the user to plug in a condenser microphone- and of course the software to support it!
The iPad runs the same OS as the iPhone, so everything that goes on the iPad has to go through the app store and iTunes - and be approved by Apple first: A potential barrier for apps to make it to the marketplace. As I've mentioned, the possibilities are really endless when it comes to music apps, but the one development I would like to see the most is a full blown sequencer - this would really enable musicians to make the most of the large multi-touch screen and convenience that the iPad has to offer. If a manufacturer like Ableton, for example, created a version of Live for the iPad platform, other companies would surely follow suit. Already smaller companies have started to create music software for the iPad: bleep!BOX by White noise Audio, which is a combination of a drum machine, synthesiser and sequencer and Midipad, a really exciting app that allows the user to control their DAW of choice. So things are starting to heat up already and Apple haven't even shipped one iPad.
It would be a great injustice and missed opportunity if the iPad's potential as a musician's tool was overlooked by Apple. Even if it doesn't produce its own Garageband or Logic 'light', let's hope that 3rd party developers are not discouraged from fulfilling its potential trying to pass through the often unnecessarily-rigorous app approval process. Early statistics don't look too encouraging, either. Adam Hartley of TechRadar quotes a recent report by Flurry Analytics:
"analysts claim that 44 per cent of apps being tested on iPads this month are games, followed by entertainment (14%), social networking (7%), sports (6%), travel (5%) and books (3%)" Source
Whether Pro Audio apps come under any of those categories at all is a question in itself. Proper nurturing of an iPad music app eco-system could make ipad an essential addition to any live performer/musician's arsenal of equipment, not to mention making it a very attractive prospect to education establishments. An opportunity far too great for Apple, or any third-party music hardware/software manufacturer to ignore.
For more on the iPad buzz, I also recommend the following blog posts by two of my colleagues on iPad in education:
iPad in UK Schools blog entry by John Parvin, co-founder of Solutions inc.
iPad vs. Netbook blog entry by Solutions inc. Education Sales Director Simon Birch
With the growing adoption of mobile devices in schools, tradition ICT suites are rapidly becoming outmoded. However, when it comes to Music Production, the large screen and powerful performance of iMac coupled with professional software such as Logic and Sibelius are essential.
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