Apollo update – new features added by Secret Base Design

Download from iTunes App Storeapollo logoRegular readers will recall that I reviewed Secret Base Design’s Apollo MIDI over Bluetooth app when it was first launched and I also took a look at the Mac OSX version when that appeared a few weeks later.

For those who have not tried Apollo yet, the iOS app allows you to transmit MIDI data in realtime between two iOS devices and, if you are an iOS musician who owns more than one iOS device, given the pocket money price, Apollo is no-brainer; it’s a brilliant concept and an excellent utility app to have available. Being able to share the load between multiple devices is a neat trick and I’ve had no problems using Apollo between my iPad Air, iPhone 5 and iPad 3 (although make sure you have a pair of suitable devices before you start; there is a full list of compatible devices in the app’s description on iTunes).

Apollo MIDI over Bluetooth for iOS - note the new Keyboard button located bottom-right.

Apollo MIDI over Bluetooth for iOS – note the new Keyboard button located bottom-right.

Apollo on the Mac is a free download from the Apple App Store and, providing you also have the iOS app, this allows similar connectivity between an iOS device and your OSX computer. This obviously has some real potential for those iOS musicians who like to integrate their iPad/iPhone music technology with their desktop technology. While you can make such a MIDI data connection through hardware or via WiFi, to be able to do it via Bluetooth (the LE version of Bluetooth anyway) offers the potential of greater speed (meaning a more responsive system).

The obvious applications here are for sending MIDI data from an iPad to your desktop DAW (for example, I use apps like Chordion and SoundPrism Pro to play MIDI parts into my desktop synths) or to send MIDI data from a DAW (or your MIDI keyboard connected to your desktop system) to a synth running on your iPad.

Apollo (re)launched

Both the iOS and Mac OSX versions of Apollo have been updated today. Aside from some general improvements in performance, there are three key new features. First, connections between an iPad and Mac can now be bidirection. In the previous release, you had to specify at the Mac end which direction MIDI data was going to travel. You still have this option but there is now also a bidirection mode available and, in my own testing, this worked fine.

The OSX version now includes a bidirectional option.

The OSX version now includes a bidirectional option.

Second, there is now a switch that disables the automatic hibernation mode when there is an extended period with no MIDI data being sent. This option preserves battery life but might be a bit awkward if you use the app in a live setting and suddenly find it has gone to sleep on you after not being used for a song or two in your set. The option to disable automatic hibernation is therefore a useful one.

Third – and very useful given that MIDI over Bluetooth is still somewhat experimental in nature – Apollo now includes a means of sending MIDI data itself. In the iOS version, this is in the form of a piano-style keyboard while the OSX version simply includes a button you can click with your mouse to generate MIDI data. These options are great when you are first getting your connections established or you are trying to track down the source of a problematic MIDI data flow (MIDI under iOS can still be a somewhat temperamental beast).

Apollo landing

Having given the new version a quick workout this morning, as before, I had few problems hooking up two iOS devices. You do have to make sure you get all your MIDI in/out settings correct in your various apps and make the appropriate settings within Apollo, but on the whole this is a straightforward and pretty reliable process.

I was able to send MIDI data from apps on my iPad and record it fine within Garageband on my iMac.

I was able to send MIDI data from apps on my iPad and record it fine within Garageband on my iMac.

In the previous OSX version I had experienced some problems and, while I’d been able to send MIDI data from my iPad to my iMac, I’d not been able to get data going in the other direction (other users had though so I knew it was possible). I’m happy to say that this new version is much better in that regard and I was able to use the new bidirectional mode to get data going in both ways.

In testing with both Chordion and SoundPrism Pro, I was able to send MIDI data into Garageband on my Mac and record the MIDI performances without any problems. The system was very responsive and, given the lousy state of my keyboard playing, this is an option I’m sure I will get a lot of use out of. It wasn’t all quite plain sailing though; while I could use the same setup to play virtual instruments in my main desktop DAW – Cubase – for some reason, when I tried to record those performances, Cubase either received some rather odd MIDI data or managed to mangle the MIDI data it received in some way. I’ll keep experimenting with this to see if I can track down the source of the problem but if anyone else has Apollo working OK with Cubase, I’d been keen to swap notes.

The iOS version now includes a virtual MIDI keyboard and this is useful for testing connections made via Apollo.

The iOS version now includes a virtual MIDI keyboard and this is useful for testing connections made via Apollo.

Getting MIDI data from my Mac to my iPad worked fine but, on my system at least, I initially had one quirk; for my synth app to receive the MIDI data being played from my desktop computer, the iOS version of Apollo had to be in the foreground on my iPad. If I bought the synth app itself to the foreground, it seemed to stop receiving the MIDI data.

However, a quick exchange of emails with developer Patrick Madden at Secret Base Design soon provided the solution. It required a quick visit to the general iOS Settings app and, once there, a trip to the Privacy section. Opening the Bluetooth Sharing options allowed me to enable Bluetooth Sharing for Apollo. Once this was done, I could then have Apollo in the background and my synth app in the foreground and MIDI data from my iMac arrived at the synth without any problems.

In summary

Apollo is an excellent concept and it is great to see Patrick moving the app forward. Patrick has previously acknowledged that MIDI over Bluetooth, while having considerable potential, is still something of a work in progress. However, these latest releases have most certainly moved the app forward in that regard. The minor oddities I experienced might well be related to my own particular system but, equally, they might represent some wrinkles that are still to be ironed out in Apollo’s code or simply something actually inherent in the way iOS handles MIDI. Either way, Patrick has always been extremely responsive to user feedback soI’m sure my experiences (and that of other users) will help him track down and (if within his control) solve any remaining issues).

All that said, Apollo is a brilliant utility, whether you use multiple iOS devices or like to integrate your iOS and OSX music technology. If either apply to you, then hit the download button below and get along to the iTunes App Store ASAP as there is special pricing on the iOS version (the Mac version is free) for the next couple of days.

Apollo MIDI over Bluetooth

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