Since the launch of the iPhone a few years ago mobile platforms have begun to take shape as a dynamic and stable means of personal computing and with the mobile tablet looking to soon also become a popular accessory its no surprise that music producers are starting to get some seriously impressive applications to help them compose and practice on the move.
In this article I will examine the current tools available and what individual platforms have to offer as well as sharing some thoughts upon what may be coming in the future…
Not merely are Apple the real innovators in the world of mobile computing they also know their audience very well indeed and are no doubt aware that music producers have for many years now been serious aficionados of their products.
Its no surprise then that their iOS platform is currently well ahead when it comes to music production focussed applications and accessories with an offering of mini-studio and performance tools that have been created by some of the worlds leading names in music production software and hardware such as Korg, Akai and IK Multimedia.
For those looking to sketch out or indeed completely produce tracks on the move then Akai’s SynthStation and Blip Interactive’s Nanostudio both offer a great set of features including programmable synths and FX as well as sequencers. Both apps offer well designed interfaces that make producing a track on a smartphone screen far easier than you’d expect.
In addition to this hardware such as the Akai Synthstation 25 and Line 6’s MIDI mobilizer offer the chance to use keyboard controllers as well. Both are pretty strong examples of the confidence these vendors have in iOS as a platform for music production, especially since the arrival of the iPad.
Those looking to merely rock out via their Apple device have a couple of options here too, with IK Multimedia’s iRig and Agile Partners Ampkit, both of which offer the opportunity to plug a guitar into your Apple device via a portable interface. I’ve not tried either yet myself but all reviews have been very positive in terms of performance and the range of amps and FX on offer
Not to be outdone by Apple’s mobile venture Google entered the fray a couple of years ago with their open source Android platform. The past year has seen a massive rise in popularity for the platform, mainly driven by the arrival of some great phones from the likes of HTC and Samsung – but as far as producers are concerned there may be issues ahead…
This recent article on the current limitations of audio within Android really doesn’t bode well for potential killer apps for Googles open source mobile platform. Essentially it seems to have major latency issues that would make some music production apps unusable – something which has been demonstrated in discussions I’ve had with several potential developers.
The problem is, with the emergence of tablets and the vast number of those available next year being Android based it really does look like Google are missing a massive trick here and by not addressing it they are making sure Apple dominate what is likely to be a huge potential market.
However there are at least one or two music apps on the Android Market which are quite fun to play with, namely Uloops – which offers a fairly feature rich mini-studio complete with cloud back up and RD-3, a Groovebox emulator which offers designed interface and authentic acid house sounds.
Despite dominating many areas of the technology market for years Microsoft have always seemed to lag a fair distance behind the competition when it comes to mobile devices. Although the recently released Windows 7 Mobile offers some promise it may be some time before we see any decent music production apps appearing for the platform, simply because it has come so late to the party.
With regards to tablets however, there may be some promise since Microsoft are looking to adapt their current Windows 7 Desktop/Laptop OS for use with these portable touchscreen devices. That this should hopefully mean is that you can run standard lightweight music production software, for instance the excellent DAW Reaper or possibly even cloud based sequencers such as Soundation with relative ease. What’s needed here however are fairly powerful processors and certainly ones offering a bit than the 1Ghz available on current tablets.
Surprisingly the Nintendo DS has a pretty impressive range of music production tools both from established vendors such as Korg who have released the superb DS-10 synth (complete with sequencer) and homegrown solutions which a kind person has gathered together for our perusal here
To me the DS, with its dual touchscreen and buttons/controllers seems like a potentially excellent device for music production on the move but ultimately its likely that most developers will ignore it in favour of other mobile platforms simply because it is perceived as a gaming device by the world at large.
One of the things that I think is quite likely is that over time, rather than see a range of disparate mobile, cloud based and standard production solutions we will actually see these converge around compatible technologies – it would certainly make keeping track of projects a lot easier. For instance the recent interest that vendors such as Akai and Korg have taken in mobile platforms will hopefully also spread to DAW/Sequencer developers such Cubase and Pro-tools to the point they embrace them in their entirety.
What will hopefully emerge from this are tools that can be accessed from either standard PC’s or mobile devices and, as I’ve mentioned before its most likely that these solutions will be cloud based simply because of the centralised and stable nature of this technology, not to mention the fact that vendors can use it to offer subscription based services and also start to stamp out software piracy.
Another, perhaps parallel use for mobile devices is as DAW/Sequencer or DJ software controllers. I’ve noticed a few iPhone apps offering this functionality already but a crossover option where your mobile device that, whilst recording on the move, has been your main device can become a controller when working in the studio (and offering the same control functionality) would be ideal.
More than anything else what’s really needed is a dynamic online platform that both mobile and desktop/laptop PC’s can work well with in terms of audio – I personally think HTML 5 based apps are going to be the breakthrough solutions here since they will hopefully allow offline modes for those annoying times when your mobile device cannot get a signal.
One thing is for sure however and that’s that mobile devices are becoming more and more dominant and musicians are increasingly going to start turning to them to capture that ever fleeting inspiration.
(I’d like to thank Ashley Elsdon, creator of the superb Palm Sounds blog for his coverage of mobile tech for music and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in this area).