Why the iPad 2 is going to change a lot of musician’s lives

It’s very unlikely you’re unaware of the iPad, and chances are you’re also aware the iPad 2 was announced today. For most people it’s likely an incremental upgrade for the popular tablet. The thinner, faster iPad with an optional white colour scheme sure looks nice and it’ll no doubt be more fun to use with the dual-core chip. For most people however, it doesn’t go much beyond that. One exception that stands out for me in a big way are musicians. I don’t just mean electronic musician geeks like me. I mean guitarists, drummers, bass players and pretty much anything else you can think of. Why?- because GarageBand is now a serious option on the iPad. There’s been no shortage of music recording apps for the iPad, but having the well known music-sketchpad on there is a big plus. The faster processor is another important part of the equation from a music creation viewpoint.

Aside from GarageBand, the reason I’m convinced the latest iPad iteration is going to make a splash is the level of adoption of the platform by other hardware manufacturers. Using my own passion of synths and keyboards as an example, there are already a bunch of options around for using an iPad as the display / sound source / editing interface for a range of keyboard gear. It makes a hell of a lot of sense – with the growing adoption of tablets, why would you create your own proprietary LED / LCD screen in a synth? Install an iPad dock and allow people to take it from there. The more innovative manufacturers are already looking at ways to allow importation of sounds for a synth from the iPad and there are already controller keyboards (that don’t contain any sounds themselves) that allow the use of the iPad as the sound source rather than a PC or Mac.

My only concern on this falls around the docking connector itself. Apple are renowned for changing connectors and if I’ve spent thousands on a workstation synth that relies on an iPad as its interface, then I may have a large problem a couple of years down the track. Sure there may be adapter options but workarounds like that can be frustrating at best. It’s a risk with most technology so it’s hard to complain too hard on that front.

For the guitarist / bass player / drummer, the prevalence of amp modelling software and soft synths / drum machines, combined with either GarageBand or third-party sound recording apps, is providing a real option for both home and performing musicians. Although the iPad’s sound input options are pretty limited, there are plenty of audio interfaces around designed to help out and things are only going to get better in that regard.

Is the iPad the Messiah? Not at all. Are there alternatives? Absolutely and you should check them out. Does it have limitations? Damn straight it does – the size of its flash memory, lack of USB and the incredibly restrictive file sharing options outside of iTunes are three big ones. All that said, as an evolutionary development musicians should be sitting up an taking a lot of notice. The novelty value of bands like Atomic Tom has pretty much expired. In its place is a growing acceptance of the tablet computer as an intrinsic part of the modern musician armoury. I play in an 80s/90s cover band and I’m already planning on integrating an iPad into my rig – I somehow think I’m not alone in that.

Mobile devices: a new life for the disabled

It’s really easy in the tech field to look at new products within the prism of the average consumer. Take the iPad for example – it’s a common route to discuss cool apps that have been released and to debate future developments. It’s also easy to forget the enormous benefits these devices can bring. A superb illustration of this is the piece below from the New York Times.

Now, there just needs to be a way of funding the distribution of devices like these to families who can’t otherwise afford them. Perhaps that’s how Steve Jobs could get his name up in lights alongside Bill Gates as a leading philanthropist….

Music apps for the iPhone and iPad: new resource

Pro Music Apps is a new site devoted solely to iPhone / iPad applications that are music-related. One of its co-owners is a good friend of mine who has a quarter of a century as a musician and music producer under his belt, so there’ll be no shortage of in-depth knowledge and valid skepticism of dodgy apps.

The site has only recently launched but there’s already plenty of content on there. With the iPad now a reality, music applications will continue their explosive growth. Sites like this will play a role in sorting the wheat from the chaff – so why not give them a try?

Why the iPad is a game-changer for virtual environments

In the past couple of hours, the official announcement of the Apple iPad has finally been made. As with all these announcements, the rumors have been partly right, but there’s still been a fair share of surprises.

I won’t go into the technical specifics of the iPad here: publications like Australian Macworld * have all that. What I do want to discuss, with as little fanboyishness as possible, is how I see the iPad being a real landmark in the ongoing growth of virtual words:

1. The App Store and Social Worlds = Gold

In the less than 18 months of the App Store’s existence, more than three billion applications have been downloaded. Expect that to continue to grow exponentially on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Add the iPad to the mix and there’s even more fuel in the fire. The real success of the Apple App Store has been its simplicity in installing applications – that’s now migrated to a larger form-factor, with applications developed to make the best of it.

Apple know the appeal of social gaming and games like Zynga’s Farmville and Cafe World are some of the leaders. Facebook and embedded games like Farmville are ideally suited to a tablet-sized screen. As are the thousands of alternatives that’ll follow suit over the coming year. The ones that make good money will need to ensure a satisfying experience for users in the longer term, which means more engaging environments in order to maintain market leadership. With Zynga’s titles being Flash-based, there may actually be some serious challenges for them on the iPad given the lack of Flash support to date on the iPhone. Some will say that’s far from a bad thing.

2. The iPad as Virtual Trojan Horse

Arguably one of the key barriers to widespread adoption of virtual worlds has been their perception as niche, with significant technical and bandwidth requirements. The niche aspect is slowly being broken down, mostly thanks to the ‘Facebook’ games discussed above. What the iPad will do over time is overcome the technical issues for a new user. It’s hard to imagine it’ll be too many months before someone develops effective iPad applications for Second Life, OpenSim, Blue Mars, Frenzoo and so on. When you have those applications able to be downloaded as easy as Farmville, then the iPad has truly become the Trojan Horse that’s smuggled in the heavy hitters in virtual environments.

On the cautionary side, tablet PCs are a very small proportion of the market at present – this announcement might change that but it’ll take more than a few months to do so. The announced prices aren’t exorbitant for the feature set (starting at US $499 for the Wi-Fi Only version), so although there’s not likely to be a stampede, the price is cheap enough to ensure some big sales numbers over coming months.

3. It’s about relaxation

For those of us that spend a lot of time online, sitting at a computer or juggling a laptop is second nature. For the vast majority that spend time online, it’s a necessary evil> The ability to have a portable device that’s large enough to view comfortably but small enough to accommodate most people’s sitting (or lying) poses has got to increase its likelihood of use. Where a casual user may have previously checked their email, read their Facebook timeline and perhaps browsed a website or two, with devices like the iPad they may spend an extra ten minutes chatting in IMVU or grinding through Cafe World.

It’s far from certain, but if a Second Life or OpenSim application is developed that has a feature-set close to as good as the current viewers, then there may also be a spike in use of those more complex environments. For those who use voice in Second Life, a iPad application will be of particular value as the need to type is so much less, although the decision by Apple to offer a physical keyboard as an iPad accessory is a sensible one. Hell, I’ll put my neck on the line and say that a near full-featured Second Life or OpenSim viewer will have been announced and maybe even delivered by the end of this year.

The Sum Up

Today’s announcement isn’t earth-shattering in the scheme of things, but it’s certainly a significant event in a virtual worlds context. The landscape isn’t going to change immediately and perhaps not radically. What is going to happen over time, is an even greater level of growth of virtual worlds users / players / residents as it becomes a less time consuming and technical task to interact with your avatar and the people you enjoy spending time with online. The potential growth may be somewhat under the radar initially, as people focus on the iPad’s abilities as a media reader and ultra-portable ‘productivity enhancer’.

Those potential new virtual world inhabitants won’t necessarily be using a iPad – you can stake your life on clones surfacing in coming months, but like the iPod and iPhone before it, this is a device that has broken some new ground.

For those wanting to discuss the announcement further, Mitch Wagner is holding a discussion this weekend in Second Life – all the details here.

Now over to you: do you see the iPad as a game-changer of just more Apple-driven hype?

* Disclosure: I’m a paid contributing writer for Australian Macworld

Photo courtesy of Gizmodo

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