The Future of Audio Plugins on iOS

iOS 8 brought App Extensions to the iPhone and iPad this past September. This means that apps are able to act in certain limited ways across the entire system. For example, an app can access your Notification Center in the form of a Today Widget, allowing the user to quickly see information and perform tasks on it by conveniently swiping down from the top of the screen. See below for an example of my Notification Center, customized to show data from my most used apps.

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Another example of this is the Share Sheet (See below). Now any app can create a button to share content with their app from within the one you are currently running. In the case of the image below, the web page I am viewing can be shared with apps like Pinterest and Evernote or any other app that has chosen to create a share sheet.

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Camera apps can also create extensions for their editing tools so that you can use them from right within the Photos app. Using an app like Afterlight used to require me to launch the app, import photos from the camera roll (thus duplicating them), make edits, and then save them back to the camera roll as a second copy of the image. No more! See below. Editing tools from other camera apps are available right from within the Photos app.

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All of the features I mentioned above were highly advertised by Apple at the launch if iOS 8. However, I do not recall Apple announcing that audio apps could create extensions as well.

I stumbled across audio extensions while noodling around in GarageBand recently. Apple has allowed other audio apps to run within, or rather, alongside GarageBand. Apple calls this “Inter-App Audio Apps.” Don’t be confused by this convoluted title. These are effectively audio plugins for iOS. And it appears that while there are not a ton of developers writing them into their apps so far, Apple has quietly laid the ground work for desktop class audio plugins on iOS.

See a demonstration below of me recording in GarageBand for iPhone. The drum track is created from a software instrument in the GarageBand app but the audio track is created from the entirely separate Animoog app. Animoog runs full screen but sends its output into my GarageBand project.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snqDmLsG8r0&feature=youtu.be

What is interesting to me about these extensions is that they allow the opportunity for entire new types of iOS apps that could have never existed before. Apps like Animoog and iReal Pro existed as stand alone software before extensions were designed. Now it is possible for entire apps to exist that don’t do anything exepct serve as plugins for other audio apps. Software similar to what Waves and Native Instruments can do on a desktop computer no longer seem too far off on iOS. Now if we could just get a half way decent app for editing audio on iOS.

Note: Notice from the video that only a few apps I have installed on my phone are taking advantage of this feature. And I don’t find any of them other than Animoog really compelling. If you know of any other interesting apps taking advantage of these features, please let me know!