iPad pro

Editing audio with toUch gestures and apple pencil

I Tweeted a thread yesterday about the superiority of editing audio on a touch screen by manipulating regions directly with my fingers and an Apple Pencil.

It became clear that it wasn’t suitable to explain just how comfortable and precise the experience is in written text. So I have done my very best to communicate it through video. Enjoy…

Ferrite is still a very immature DAW by modern day professional standards. And the iPad is still a very immature platform for creative professional software by modern computing standards. What the iPad really needs is something like Logic Pro X. Apple has got to set the standard for professional apps by releasing their own.

Logic or not, Ferrite can get the job done. And gesture/stylus support aren’t the only things that make editing on an iPad more fluid. The form factor of a tablet makes it perfect for “couch-editing.” Plus, iPad is a lot easier to pick up and move from room to room while I am listening to hours of my own podcasts play back.

Microsoft Office for iPad now supports opening files from the Files app more directly

Microsoft Office and the Files App Finally Play Nice Together:

Today Microsoft updated its Office suite for iOS, with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint all reaching version 2.12. Office updates rarely receive detailed release notes, and today was no exception, but user Teddy Svoronos discovered that the updates brought 'Open In' capabilities to the share sheet, which previously only enabled making a copy of an Office document. The 'Copy to' option has now been removed, replaced by the more convenient 'Open in.'

After seeing Teddy's tweet, I did a little playing around in the Files app and discovered that, while Excel and PowerPoint documents accessed in Files will load Quick Look previews and require tapping 'Open in' from the share sheet, the experience is even better with .docx files. Those Word-associated documents open directly in the Word app with just a single tap from the Files interface – no need to open the share sheet first.

It is really nice to see proper use of the Files app user interface being adopted into apps by third party developers. The more time passes, hopefully we will see this adoption so wide that opening documents using the native file browser will feel no different on an iPad than it does on a Mac. It always feels jarring on Mac when the “Open” option doesn’t show the Finder. On iPad, custom “open” UIs have been standard since its beginning. Hopefully the Files app introduced this past fall with iOS 11 will continue to change that. 

What I really thought was interesting about this article was something I have been wondering about the Files app since the summer. 

Update: One of the developers working on Office has confirmed my suspicions: the reason Word files open for me with a single tap while Excel and PowerPoint files do not is that I haven't opened those files enough for iOS to know that I would prefer to bypass the share sheet.

I had noticed that tapping on files in the Files app could open them within third party apps but I never understood how iOS knew which apps to use. (For example, standard text files were opening in Byword on my iPhone and 1Writed on my iPad for a time.) It seems that the user can to some extent control these apps by using the “Open In…” option from the Files app and choosing the desired app frequently. Still though, I would love the option to set default apps on iOS. I can tell my Mac which app I want to open PDFs. Why not on my iPad Pro?

Brief Thoughts on Apple’s Education Event

Well it has taken me long enough… This past week, Apple held an education event. Below are some brief thoughts on the subject. Chris Russell is coming on my podcast later this week to talk about all of the details. Keep in mind, I do not work in a school with 1:1 iPads or any kind of deployment strategy. But I am very seriously invested in Apple’s role in education and their vision for how their products fit into the classroom.

New iPad

This device looks great. Adding the Apple Pencil to this model will be an asset for schools. But will schools really pay 89 dollars for a pencil after just having purchased numerous 250 dollar iPads? 

The thing that gets me most excited about this device is its consumer potential. I am tempted to buy one for myself as a (more) mobile counterpart to my larger 12.9 inch iPad Pro.

iWork Updates

Apple Pencil support. FINALLY. This was my favorite announcement of the day. I anticipate editing Pages documents, scribbling on bus attendance lists made in Numbers, and annotating Keynote slides at the front of the classroom on a daily basis. I hate to be cynical (which the rest of this post will be), but Microsoft Office for iPad has had the ability to write on documents with an Apple Pencil since the Apple Pencil launched, two years ago. 

iBooks Author

Seems like the Mac app is no longer going to receive development. All book publishing features have been moved to Pages for iOS and Mac. It doesn’t appear that the new feature does everything that iBooks Author can do. Hopefully this is like when Apple rewrote Final Cut Pro X, took away some features, but then eventually added them back. Or when iWork was rewritten to be the same for iOS and macOS, stripping AppleScript features from the Mac, but eventually bringing them back. I would hate to see iBook authors unable to use workflows they have in the past using iBooks Author for the Mac. 

Classroom App for Mac

Apple’s learning management system comes to the Mac. Great! But what took so long? And can Apple keep up with the vastly more mature and flexible Google Classroom? (See conclusion below)

School Work App

An app for teachers to give assignments to students, check their progress, and collect it back. School Work can route students to other apps to do their assignments using the ClassKit API which is very cool. But why is this separate from the Classroom app? And where does iTunes U fit into all of this?

Conclusion

Apple is making a lot of solid efforts here but a lot of it it feels like too little too late, especially the student and learning management software. I really do hope they can keep up with Google Classroom who has been eating everyone’s lunch for years. Apple will have to be aggressive about adding new features to all of these new apps and making sure that their app ecosystem is flexible enough to compete with Chromebooks which use browser based software. Yes, there are way more apps on the App Store than there are Chrome based apps, but in education (and especially in music education) a lot of the big players are writing for Chrome OS. To me, the draw of Chromebooks in education is not their price, but the flexibility of web based software.

Apple’s software engineers seem spread very thin and unable to balance the release of various applications, consistently over time. This is true of many of Apple’s consumer apps. Mail and Reminders, two tentpole productivity apps have fallen way behind the competition. Calendar has not seen any more than a few major feature updates since I started using the Mac back in 2006. Apple’s apps are part of the “nice” factor of being in the ecosystem. Sometimes an app like Notes will get some major new features, but then we won’t hear from it for a few years. Google’s apps, by contrast, lack the same design sense, but are constantly being updated with new features. And they are not locked into annual OS updates like iOS is. In my opinion, this is Apple’s biggest problem right now.

Ironically, software is still my draw to Apple products. Even though their hardware is the most indisputably good thing they are doing right now (I am nearly without complaint of my iPhone X and the iPad 10.5 is perfect), it is the software that locks me in. In other words, I am much more committed to macOS and iOS than I am Mac and iPhone. This leaves me with some long term concern about my interest in continuing to use Apple products. And great concern about any educational institution who jumps on the iPad bandwagon just because apps are bright and colorful and demo well on stage. Apple has to show continual support for their education software if their dream for the classroom is to come true.

 

Gvido Music E-Reader

Just this past week I was recording a forthcoming episode of my podcast with Chris Russell (which should be posted within the next few weeks) on working with digital scores. We got talking about stand alone sheet music reader devices, in particular how previous devices were made instantly irrelevant when the iPad came out.

Click the link below to read about a new device in this class, the Gvido Digital Music Score. The article goes into depth about the technical details of this device. I still cannot see how something like this is going to take off when even the top of the line iPad Pro is only hundreds of dollars cheaper and can do way more. I have a Kindle Paperwhite and I do think that E Ink is beautiful and far easier on the eyes during extended lengths of use. Still though, I think I would choose my iPad over this any day of the week. 

Early impressions of the Gvido music e-reader from the 2017 MOLA conference

 

Improved Apple Pencil accuracy in the new iPad Pro and its use with music apps

I am trying to be careful not to post too much about iOS 11 and the new iPad Pro on this blog, but a post from David Sparks last week struck me as quite relevant for musicians and educators. David Sparks is an Apple productivity guru, and co-host of one of my favorite podcasts, Mac Power Users. 

Sparks is also a jazz enthusiast and plays the saxophone in his spare time (although I am not sure how he has any). In my opinion, he is a primary authority on using iPads for work, and he has been using the new 10.5 inch pro for over a week now. He highlights a few uses of the Apple Pencil with music apps in a recent blog post of his. I have quoted it below...

David Sparks: One Week with the New iPad Pro:

In addition to a faster screen render, the new iPad also provides a faster scan for the pencil at 240 times per second. You won't notice any difference when drawing quickly. The first time I tried it, I made broad fast strokes on prior generation iPad right next to this 10.5 inch iPad and couldn't notice a difference. Then I got thinking about the times I try to use the pencil with precision and I started doing some tests. I use the pencil to make very small and detailed annotations on PDFs. I also use the pencil to write music in NotateMe. It was with that second test that I really got religion. NotateMe allows me to write music on my iPad with my pencil. It transcribes the music as I write it and even gives me a little preview. I like using the application to sketch of ideas for songs and solos. This task gets a lot easier with a higher scan rate on pencil. The application gets a better reading and, as a result, gives me better response. No longer do my eighth notes turn into quarter rests. One remarkable part about all this is the fact that I did not have to buy a new Apple Pencil. The iPad improvements were all that were needed in order to give my existing Apple Pencil these new powers.

 

Quick thoughts on the new 10.5 inch iPad

I walked into an Apple Store over the weekend and had a moment to play with the new 10.5 inch iPad Pros. 

OH MY GOODNESS. The hype is real. These devices are light, gorgeous, and powerful. The 120Hz refresh speed ruined me for all other screens in just the two or three minutes I played around with it. I think Apple has hit the sweet spot in size. I can actually see myself downsizing to this model when I purchase my next iPad. I use the 12.9 for sheet music right now and it is great. I usually end up flipping my iPad in landscape mode and running a score on one half of the screen and a note taking app on the other half during rehearsal. I tried this workflow on the 10.5 and it was actually legible from far away. Maybe I have good eyes. I really miss the hold-ability of the smaller sized iPads for things like reading. I will have some tough decisions to make in a few years when I assume I will have to upgrade my 12.9. Or maybe I should embrace the multi-pad lifestyle and use the larger one for scores and the smaller one for reading. If only forScore would sync a score library over iCloud...

Syncing a File Between Logic and GarageBand (iOS) Through iCloud - First Test

I have taken it upon myself to test out the latest updates to GarageBand on iOS and Logic on Mac. Specifically, I have been pushing this new feature where you can prepare a Logic file you have started on the Mac for use on the GarageBand app on iOS.

This feature is compelling to me because a lot of my audio editing these days requires the power tools of Logic, but also the ease of simply booting up a project and making lots of light edits. For example, when I podcast, I usually only manage 2-6 tracks, not 30+. I need Logic for the control over my plugins, quick workflows, etc… but I also need a light and efficient way to make small edits on the go. I am constantly moving around between a busy schedule of public school, private lessons, concerts, gigs, and other miscellaneous commitments. It is nearly impossible to get any editing done on a Mac alone. The iPad is the perfect platform for this. Press the wake button, launch the app, and make a couple of quick cuts. There has not been a great way to work with Logic projects on the iPad, at least until this recent feature announcement.

Testing the First Project

Here is how I ran my first test of this feature. I created a Logic file on my Mac and added some software instrument tracks and audio tracks. I tried two audio tracks and two software instrument tracks for the first test. I wanted to keep it simple for the OS to handle and simple for me to keep track of how precisely it was syncing my edits (or not). 

After recording some MIDI notes and audio into these four tracks, I went to the File Menu and selected “Share->Project to Garage and for iOS.” This act creates a GarageBand version of the file in the “GarageBand iOS” folder which is stored within the iCloud Drive folder.

File Management is Messy as Usual

Ok, so this is where things get weird. It saddens me that Apple’s iCloud Drive model continues to overcomplicate the file syncing process. In my book, Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers, I ponder why iCloud Drive does so little to compete with file services such as Dropbox, which has been simpler, more intuitive, and more reliable since the start. The same issue I describe in my book is at play in this Logic->GarageBand workflow. 

It is still weird to me that iCloud Drive has container folders within itself that are app specific. It seems to me that this is an unwelcome abstraction for users who are accustomed to putting files in whatever folder they want. You can do this in iCloud Drive, by the way, but then the counterpart apps on iOS do not practice the syncing the same way. For example, if you sync a Keynote file from a Mac to an iPad by placing it in the “Keynote” folder, you can instantly see it when you boot up Keynote on the iPad. However, if you save it somewhere else in the iCloud Drive folder, it will not appear in the file viewer on iPad. You have to manually go looking for it by clicking the “new” button and then selecting it from within iCloud Drive. I wrote more precisely and clearly on this topic a few years back.

Things get murkier when you consider that iCloud Drive has two GarageBand folders. One for iOS and one for macOS. I get why they did this. Projects made on an iPad and shared with an iPhone are automatically saved to the iOS folder which makes that process less convoluted. And the same is true of two Macs working on the same project that was started on macOS. Mac projects have to do some prep work to get files ready for iOS so it is important to make the distinction. But since macOS is capable of this prep work, why can’t it happen automatically when the Mac version of a file is closed? And why, if iCloud is capable of syncing complex GarageBand projects, does the Mac version still try to save projects to a local folder called “GarageBand” that is stored within the “Music” folder by default? 

 

iCloud Drive still sports these strange, app specific, folders, including two segregated folders for GarageBand projects. This does not even include the local GarageBand folder that is stored within the Music folder on the computer's hard drive.

iCloud Drive still sports these strange, app specific, folders, including two segregated folders for GarageBand projects. This does not even include the local GarageBand folder that is stored within the Music folder on the computer's hard drive.

This process only gets more complicated with Logic thrown into the mix. Here is why…

Back to the Story

Ok, so I prepped my Logic file with four tracks to be worked on from an iPad and it saved it as a GarageBand project and placed it into the “iOS GarageBand” folder within my iCloud Drive. Now I go to my iPad and boot up GarageBand. Hooray! The file is already waiting for me in the file browser when I launch the app. I tap on it, and it opens, reliably! Except my two audio files have been compressed into one track. I can understand this because audio tracks take up far less processing power when they are collapsed. But what if the audio part is what I wanted to edit on my iPad? Shouldn't this be an option when I prepare the file for GarageBand? The iPad version can definetely handle more than one audio track at a time.

Next, I fool around with this project on iPad for a bit, adding audio effects to the vocal track I recorded. In this case, I am adding the effect that makes the voice sound like a monster and the audio track is just me saying “YAAAAAAAAASSSSS” over a funk beat. So my wife is now rolling her eyes from the couch. 

This is the only edit I make, because again, I am trying to keep this simple. I go back to my Mac and find the “GarageBand iOS” folder. Certainly, I can open this file right back up in Logic, right? Wrong. I double click the file and it opens in GarageBand. Fair enough, but wait, now GarageBand wants me to save the file to another location because it has to reformat it for the Mac. So I have to create a duplicate copy elsewhere? Doesn’t that sort of defeat the point of this new feature? Ok, fine. I click “Save As…” Where does GarageBand want to save the new version? The “GarageBand” folder within my “Music” folder. Seriously? Not even the “macOS GarageBand” folder in my iCloud Drive? Ok, I get it. Most users have only 5GB of iCloud space. Apple is making the right decision here. So now I have two versions and have already interacted with four different folders just to manage this one file. 

  1. The Logic file was originally stored in the “Logic” folder from within my “Music” folder.
  2. The “macOS GarageBand” that I saved the GarageBand version of that Logic file to.
  3. The “iOS GarageBand” folder that I had to send the iOS version of the file to.
  4. The local “GarageBand” folder that I am now being prompted to save my GarageBand for Mac file within.

“Sigh.” Am I done yet? Nope, because I have to open the local copy and prepare it to go back to Logic, which then offers me to save a third copy of the file. Where? In my local “Logic” folder, also located in the “Music” folder… Are you keeping up? My original Logic file was created in that folder, so now I have four copies.

I am not really sure what I expected. If GarageBand and Logic can do all of this heavy lifting, it seems some of the file management stuff could be automated. My dream scenario would have been that I could save the Logic file right to the iCloud Drive from the Mac, open it from the same location on iOS (using GarageBand) and then just seamlessly go back and fourth between the two, but who am I kidding. I guess we just aren’t there technologically. 

Conclusion

It seems like this feature is just laying the ground work for a future where either Logic exists on the iPad and can sync projects over iCloud (my iPad Pro is certainly powerful enough for it). Or for a feature much like I just described above, where the iOS never gets Logic but the two become closer and closer in feature parity until it doesn’t matter.

That second scenario is what happened with a lovely app Apple used to make called Aperture. Aperture was to iPhoto what Logic is to GarageBand. iPhoto and Aperture became so compatible that at one point, you could even direct both apps to edit the same photo library. Want to know what happened to Aperture? Apple discontinued it a few years back. Now we have the Photos app to replace both iPhoto and Aperture. And while I miss some of my pro photo editing tools from Aperture, photos are an area where I can get by with most of the features that are still left over in the Photos app. But Logic is NOT an application that I could get by with if it were ever dissolved into GarageBand. So lets hope Apple is not following down that same path…