Interview with miniMusic

MiniMusic is one of the longest standing palm developers for mobile music application. In this interview we ask about what miniMusic has planned for 2008, new platforms, and their existing applications.

PS: Where would you like to see your applications going in 2008 and beyond?
MM: The Palm market is a bit uncertain right now. The Treo is still doing well and the Centro seems to be getting a lot of attention, but I don’t think miniMusic can continue as a one platform developer. I hope we can keep working with Palm for a long time, but I’d like to get some products out on another platform pretty soon.

PS: In 2007 platforms have begun to shift radically with the iPod Touch / iPhone, Google’s Android OS, and Palm’s OS II. How will platforms change what you develop?
MM: So if we support two or more platforms, the question is do we try to create a product that works the same on each platform? Do we do NotePad for Palm, NotePad for Android, NotePad for iPod? Maybe, but I’d prefer to rethink the design so it really shines on each platform. Also, there might be more competition on some of these platforms, which would
be great! I’d love to focus on one or two great products than try to cover all the basic music tools.

PS: Will you consider developing for the iPod Touch / iPhone when the SDK becomes available?
MM: Am considering! Multi-touch opens some really interesting possibilities, but there are still many unknowns. I’m trying to prepare somewhat for the iPhone, but until Apple releases the developers kit I can’t be sure what is and isn’t actually possible.

PS: Do you think that there is a future in mobile music making, or will it remain as largely a hobbyist’s thing?
MM: Musicians are happy to use computers now. Most musicians love portable gear. Where we lose a lot of them is the small screen. They’ve experienced 15 or 17 inch laptop screens and they don’t want to give up all that space yet. Roll up screens or folding screens could fix that… head mounted displays or miniature projectors? That’s one way to solve the problem,
or we need to get more creative with the interface so you don’t need so much screen space. Also, it just takes time. The same questions was asked about computer music making through much of the 70s and 80s… it didn’t really hit it’s stride until the mid 90s.

I can see the future going two ways: either everyone carries a computer in their pocket, which plugs into whatever interface is available (a big screen at your desk, a TV at home, etc.), or everything will move onto the internet, and your phone will just be a browser. Will someone find a way to create software interfaces that can scale to all these different sized displays, or do we continue making and selling separate products for large and small displays? Interfaces that scale down are hard, but simple, clean interfaces that scale up are quite possible…

PS: What was the most technically challenging application you have created?
MM: The first version of NotePad, which was basically my “Hello World” application, was orders of magnitude more complex a project than anything I’d done before. But looking back on it, it doesn’t seem too bad now. The actual winner would be the Krikit Synth that provides sound for all of our apps right now… especially the version made for MixPad. The main difficulty
with it was that it was multi-threaded. Multiple threads takes debugging to this whole new level. If you had complete control of the device, this wouldn’t be so bad, but you’re at the whim of the OS as to when control passes between threads. Trouble.

Then there was a bug on the Treo 680: I spent months trying to figure out what it was and find a work around… no one at Palm wanted to believe it was their fault.

PS: What application / feature are you most proud of and why?
MM: In NotePad, you can write the letter name of a note (a, b, c, etc.) and that note is added to the song. I showed this to someone at a music trade show and they asked, jokingly: “But can you spell Bach?” referring to a piece by Bach that spells his name (“h” in german being used for the b-natural). Turns out I had read Godel Escher Bach and had included the “h” as an easter egg! He was very impressed! 2nd place goes to BugBand; seeing a whole classroom of kids playing BugBand? Priceless.

PS: What do your users ask for most?
MM: In my head I group all of the very niche requests together, so that seems like the biggest percentage. Things like Bag Pipe notation, or microtonal support. But if you throw all those out, importing MIDI files into NotePad is the most desired. The problem is: it’s very hard to make that a good experience (and it remains a bad experience in many notation apps!) given
the wide range of MIDI files out there. MIDI was designed for live performance and it just doesn’t always map well to notation. Doing the graphic display for MixPad helped a lot though, so it should happen before too long.

PS: What are you working on right now?
MM: Just moved, so I’m in cardboard box limbo at the moment. Still trying to get a few updates out before the year is over: small NotePad and BeatPad updates, and some new features for MixPad (like changing tempo, transposing, etc.)

PS: What one development could make application development easier for you?
MM: No bugs. But seriously, the biggest hurdle is often documentation for the SDK or OS. It often makes assumptions about the developers experience (like assuming you’ve developed for Windows or that you like Java). I’m hoping Apple will do good documentation for the iPhone SDK!

PS: When you make music, what kind of music do you make?
MM: In private? or for public performance? For public: I ended up moving in the “performance artist” direction. More conceptual music and interactive pieces. For example I’ve got a piece where people walking up and down a sidewalk trigger different sounds and timbres. Another piece has people drumming on helium balloons and popcorn. I did a pretty cool bowed
disklavier piece once. A wide range of stuff, really. If you search you might find a piece I did on the miniMusic website called “Little BeatPad Boy”. Partially to show off NotePad and BeatPad, but I made it my own with some added samples and filters.

PS: What are you listening to?
MM: Haven’t had time to find much new stuff recently. My latest favorite discovery was Tally Hall. Great song writers and very broad. But I’m all about diversity. My play lists always have some Peter Gabriel, Bela Fleck, Queen, Alan Parsons, Jaap Blank, Chem. Brothers… you know, the standards. Also throw in some great vocalists: Tracy Chapmen, Jane Siberry… I’m a big
fan of Hans Zimmer, which is a shame; he came by the miniMusic booth at NAMM one year, but I was taking a break!

PS: What would you like for Christmas this year?
MM: Zubbles. Maybe next year!

Thanks for that insight into miniMusic. I’m looking forward to what you’re going to come up with using the iPhone SDK. Here’s to an interesting 2008.

3 thoughts on “Interview with miniMusic”

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