Dear Strange Agency, where are you?

I was listening to an old track I’d made using Donut from the Strange Agency and it made me wonder what they were up to these days. Seemingly, nothing. Which is a great shame in my opinion.

One of my favourite apps from them was Donut. I used it on this track for the vocal cut ups. I always found it a really interesting app to work with. In fact, I think that about a lot of their apps. Innovative is the word that comes to mind. Which is why it’s even more of a shame that they seem to have disappeared. I hope it’s just a brief time and not a permanent thing.

Of course I’d love to see all their apps updated with the usual things, but more than that I’d like to see them continue to innovate and bring new ideas to mobile music as they have done in the past.

Having talked about innovation in interface design only recently I think that the Strange Agency have been right up there with the best. So if you know them, or can find out what they’re doing and give them a gentle nudge to get back in the game, then please do. I’m sure it isn’t just me who’d be pleased to see a return of their always innovative and interesting blend of mobile music tools return.

So, Dear Strange Agency, please come back. We miss you!

Donut from the Strange Agency on the app store:

Where next?

As we approach the middle of 2013 (and hasn’t it gone quick) I started to wonder what the next big thing in mobile music will be. Will it be hardware? Will it be a new app or apps? Will it be a new glue like JACK and Audiobus or a development of one or both?

I have to admit to being often surprised by the ideas and concepts that developers come out with these days and so asking what’s next can be a somewhat pointless exercise. Nevertheless, it’s always fun to speculate, so here are a few ideas.

Hardware:

Something radically new from Apple? I doubt that WWDC will bring anything amazing and no one expects the iWatch this year, so will we see anything good for mobile music? Possibly some hardware revisions, but as for anything more I doubt it.

What I’d like to see is the CCK for iPhone, but I’m not holding my breath for that one.

Software:

iOS 7? Hopefully something worth shouting about from an audio / music perspective, but my guess is that the focus will be around the UI and bringing an overhaul to this. I just hope that iOS7 doesn’t make life difficult for music developers.

JACK. An obvious one really. Hoping for more apps to integrate to see a bigger ecosystem here, and also to see maybe some ways for JACK and Audiobus to move a little closer together.

Audiobus. I’d like to see features like recipes (routes?) and Wifi (which has been hinted at), but also more usability features like the ability to launch all apps from a recipe (or route) in one go and restore the files/tracks/songs at their previous point. Is that asking too much?

MIDI. Of course I want to see more MIDI and more apps adding simple features like start/stop for starters. Lately I’ve felt that MIDI implementation has been patchy and I think that there’s still plenty of room for improvement in a lot of areas. Perhaps Midibus will help there?

Undoubtedly what will arrive will be out of the blue, and I like to be surprised, but I’d like to think that we can hope for some more innovation soon as it feels to me like the mobile music world has slowed down just a little.

What happened to the iPod Mini, and will it happen again?

And more importantly, will the same thing happen to the iPad Mini?

This thought came to me the other day and I started to wonder about Apple’s product strategy. They’ve made some amazing hardware, but they’ve never been afraid to give up on a design. This has happened on a number of occasions.

  • iPod Mini – Released in 2004 and 2005 but not kept, and replaced by the Nano
  • iPod Nano – 7 different designs with features in all of them removed and changed from one generation to the next

So will this be the fate of the iPad Mini? Will it (and even the touch) be replaced by an iPad Nano, a merged version of the new mini and the existing touch? I’m not saying that Apple shouldn’t experiment with designs and ideas, but I just think it’s worth noting that nothing stays still for long in the Apple hardware ecosystem.

iOS Musician on Ableton acknowledging the mobile ecosystem for Live

This was just a short piece at iOS Musician, but it made me firstly look at Live 9 and especially the part of that page that talks about iOS and Android controllers, and also look at Push as well, and both of those things got me thinking.

Of course it’s good to see that Ableton acknowledge the many applications that have grown up around but it does make me wonder if they’ll ever do anything in the mobile space themselves. They don’t have to of course, other have done a very good job of it so far, so you could argue that it becomes less of a priority.

But the description of Push got me thinking. The refer to it as “An instrument for song creation that fits in your backpack with your laptop”, and that sounds kind of mobile to me, or at least heading in that direction.

It makes me wonder if in time we could see a Push Mikro in the same way as we saw Maschine Mikro? Who knows. One thing is for sure, Ableton acknowedge that mobile is not going away, that it’s a valuable part of the ecosystem and that you can’t ignore it.

That’s good enough for now.

Evolver’s view on Apple’s iPad announcements

Interesting point of view from Evolver and whilst I think there are some valid points to this piece I also think there’s more going on here.

I’ll get back to you on that.

If there is to be an iPad Mini then what will it mean?

There’s lots of rumours about an Apple event on the 23rd to announce an iPad Mini, but still I can’t really see how it fits in, or where it fits in. It doesn’t make sense to me. Not to say that I couldn’t be wrong, and not to say that it isn’t just a reaction to all the other tablets of about the same size that everyone suggests an iPad Mini might be.

But if it does come out I can’t see how it will distinguish itself or differentiate itself at all.

Maybe Apple will pull something amazing out of the bag. They haven’t for a while, but it is possible, I suppose.

The Immense Temptation of Hardware

I’ve been writing this blog since 2006 and in that time I think it’s fair to say that the main focus of it has been around software (or apps as we now seem to refer to it). Hardware has played a part but a smaller one on the whole.

However, increasingly I seem to find that I’m drawn to hardware these days. A friend recently bought a Kaossilator 2, which is a device I’ve been considering for some time now, and I’ve been on the verge of buying an OP-1 on countless occasions.

So what is it that draws me (us?) to hardware more than software? Is it simply the pull of a physical object that can be unboxed, held, connected with? Is it a reaction to apps being centre stage for such a sustained period?

Personally I’m not sure, I seem to move between liking the physical object to preferring the ability to have everything in a single device. In fact, I’m not sure that there is an answer, perhaps it is just a cyclical thing.

Anyway, I thought I’d share this and see if anyone else had any thoughts on it.

Does mobile music need standards?

I think it’s been a while since the whole debate of ACP and pasteboard and which is better and more open etc.

Also, with AudioBus almost upon us, that is, if it makes it through the app store review process, I thought now would be a good time to talk about standards.

The first question really is, do we need standards for mobile music? One view point could be that on the whole apps for mobile devices are relatively short lived and so don’t need to adhere to standards (excepting Apple’s and Google’s submission standards etc), so there’s no need to handle things like MIDI or ACP / Pasteboard in a consistent way

Another point of view is that as the whole market will move on quickly anyway why worry about standards or consistency in handling communications like MIDI or OSC.

One thing I keep mentioning to people though is that the whole of this market or movement or whatever you want to call it, is very young, and as such is still emerging. That’s a good thing in my view, and it gives us an opportunity to shape the world of mobile music before practices become to ingrained. I should also point out that I don’t just mean the world of iOS either. I mean all mobile operating systems that let you make music. In practice that means iOS and Android right now, but I think it’s important to establish that standards should exist independently of operating system, and that this will become more important as OS’s change and adapt and offer developers more opportunities to deliver cross platform applications.

This isn’t an answer, more a prompt for a debate on the subject of standards and where this goes.

Hopefully you’ll think it’s worth adding your views to.

Mobile Music, Community and Social Media

Let’s face it. Communities are difficult at the best of times. But since the very beginning of mobile music users and developers have formed and grown their own communities. Now with  social media community gets easier in many ways, but also it becomes more difficult.

You might be wondering why I’m posting about mobile music and community. It’s a fair question. Now more than ever I think that community and social sharing is important for music, not just mobile music either.

Plenty has been done in communities and social media within the mobile music community, but I’d like to spend a little time exploring what it means and where it might go next.

It seems like these days every developer has a forum and a Facebook page and at least one twitter account. Many have multiple twitter accounts each one dealing with its own app and often a Facebook page per app and that’s ignoring the explosion of soundcloud groups that are available either per app or for numerous other groups too. So with this proliferation of information sources what do we get? Confused possibly?

There are so many ways to share and post sounds, music and what you’re doing with it. It has become confusing. So what kind of connections between mobile music and social media make sense and what doesn’t.

I can understand sharing options like the ones in SoundCloud on uploading tracks, but I can think of a whole load more and I don’t really understand why these aren’t in more apps.

We seem to share virtually everything these days, from pictures with apps like instagram to our own location through foursquare. So why don’t we extend the social sharing in music making apps in more ways? Location is something that I think is wholly underused in music making app, although I’m pleased to see RJDJ’s Project Now app is on the way through the Apple review process now.

Location would make sense in mobile music in a big way. I’d personally find it very useful to be able to collect projects by location and see a map of where I’d worked on a track. It would be really interesting to see the locations that made more creative sense for me, and to take it a step further it would be interesting to see where other people found their best inspiration.

But as we share so much of what we do on a constant basis, from where we’ve bought coffee to what we’re eating for lunch, why can’t we do this with music making as well? Why don’t apps let you tweet or post what you’re doing in them as you’re doing it? Making a patch, mixing a track, etc. Apart from being good ongoing PR for the developer it could also be a good way to share tips and knowledge as you go through working with your music.

So, there are a few thoughts on community and social media. I’d like to see more sharing and better ways to interact, although that veers into collaboration and that’s a topic for another day entirely.

Let me know what you think.

Platforms, Subscriptions, Models

Mobile music has come along way in the last 5 years, and it is only fair to say that a great deal of the change has been facilitated by Apple and their iOS operating system and iTunes. Without a doubt the global ecosystem that they’ve created has enabled the immense simplicity that users now enjoy.
I can still remember when you had to manually install applications on portable devices. It was complex. It was time consuming. The more expensive applications always had lengthy registration processes and codes to deal with, and if you accidentally deleted an application from a device you had to go through the process all over again. Not so now.

The app store simplifies so much of the buying and installation process that you hardly ever even think about it. That is of course how it should be. But there is another side to the elegance of the app store platform solution. It has people locked in.

I find it interesting to see the different direction that the business of music consumption has migrated from a model of ownership to something more akin to rental with services like Spotify and a number of others. However, we don’t see anything like that appearing for music creation. Why is that, what would it look like, and most importantly, what would it mean?

Would it be possible to rent applications in a music creation platform, or down to a more granular level of renting functionality. There are all sorts of possibilities when you start to think about the idea of transposing concepts employed in subscription music services to music creation.

In March of 2012 I went to a conference about mobile music run by the app side. Someone from Spotify was there and one thing they said was that Spotify’s aim was to be the OS of music. This was a bold statement, and an interesting idea as well. It made me think, and in fact it kept me thinking, not just about what the person from Spotify had said, in fact not at all about Spotify’s claim, but about what the OS of music would be.

A long time ago I read a lot about a replacement for the Palm OS called Capers. The intention was to use Capers instead of the Palm device’s own operating system. Capers was to be a mobile OS for music. Sadly, it never came to anything. However, the claim from Spotify made we go over my own thinking about this again. I think that Spotify’s statement was more about marketing than actually being an operating system for music. But, it makes me think about what an operating system for music creation would be and what it would mean.

Ten years ago this might have been something like a conventional operating system, but now it might be something very different indeed. It makes me wonder what part should an operating system play in music creation? To what degree is the software just a plug in to the creative process rather than central to it? To answer these questions you need to think carefully about what an operating system is and what it gives you. My view is that essentially the operating system is just a base for functionality. Something to build on top of. A platform (for want of a better word) for applications that do the things to actually want.

I realise that in many ways this is somewhat obvious, but stay with me. Does this make sense in the context of musical creativity or any other type of creativity for that matter? When you want to make music with a real world instrument you don’t need this intermediary layer in the same way as you do with a computer operating systems, there isn’t anything in the real world that allows the instrument to work in the same was an OS.

So, in computing terms the operating system makes sense but in a creative sense it doesn’t. Although in practical terms it really is an absolute necessity. Now, don’t worry that I’m advocating a move away from using operating systems be they mobile or otherwise. I’m not. I’m just pointing out the limitations that are superimposed on the creative process by the structure of the technology itself. But when you start to realise these things it makes you wonder how it is that an operating system for a mobile phone enables so much creativity.

In an ideal world I’d love to see a wholly music orientated operating system. In fact I’d probably argue that it shouldn’t even be referred to as an operating system but as a creative system. I’m sure someone else could come up with a better title though. But we are in the real world an that means dealing the operating systems we have and with the limitations and models that are forced on us by them.

I think that the next few years will see increased experimentation in models and platforms. This could be a good thing. Or at least in models. I expect that at least in the short term iOS will remain the dominant mobile OS for music creation, which in a sense is a shame, not just because it means that there are fewer choices around devices, but also because I think there will be less impetus for Apple to move the OS further in the direction of music creation. I could be wrong though.

But I think that the most interesting idea is that of a subscription based mobile music platform (or OS for that matter), something that does for musical creation what Spotify has done for listening. Now that would be worth investigating.

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