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Science

Audiobus 2.0: Taking advantage of music technology as it develops

In part it's all down to Audiobus - one mobile music app that connects all others. Developer Michael Tyson came up for air after months of coding the app's MkII to speak to DW.

DW: Audiobus allows you hook up mobile music apps on the iPad and lets you record them together in one environment. It's enabled musicians to use a mobile device such as the iPad in professional music production. But what will it take to raise mobile devices to a maturity, a point at which we can truly consider them instruments, or even as fully-fledged computers?

Michael Tyson: Well, in terms of making them into computers, the strength of these devices is that they are not - they are devices. They're just one step away from the foot pedals and the things with knobs on them. That's what makes them such fantastic tools. You don't need to be technical. You don't need to worry about configuring everything carefully and installing new drivers.... It all just works. And that's a good start.

In terms of impediment to use: It's still a young platform, there are various glitches here and there. We know that musicians need absolutely rock-solid performance - things that aren't going to break - and that's just a matter of time. But we've already seen quite a large number of musicians using these live, using them as part of their studio recordings, and for all intents and purposes, it's there. It's just a matter of nailing down the final few things.

Which are what?

One of the big issues that we see outstanding is the ability to use the iPad as a rock-solid part of an existing setup. So using clock-syncing to be able to keep that together.

How does clock-syncing work?

Clock-syncing allows you to have different pieces of equipment all working in time with each other. There are standards that have existed for decades and they do that, but they aren't very well suited to the mobile music environment. They are often very difficult to implement. We get feedback from people saying, This piece of equipment won't sync with this app...and what do we do? Well, there's not much we can say right now. It's something that we'll be looking into over the coming year. We hope to address that problem with an Audiobus.

Michael Tyson Audiobus

Audiobus developer Michael Tyson started programming at the age of six

One of the recording apps that allows Audiobus on it's platform is Cubasis, and they've just come out with support for Apple's own Inter-app Audio, which is similar to Audiobus. Do you feel that people are picking up on what you've done and are now trying to get in on a good thing?

No, I don't feel like that at all. I think it's great that this is obviously something that people want to do on a larger stage, that's great. So the story with Inter-app Audio is... well, I suspect it's one of parallel evolution, going by the evidence. It looks as though Apple had a similar idea to us around the same time - it's funny how these things go with technology! And they've released it with iOS7. Support needs to be built in by every developer. And it's very good. The advantage of having Apple, the platform producer, make a system like this is that they can take advantage of all the low-level stuff that we as developers don't get access to.

But it seems as though, once again, Apple has spied a good idea and, because they withhold control of certain aspects of their technology, they may plan to take over the market. It was like that with the App Store for iOS, which the hacker community had developed long before Apple launched the legitimate version.

It's funny you should mention that because there's a phenomenon called "sherlocking." It refers to a little app which was used to find files. It did quite well, it was a piece of shareware (software that is usually free to use - the ed.), and then Apple built in Sherlock, which is a predecessor to Spotlight. And, of course, that was the end of Sherlock. So, yes, it's a thing that Apple does. I understand it. It's hard being Apple because they don't just make hardware, or just the operating system, but their priority is making a great user experience. And that means you're going to step on toes, it's just the way that technology develops. You'll often have that parallel evolution. Or an idea will come first and Apple will decide that it just has to be in there. Sometimes they'll buy a technology, such as they did with Coverflow, which visualizes album covers in iTunes. There are times, though, as with Interapp Audio, when it just happened that two people had the same idea at the same time and there's not much you can do about that.

Audiobus 2.0

In beta: Audiobus 2.0 allows you to save presents, as many as your device can handle

And Audiobus is still only available on Apple's iOS platform?

We're investigating taking it to other platforms - but we don't have any news on that…. We think iOS is a fantastic platform for making music on...

Are you saying it's better than the other platforms, better than Android?

Yes. We are right now. It might not always be that way, but now it's definitely true. The other platforms are a bit young. They've had problems with latency (a short delay between an audio signal entering and emerging from a system - the ed.). There's also an issue with fragmentation on the platform - with Android, for example, it's very hard to get everyone up to date. And that makes for an enormous support load. We've had stories from other developers who make music apps, who have tried, they've gone to the platform, and they've regretted it because the market's not there, it's a bit young, the technology is a bit young, and it's just too soon.

Michael Tyson is a computer scientist, programmer and musician. He's based outside Melbourne, where he runs Audiobus and A Tasty Pixel. He started programming on an Apple IIe at the age of six. Audiobus 2.0 is in beta testing and is tentatively scheduled for release in the next few months. The images we've published of Audiobus 2.0 are from a beta version; the final version may look slightly different.

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