This time of the year is always a bit thought provoking. One year ends and another one starts and, while it is just one day following another, it encourages you to look back at the year just finishing and look forward to what the year ahead might bring.
As some of you might have already seen, I’ve already done a bit of ‘looking back’ with a personal take (and feel free to disagree with me) on my top 10 iOS music apps released during 2014. Whether you like my own list or not, it is difficult to deny that the last 12 months has seen some absolutely brilliant new music apps released. I’d be interested in any of your own suggestions if you think you have a personal favourite that I didn’t include….
2014 also bought some… er… well, perhaps ‘challenges’ is a good word… for the iOS musician. The transition to iOS8 was not a particularly smooth ride and there are still a number of very popular iOS music apps that have not yet made the transition. Fingers crossed though; even this last week or so has seen a few notable apps jump through that particular hoop….
But what about the looking forward and what 2015 might bring for the iOS musician? What might help make the lot of the iOS musician even better during 2015? Well, l made a few personal suggestions for 2014 this time last year so, just for fun, I’ll start by taking a look back at those and see if any of my wishes came true. And, after that, I’ll gaze into my crystal ball app and see what I might like for 2015 from an iOS music app perspective…
That was the year that was
When I posted my ‘look forward’ piece for 2014, there were a few headline items on it that I was hoping to see; Audiobus 2 (we knew that was coming by time I wrote the post), better MIDI Clock support, more audio/MIDI hardware designed with iOS users fully in mind (including power supply issues), a virtual drummer app and an audio editor app. So how did 2014 do on these fronts?
Well, despite the transition to iOS8, I think we can safely say that Audiobus 2 delivered. The new features it offers in terms of multiple audio signal paths and State Saving make a big difference to your iOS music-making workflow. It’s just a shame that some of the shine was taken off that contribution because of the challenges posed by the introduction of iOS8.
I’m less convinced about the progress made in terms of MIDI Clock – or, indeed, MIDI in general – and you can read the very interesting contribution Nic Grant from Audeonic (the developer behind MidiBus) made about the state of MIDI play back in October to get a more detailed take on this. I think this year has seen some progress – apps with better individual MIDI implementation or better MIDI features – but there is still a road to be travelled here.
In terms of audio or MIDI hardware designed specifically with the iOS in mind, I think we have also seen some progress. This has been more in the form of dedicated hardware so products such as the Focusrite iTrack Dock and Alesis iTrack Dock II have moved things forwards here. Equally, innovative products such as the Line 6 Sonic Port VX have taken familiar concepts and packaged them in a compact format for the mobile musician. I’ve also taken the plunge (twice in fact) on a compact MIDI keyboard for use with my iPad – a CME Xkey and an Alesis QX25 – so that I have something I can easily use when on the move.
All that said, do I think we still have the ‘perfect’ audio/MIDI interface or MIDI keyboard/controller for the iOS musician? Nope… still waiting I think. And, in case any developers/manufacturers are out there listening, I’m not necessarily talking about either (a) lowest price possible or (b) only for iOS use. I’d be happy to pay a higher price if the hardware included a more comprehensive set of connectivity and power support suitable for iOS use or if said hardware could also be used with a desktop system.
In terms of the ‘app gaps’ on my own personal list for 2014… well, I think we have one hit and one miss. I still haven’t really found a killer fully-blown audio editing environment that really draws me in (a miss for me). However, in DrumPerfect, I think we have a pretty impressive ‘hit’ in the virtual drummer category. It was great on first launch if, in places, a little clunky to use. However, developer Marinus Molengraft has, over a series of updates, tweaked, fine-tuned and added to the feature set and workflow. No, it is not in the same league as BFD3 on the desktop, but it is a very clever, iPad-friendly, take on the genre.
Aside from a significant number of brilliant new iOS music apps that have appeared over the last 12 months, another personal highlight for me (and I’ll put my hands up here as a confirmed fan of Steinberg; in terms of my own music production work, Cubase and Cubasis are my core tools) was the v.1.8 update to Cubasis. To see automation introduced in the app was a big step forward. More to come this year? Let’s see :-)
Bring in the new…
So what about things for a 2015 wishlist? Well, any suggestions are bound to be influenced by my own personal needs and music making process but, if I had to identify a top 5 then it would probably go something like this…
- Workflow stability and refinements for iOS music making.
- The ‘perfect’ (whatever that might mean) audio/MIDI interface for use with an iPad.
- Dedicated ‘joined up’ hardware to support live use of an iPad.
- To see the profile of iOS-based music technology raised in some fashion.
- Some key apps getting new features.
I think lots of iOS musicians would welcome a year when the hiatus of the iOS7/iOS8 transition can be well and truly put to bed. Wherever the issues might lie, us users just want things to ‘work as advertised’ and, while I have a ‘techie’ background and quite enjoy getting my head around making disparate bits of kit talk to one another, I’m also a musician and I don’t always want the technology to dominate my thinking, especially when I’m trying to be creative.
As mentioned above, I’m impressed by the things that Audiobus 2 has bought in 2014. However, I’m also a big fan of IAA and, while that technology is about as close as iOS gets to desktop VST technology, it is not without its quirks. I’d include within this apps that either don’t open correctly when loaded via IAA or, somewhat more irritatingly, don’t close fully when the IAA host itself is closed. It would be great to see IAA moved forward this year, whether by Apple or individual developers in terms of their own specific implementation of it.
Perfection in a box?
There are some excellent audio/MIDI interfaces available that can be used with iOS hardware and, of course, everyone’s idea of the ‘perfect’ combination of features in such an interface will vary depending upon their specific needs. For me, I want a compact, 2-in/2-out, with respectable audio quality and phantom power. I want a headphone out and USB connectivity to either desktop or iOS.
So far, so normal, but the devil is in the details and its here I can’t quite find what I want yet. First, while I’m happy enough for the unit to require mains power (I’ll go with my iRig Pro when I want to be totally mobile) but I do want it to pass both audio/MIDI data and power to my iPad via whatever connectivity is required. Second, I’d like it to support both standard 5-pin DIN and USB MIDI ‘in’ and, for the latter, I want it to power a suitable MIDI controller keyboard (one less power supply to carry around).
The end result is flexibility in terms of connectivity and a single power supply to support the whole system… and if the audio quality is good enough to double as compact desktop interface, then so much the better.
Take it out
I hear from lots of readers of the blog who take their iOS technology out and use it live. Equally, I hear from lots of would-be live users with questions about the practicalities of doing this. There are two types of questions here; (i) how do I make sure my iOS hardware will not take a beating in the somewhat chaotic live environment and (ii) what additional hardware do I need to get audio and/or MIDI and/or both at the same time into and out of my iPad in a live setting.
There are all sorts of partial answers to both these questions and I’m sure lots of musicians have managed to use a bit of creative DIY thinking to piece together various ad-hoc solutions to suit their own requirements. Amongst the partial answers are items such as the IK Multimedia iKlip or BlueBoard. These are very goods at what they do but, of their own, they are not a ‘complete’ solution.
I don’t think any manufacturer has yet really thought about this from a ‘do it all’ perspective. I can understand why; the iPad is a moving target as Apple tweak the hardware on a regular basis and developing what might end up being quite an expensive end product for what might, at present, be a relatively niche market, would be a high-risk strategy. It would, however, be great to see someone give it a shot… something that is not unlike the custom pedal board cases you can get for a guitar rig… designed to be robust and contain all the elements needed to use an iPad live.
Talk about it
I don’t think there is any doubt that the user-base for iOS music technology is growing but, equally, I suspect there is a massive, as yet, untapped potential amongst musicians who happen to be Apple owners but not yet ‘iOS musicians’ and iOS users who are still at the wannabe’ stage in terms of discovering music technology. Raising the profile of the iOS platform for music making with these potential users has got to be a good thing.
How that might happen during the next 12 months is anyone’s guess. Websites such as those listed on the blog’s ‘Links’ page can do their bit (and music technology media outlets in general have an significant role to play in this regard) but I think the step-change that it would be great to see requires something on a different scale. Whether that’s a brilliant, out-of-the-blue no.1 single where the side story happens to be that it was all recorded on an iPad or whether it’s something more conventional such as a collection of iOS developers joining together to create an industry body to promote the platform… well, we will just have to wait and see.
High profile iOS music exposure like this example featuring Robert Plant and Jimmy Fallon on US TV has got to be a good thing….
The benefits of such a step-change would, however, be obvious; more exposure means more users mean more sales… and the business side of iOS music technology needs sales to survive and provide a basis for the next bit of R&D.
I’m sure we could all pick our favourite app (or apps) and suggest a few new features we would like to see. This could easily become a very long conversation (of the ‘give me more of everything’ sort) but, given my primary interest in the recording aspects of iOS, there are three very specific updates I’d love to see this year that I think would be very interesting; MIDI for Auria, audio for Gadget and folder tracks/group channels for Cubasis.
In terms of absolute features, Auria is the most powerful and fully-specified audio multi-track recorder available for iOS. WaveMachine Labs have discussed the idea of bringing MIDI recording to the app for some time and, if they could do it with feature set that matches the audio elements of the app, then it would be a pretty formidable beast.
Korg have also indicated that audio recording is on the agenda for Gadget. My ‘app of the year 2014’ is already a very slick environment for creating electronic music productions. Again, if Korg could ‘do’ audio multi-track recording in a fashion that worked within the current scene-based MIDI sequencing of the app, it would be a very attractive prospect.
Cubasis, while certainly not approaching Cubase in terms of detailed features, already has all the core features required for tracking and mixing perfectly decent audio+MIDI projects. The interface is also pretty slick. And, as iPads get more powerful, iOS musicians can take on ever more complex projects via their chosen DAW/sequencing apps.
However, brilliant though the iPad’s touchscreen is, it is not quite the same as working on a multi-screen desktop system; screen real-estate is at a premium. With complex projects that can make managing larger track counts an issue. Seeing Steinberg port both Folder Track and Group Channel technology across from the desktop into Cubasis would bring a whole number of workflow benefits. I’ve no idea whether this is on Steinberg’s current agenda for the app… but here’s hoping.
The combination of all three of these personal update wishes would, I think, create three high-profile iOS DAW/sequencers. Quite how they then competed with each other would be interesting to watch :-)
From wishlist to reality
There are lots of specific things that could be added to this list but if even a couple of these actually move from my wishlist into reality over the next 12 months then I’ll be quite happy. And, of course, I suspect there will be another amazing crop of new apps to get our heads around over the next year.
We might not have too long to wait to at least get a taste of what 2015 is going to bring though. Don’t forget that the annual Winter NAMM show kicks off as usual in the last week of January. While this is aimed at all music and music technology manufacturers, iOS will most certainly get a look in and I except there will be the usual crop of product launches and announcements to look forward to. As ever, I’ll try and keep you up to speed with the highlights relevant to iOS music making here on the Music App Blog.
And, until then, and much as this wishful thinking is fun to indulge in, don’t let the ‘I wish I could…’ items stop you… just keep making music anyway… Technology is great and fun to explore but being creative and making music is what it is all for. Working within whatever your personal constraints might be – and accepting those rather than allowing them to hinder you – is all part of the process.
Very best wishes for 2015…