Author Topic: Using Apple’s iOS Devices For Music (2011, article)  (Read 1714 times)

Offline chrisNova777

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • Posts: 9159
  • "Vintage MIDI Sequencing + Audio Production"
    • | vintage audio production software + hardware info
Using Apple’s iOS Devices For Music (2011, article)
« on: October 22, 2018, 08:46:27 PM »

Using Apple’s iOS Devices For Music

Apple revolutionised music‑making with the Macintosh computer, and now their tablet devices are poised to do the same. We offer the first in‑depth exploration of the potential of iOS devices for music.

Power Pads

Musicians have always been enamoured of Apple products, from the Apple II with its early sequencers and sampling hardware such as the Greengate DS3, to the Macintosh‑based products we still use today. And while Apple continue to improve the Macintosh for creative professionals and consumers alike, today the company make the majority of their profits from a computing platformthat wasn't even on the market just four years ago.

Launched in June 2007, the iPhone arguably set the standard for what people now expect from a smartphone. However, it's easy to forget that the original iPhone did little more than check email and allow users to surf the Web. (You could even make phone calls with the device!) It wasn't until the App Store was unveiled in 2008 that Apple finally gave developers an official platform for taking full advantage of the iPhone's operating system. Having then built up a healthy ecosystem of both users and developers, the stage was set for Apple to unveil the iPad just over a year ago. The iPad ran the same operating system as the iPhone — now rechristened iOS — and with its larger screen and faster processor, developers could take the ideas they'd explored on the iPhone much further.

From a technical perspective, iOS is derived from Mac OS X, though the only people who really need to care about this are developers. From the user's perspective, working with an iPad is nothing like working with a Macintosh, and this — coupled with the lack of a physical keyboard — led many early critics to suggest that the iPad would be less suited to content creation than traditional Mac and Windows‑based computers. However, iOS music software has become ever more powerful and sophisticated, and a number of third‑party hardware peripherals have appeared. With an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPod, it's now possible to run an entire mobile studio that includes software instruments, effects, audio recording, and more: features, when you think about it, that were only just becoming feasible on personal computers barely 10 years ago.

This article aims to provide an overview of the iOS platform from the musician's perspective, but it's not intended to be a catalogue of all the musical apps available. Instead, I'll highlight a few notable apps that demonstrate certain aspects of the platform, paying particular attention to Apple's own offering, which few third‑party developers can afford to ignore.

Before we look at the platform or software in depth, though, it seems pertinent to consider Apple's latest iOS device, the iPad 2. Launched in the US on March 11th, and in other countries (including the UK) two weeks later, popular demand has already left this new tablet in short supply.

iPad 2
Like the original, the iPad 2 is a foudroyant feat of design and engineering. And while it isn't radically different from its predecessor, the new iPad is marginally thinner and lighter, and features the front and rear cameras so many felt were missing from the first‑generation models. The iPad was framed by a straight‑edged aluminium bezel, but the glass facade of the iPad 2 is almost flush to the rim of the device, where the straight edges have been replaced by bevelled curves. These changes afford the iPad 2 a modern and noticeably sleeker feel and appearance. The slight down side is that they have also made the controls around the edge of the device — for power, volume, the slide switch, and the dock connector — a bit more challenging to locate.

To complement the updated design, Apple have also designed a new cover for the iPad 2. The original case offered by the company was somewhat hideous, and in functional terms, made getting into an undersized wetsuit seem comparatively easy. The new cover, however, elegantly clips to the side of the iPad magnetically, making it easily detachable when not required. You can roll it up and make it into a stand, which is handy if you want to play your iPad like a synth, and the iPad will even turn itself on or off when you open and close the cover. For some, the fact the cover only protects the front of the iPad has been a point of contention, but personally I didn't find this too alarming.

More interesting than the iPad 2's tweaked physique or the new cover, though, are the internal hardware improvements. The iPad 2 uses Apple's new A5 System‑on‑a‑Chip, the successor to the A4 chip introduced with the original iPad, which also powers the iPhone 4 and Apple TV. Apple claim the A5 is twice as fast as the A4, and this statement is probably true given that the A5 has two ARM processor cores, compared to the single‑core A4. But the number of CPU cores isn't the only specification to have doubled on the iPad 2's A5 chip. According to reports by those who have gone so far as to X‑ray the A5, there's now 512MB of onboard memory — the same amount as offered by the iPhone 4.

The iPad's graphics performance has also been dramatically improved — according to Apple, by a staggering nine times. This is due to both the improved PowerVR graphics core, and the fact that the A5 now boasts two GPU cores. And while the resolution has remained the same — 1024x768 — somehow the screen just looks, well, nicer than my original iPad. Maybe a change in the glass makes it appear glossier, or maybe it's a slightly newer panel, or maybe I'm just going mad.

While the original iPad was no slouch, the iPad 2 is noticeably snappier, even when performing basic operations such as locating apps on the Home screen. Having a more fluid operational experience is great, naturally, but where this extra power will be most useful to those reading this article is, of course, when running performance‑intensive music and audio software.

GarageBand For iPad
GarageBand for iPad includes a number of Touch Instruments, such as this sampling keyboard.
GarageBand for iPad includes a number of Touch Instruments, such as this sampling keyboard.

When Apple unveiled the iPhone 4 last Summer, a mobile version of their consumer video‑editing software, iMovie, was also introduced to exploit the improved camera and performance of the device. With the release of the iPad 2, Apple have adapted iMovie for the iPad — since it now has a camera — and have also brought another iLife application to the iOS platform: GarageBand.

At the heart of GarageBand for iPad is a collection of what Apple refer to as Touch Instruments, offering a generous selection of keyboard and drum‑based sounds with great user interfaces. For example, choosing the Keyboard Touch Instrument brings up a grand piano sound that can be played via an on‑screen keyboard, and Apple have even managed to simulate touch sensitivity by using the accelerometer in conjunction with the touchscreen. It's a little bizarre when you try this for the first time, because, despite what you might think, it actually kind of works! For best results, the iPad has to be able to wobble a bit when tapped, so holding the device in your hand or lap is better than placing it on a sturdy desk. If you find it too sensitive, velocity response can be adjusted or disabled.

By default, GarageBand's keyboard operates in Glissando mode, which lets you slide your fingers around the keyboard to trigger different notes. You can switch the scope of the keyboard with the help of some up and down octave buttons; or, if you'd rather use your fingers to scroll though the keyboard's range, you can set the keyboard to Scroll mode instead. As with many other piano apps, you can choose to display the keyboard across two rows, so that more notes are accessible, with a choice of three key sizes available to accommodate different digit ratios.

The keyboard also has a sustain function, which, when enabled, causes notes to be sustained after you release them. However, what's great about the sustain switch is that you don't necessarily have to enable it for notes to be held down. When sustain is disabled, you can simply touch the switch (without sliding it across) to use it like a piano's sustain pedal. Similarly, when sustain mode is enabled, this touch behaviour is inverted so that touching the switch causes sustain mode to be suspended, which is rather neat.

A particular nice touch to the keyboard is the Scale feature, which changes the display so that only notes of a chosen musical scale are shown. This makes it ridiculously easy for beginners to jam along to a backing track, especially since GarageBand automatically ensures that the scale is in the same key as your song. If the developers had only labelled all the keys with the appropriate pitch names in Scale mode, as opposed to only the root notes, it would also have been a handy reference tool for any musician.

In terms of sounds, there's more to the Keyboard Instrument than just a piano. There are a number of organ patches, a Clavinet, and a healthy assortment of synth sounds, including basses, leads, and pads, and the interface changes based on the selected instrument type. For example, while the piano interface is rather minimal, the organ interface is replete with drawbars, a rotary‑speaker control, and access to chorus and distortion effects.

On the synth instruments, you can adjust cutoff frequency, filter-envelope controls and the volume attack. However, what's really neat is that the synth instruments add a third mode to the keyboard: Pitch. With this mode selected, you can bend a note to another by playing the note and sliding your finger horizontally along the keyboard, a bit like a ribbon control. If you slide your finger vertically, you can modulate that note instead. The icing on the cake is that the these gestures work polyphonically, so you can play multiple notes and make independent pitch and modulation adjustments. And if all of this wasn't enough, the keyboard also offers a basic arpeggiator. This is can be enabled for any keyboard instrument, but is probably most useful for the synth sounds.

While not strictly part of the Keyboard Instrument itself, GarageBand also offers a Sampler Instrument, based on the basic sampling keyboards of yesteryear. This lets you record a single sound into your iPad, which can then be played from the same keyboard used in the Keyboard Instrument. Apple have even gone so far as to include a dog bark for instant '80s sampling nostalgia. The developers have again taken this simple instrument quite far, providing additional controls for trimming the start and end of the sample, adjusting the tuning, and setting an amplifier envelope. You can even reverse the sample or loop it!

The Rest Of The Band
GarageBand isn't just about keyboards. There's also a Drums Touch Instrument, offering on‑screen representations of both traditional drum kits and Octopad‑style drum machines. Particularly nice additions to the drum machine are low‑ and high‑cut filter controls, along with Resolution and Lo‑fi controls for mangling the sound.

Complementing the Touch Instruments are three so‑called Smart Instruments for Piano, Bass and Guitar. The word 'Smart' refers to the fact that these instruments have various modes of play, from simple chord selection to the generation of a complete backing track. Taking the Guitar as an example, GarageBand presents a set of on‑screen strings with eight pre‑defined chords. Touching the individual strings allows you to pick, while sliding your finger across them lets you strum. Touching the chord at the top strums the whole chord, while touching the far edges of the strings allows you to mute them — it seems that no user-interface stone has been left unturned. There are four guitar sounds available (one acoustic and three electric) although, sadly, no nylon‑strung acoustic.

An Auto Play mode is also included, with four styles to choose from; in this mode, all you have to do is select the chords to be played as you go along. Finally, should you want to play a solo, you can bring up a virtual fretboard, where you can play different notes by touching the appropriate fretted position. Strings can be bent by dragging your finger up or down after touching a note, and there's a Scale view similar to the one found in the Keyboard Touch Instrument, to simplify life for non‑guitarists.

If you'd rather use a real guitar with GarageBand, a Guitar Amp Instrument is also included, and offers a number of different amp models and stomp boxes, plus a noise gate and tuner. Simply plug your guitar into the iPad via one of the many hardware peripherals available (see box), and you have a complete rig that could also be used in live situations.

Tracking In The Garage
Once you've found an instrument you like and you want to record something into GarageBand, you simply press the Record button and off you go. You can configure the metronome sound and decide whether you want a one‑bar count‑in, and exactly what you play will be recorded, even if you're using a Smart Instrument or have the arpeggiator enabled.

A timeline at the top of the screen shows where in the song you are, and to simplify the process of arranging you can build your song as a series of Sections. These Sections are conceptually similar to the Arrange Regions used in the Mac version of GarageBand, and allow you to focus on different parts of the song without having to jump back and forth to different parts of the application. Each Section can be between one and 32 bars in length, and you can add new sections or duplicate existing ones to build up your song.

After you're happy with the recording (an Undo button will remove it if you're not), you can switch to Track View to see the resulting Region on a familiar‑looking arrange window. GarageBand's developers have done a pretty good job of adapting the arranging functionality for a touch‑based instrument, and the operation is quite intuitive. Tapping a region brings up handles to adjust its start and end points, while dragging the middle part moves it along the timeline. A second tap brings up a 'popover' with five edit options: cut, copy, delete, loop and split. The last of these is particularly well thought‑out. A split marker appears on the region, allowing you to specify where you want the split to happen, and if you keep your finger held on the split marker before dragging, the display will automatically zoom in closer, making it easy to find the appropriate split point. When you're happy, you just slide the split marker vertically to make the incision. You can even edit multiple regions at the same time on different tracks, thanks to the iPad's multi‑touch screen.

The only editing operation that's conspicuous by its absence is some kind of piano‑roll method. You can get around this to some extent by using the Song Sections feature, by simply re‑recording, and with judicious use of the arranging tools, but a dedicated piano‑roll mode that made it possible to edit notes in the same way you can currently edit regions would be the icing on the cake.

The track list can be expanded to show volume controls for each, along with mute and solo controls, and additional settings are available for the selected track via the Mixer popover. Here you can adjust the panning and effects levels (reverb and echo), plus the quantisation and transposition settings.