Microsoft Surface tablet: betting the company

I’m kind of excited about the Surface tablet.

Assuming it catches on at all, it will force iOS to stay on top of the game audio-wise.  Android tablets are woefully behind with regard to media processing as a system service (especially compared with Windows and iOS), and Apple has basically been able to stay on top while ignoring important things like “inter-app audio” until now.

As far as Microsoft is concerned, this announcement is a big middle finger to their channel partners who have to date failed to make a popular tablet (also, it’s kind of a snub to Intel, who only gets half of the action).

It’s risky and bold; Frustrated in a post-PC economy with no options to support their old business model, Microsoft was forced to take the matter into their own hands.  If everything turns out like the Xbox, this could be a big new platform for them.  If not, this could be the beginning of the end.  Check out The Verge’s video – if Josh Topolsky likes it, I’m paying attention.

▶ Ableton Live 9 – A great leap forward?

Music Radar interviewed quite a few A-list EDM producers on their desired features in Live 9. While many requested very specific, super-technical type things, I think Martin Delaney nails the elephant in the room:

“Ableton is going to get its ass severely kicked if I don’t see some acknowledgement of iOS. I want Live running on iPad, or at least some kind of ‘connected’ app, like Propellerhead’s Figure app. This should be priority number one for Ableton as it should have done this already.”

Let’s pretend we’re Ableton – laser-focused on our one product. Widely used, lauded as one of the best of its kind by professionals in the targeted field. But suddenly, a new platform emerges. Let’s say it takes 4-5 years for this platform to really take over, and people are really using it as their main platform for general purpose computing. Sound familiar?

November 2001: MOTU Digital Performer v3 released about the same time as OSX 10.1 “Cheetah”. At this point, Ableton was still being invented. The cool kids used MOTU to do recordings. Very shortly after this, Ableton Live version 1.1 was first announced, and was one of the first DAW’s to run natively on OSX.

Fast forward:

November 2009: Ableton releases Max for Live released a few months ahead of iOS 4 and of course, the iPad. While my thoughts on the iPad as a desktop replacement are well documented, I think future generations will look back to January 2010 in the same way we watch the 1984 introduction of the Mac today – an historic turning point in how we use technology.

Anyone still using Digital Performer? *cricket* *cricket* That’s what I thought.

Who is the Ableton of today? What spunky new company is going to win the hearts and minds of producers, engineers and DJ’s today? The iPad (3) is fully capable of doing what a 2001 Mac could do – audio, storage, and throughput-wise. Why haven’t we seen the giant leap forward in audio software that we saw in 2001?

Two scenarios are possible:

  1. The next big thing is out there, incubating, or maybe exists already in nascent form. Some tiny audio software company just might make the next big thing – a universal DAW type app that runs perfectly on iOS, eschews cheesy design language, and propels the platform into an era of true audio productivity. Ableton continues serving its desktop users until said users get bored and try out whatever this new hotness is.
  2. Ableton (or Propellerhead, or Steinberg…eh probably not Steinberg) foresees this scenario, and is working on it.
It’s been about three years since a major release of Live. In software-years, that’s a long time.
If the pitch for Ableton Live 9 is simply a laundry list of feature add-ons like most of what I read in the Music Radar article, it’s going to leave open a huge opportunity for a challenger to emerge – both in the desktop and mobile space. It’s clear that more and more young people are skipping the computer phase totally, and moving straight to iPads. I’m hoping for more than “some acknowledgement of iOS”. Ableton absolutely has to be seeing the potential out there – just about every DAW company has shown its cards as to its iOS strategy.
In summary:

100% crop of a screenshot of iPad GarageBand on the Retina Display

Stunning amount of detail on this display.

From the “recent projects” screen – the thumbnail of the default demo project:

Remember: these aren’t enlarged.  This is the actual image from the screen at full resolution.  Imagine if you could cram this much detail into a desktop display.

Desktop vs. Mobile music making

Palm Sounds has some great thoughts on mobile music making, and his theory of two separate markets existing (mobile and desktop/pro) for the foreseeable future:

So, going back to my question. Why is mobile music application development going in such a similar direction to desktop? Because it’s easy? Because it makes sense? Because it’s what users want? Maybe all of them. My issue with this is that I don’t think we’re seeing apps take real advantage of the fact that the device is mobile and I think that there are a lot of missed opportunities as a result. I’m not saying that there aren’t apps that make good use of the full facilities of a mobile device but they’re aren’t many.

Great questions, and some great writing in general on the topic. This sort of sums up why I am tepid towards GarageBand, but I love Figure. One is a stripped down quasi-DAW that doesn’t really do the job, and the other is a legitimately new thing, that could only really exist on a mobile device.

“You won’t feel as though you’ve just stolen a Klingon battle cruiser”

Create Digital Music has a great “hands on” with iOS GarageBand that reads more like a treatise on designing easy software for beginners who are uncomfortable with most music software.

I’d like to add that iOS GarageBand allows far more ability to create original “crutched” music (via the excellent Smart Instruments) than it’s Mac big brother does. In fact, if I had an unlimited budget, I’d start my class on iOS GarageBand and then move straight to Ableton Live.

The article doesn’t address the fact that “digital natives” (kids who grow up comfortable with computer-y metaphors and don’t need real world metaphors to help them use a computer) tend to care less about the look of an app, and more about how quickly/easily it works. When I say I could start beginners on Ableton Live, it’s totally due to the “laid-bareness” of the UI. Everything you need is there, works, and is clear.

Nothing needs to look like a “real” instrument (or gear/rack) because the computer itself is the “real” instrument now.