In Which I Add to the World's Surplus of iPad Punditry | Bleader

In Which I Add to the World's Surplus of iPad Punditry


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I'm a second-wave technology adopter. I geek out over gadgets, but it's rare that my eagerness to own one wins out over the almost certain knowledge that an improved and most likely discounted second version will be out in a year. This is especially true of Apple, who aren't afraid of fucking over the fanboys who line up to pay out the ass for what in retrospect will seem like a partly finished product. (They're also fine with fucking them later on down the line, as first-generation iPod owners found out when Apple discontinued iTunes support for their players.) So my first reaction to seeing the iPad was that it looked neat, and that I'd probably really enjoy messing around with it in a year or so, when I buy the second-gen model with the camera and the built-in USB ports and whatever else Apple's engineers decide to improve it with.

That plan lasted about as long as it took me to start fantasizing about the music apps that are going to be developed for the iPad.

There have been a lot of cool music apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch, but so far most of them are cool only in the sense of "neato"—they're not powerful tools for actual composition and performance. Robust, prosumer-level apps like iDrum are way outnumbered by apps like RJDJ and Brian Eno's Bloom, Trope, and Air, which are fascinating challenges to traditional musical-interface modes—a topic I discussed in a 2008 Sharp Darts column—but ultimately the aural equivalent of lava lamps. (Only a few, like Star6, manage to be both.) Despite the efforts of projects like the Mobile Phone Ensemble, the iPhone isn't taken too seriously as a musical instrument.

The iPad, on the other hand, has the processor power and multitouch real estate to get a little more serious. Apple's always had an outsize market share among musicians, and now they're offering a device that melds an infinitely flexible virtual workspace with the intuitive, hands-on interface of a "real-world" instrument, a combination that until recently has been priced out of the range of most musicians. The possibilities are enough to make a man want to drop 600 bucks.

If they haven't already, Korg and Yamaha should start teams developing iPad-compatible software emulations of their Kaossilator and Tenori-On, respectively, so they can compete with what will most likely be a flood of knockoff programs attempting to imitate those instruments for much cheaper. (The Tenori-On goes for about a grand.) A port of Ableton Live, even a stripped-down one, could be a revelatory experience. If Apple ever allows the iPad to really interface with a laptop or desktop computer—rather than simply synching like the iPhone or iPod—it could easily become a mega-versatile control device like those made by Jazzmutant, or help Serato bridge the gap between old-school turntablism and Minority Report.

And then there's the almost inevitable killer app still to come, the one that will be simple and intuitive and shatter the instrument-interface paradigm, the way Wii Sports completely flipped peoples' conceptions of game control like it wasn't even a thing. I don't know what it will look like or how it'll work, but I'm sure it's going to convince a lot of skeptical musicians to consider a touch-screen tablet as an instrument as serious as anything with physical keys or strings.

Of course there are going to be early adopters who will be bringing the iPad onstage as soon as the damn thing drops, and they will initially be as much of a novelty as people who play iPhone "guitars." But if developers of audio software take to this thing the way I think they will and exploit it to its potential, the novelty will be replaced by actual innovation in no time.