As you’re probably aware I’ve been working on and off on a project called SoundLab for a while now. This post isn’t about the project though. It’s sort of about what I’ve learnt from the project, or rather, what the project has helped me to learn. Hopefully it’ll make sense to you, and maybe make you think about your perception of why or how different apps are useful.
So, we all love our apps, that’s for sure. We all make demands on developers to add the features we love and will make those apps more useful for us, and that’s just a part of the mobile music world now.
We ask for audiobus and audioshare, IAA, MIDI and lots of other things and we expect them as hygiene factors these days. But what I’ve begun to learn over the last couple of months is that actually there are some much more fundamental things that can make an app something really useful, or just fundamentally enjoyable.
So Here’s my list. Tell me what you think:
1. The most important thing an app must do is be able to help you make music in a way that makes sense for you.
That might seem self evident. It is. But even the most feature packed apps won’t be any use to you if you can’t relate to them and they don’t help you to achieve what you want to, and there are apps like that, or at least that I feel are like that.
The best apps are the ones that let you express yourself and create something that you’re happy with. That you like and that you can be proud of. And the definition of that is entirely up to you (of course).
2. The best apps are or at the very least can be playful.
I think that one of the most important things you can do with an app is just enjoying playing with it. I mentioned it in my post on Monday. Playing is not for any purpose but just to play. To have fun. To simply enjoy the act of making music or making a sound. If you app can do that then it’s the best app for making music.
Sometimes it’s easy for us to forget just how important playfulness is. In many ways it is at the core of music making, but it can be easy to overlook as it’s all too easy to be task focused on making something or polishing or even the technicalities of music production.
Play is important. Don’t forget it.
3. The best app in the world is the one you’ve got with you when inspiration strikes.
I remember reading something about photographers and what is the best camera you can buy and the best for different types of photography etc and one photographer saying in this piece that the best camera you can have is the one that you have with you when there’s an amazing picture opportunity right in front of you. I know that’s a pretty vague story but hopefully you get the gist of it.
I don’t think that’s any different with making music. If inspiration strikes and you’ve got nothing with you to make music then that’s just tough. If all you’ve got is your iPhone and it’s got an app on it that let’s you make music and capture your inspiration then that makes it the best for the job.
4. The best app is the one that just works.
Increasingly in order to make music you have to spend time in getting to grips with an app. You need to learn it and understand it. You might need to configure it and you might also need to do things before you can prepare for recording or making music. I think that mobile is about immediacy, so really, and a bit like point 3, the best app is the one where you can be up and running and getting your ideas down straight away.
5. The best apps are the ones that are responsive to user’s requests.
Ok this is more to do with the developer rather than the app itself, but in many ways the two go hand in hand. There’s a balance to be had with responding to user requests for features and changes. It isn’t always in the best interests of the app itself. Sometimes a new feature of change can break as much as it mends and of course just because one user wants something doesn’t mean that everyone else will welcome it.
Being able to find a reasonable middle ground is a real art and some developers are great at it whilst others are not so good. I’m not naming names, that wouldn’t be fair.
6. The best apps are not abandonware
It’s fairly obvious but of course it is worth saying anyway. We all hate it when our favourite app gets abandoned by the developer. It’s no fun at all. But it does happen and sometimes for very good reasons.
7. The best apps have balance
What do I mean by balance? I’ll tell you. Balance means that you don’t have to be an expert user to be able to make music with the app. It means that you can start the app and get up and running quick. It means you don’t need to be an engineer or understand the intricacies of modular synthesis to get some cool sounds. However, if you are able to do all those things you can if you want.
An app with balance will not trade off technicality for usability. It really isn’t easy, but getting it right is really worth it.
8. The best apps move with their users
Great developers listen to their users and what their users make as well. They’re in tune with their community and they know what users are doing and asking for and talking about.
9. The best apps inspire as well as motivate
I think that really good music apps shouldn’t just be great for making music but also inspire you to a degree. Not give you actual musical ideas, although there are some like Mixtikl that do, but more about the experience inspiring you to make more music and explore ideas. It’s like the interface in some apps makes you want to try out new ideas, and that’s great.
10. The best apps are invisible
By that I mean that the app, the UI etc don’t intrude into your workflow, don’t become a hindrance. In fact, in my view the best apps almost disappear when you use them and just become an extension of your creativity as a musician.
So that’s my view on what makes a great app. I’m sure you can come up with other things to add, or disagree with me. Do feel free, as I am as always interested in what you think.