Mobile music creation on Apple's iOS devices

Coming of age


Music making on iOS devices will see further advances with the release of iOS9. Some music app wish list items will be coming to our iDevices late this year. At the annual Apple developer’s conference (WWDC) this last week, Apple revealed some wonderful new tools that will be available for music app software developers in the next iteration of iOS. Hopefully many will jump on in and develop and/or enhance apps that will make use of the new features.

Two major advances in iOS will help bring it up another notch (or few), as we see further movement towards easy integration with desktop music software: Audio Unit plugins, and audio over USB.

The most exciting innovation for iOS music making since AudioBus (a non Apple advancement) will be A.U. plugins. With iOS still having more limited resources than a Mac, there will be limits, but we will see plugins much like they exist in the Mac DAW, Logic. And actually with the next release of OS X and iOS, some will be the same plugins (just in different wrappers). Plugins will be sold separately on the App Store, but I’ve no details on what that will entail and how they will look.

The feature set and the beta for iOS9 were just released to developers the week of June 8, so I imagine it will be a while before we have further details on what current or new apps may take advantage of this feature. But I expect a new release of GarageBand following the release of iOS9 will showcase a variety of plugins.


Plugins typically consist of instruments and effects and an iOS audio recording app, such as GarageBand, M-DAW, or Auria, would be likely candidates to host these plugins. On the outside it may not appear much different than using an app as an Inter App Audio (IAA) instrument or effect, but the differences could be dramatic. Ease of use and less overhead in iOS should be two significant advances

Friends and rivals

I would have listed Cubasis above as a likely host app (that’s my DAW of choice), but here we have a bit of rivalry of technologies. Cubasis is from Steinberg, makers of the desktop DAW, Cubase. Steinberg invented VST, which is Virtual Studio Technology, there is a lot more to it, but for this discussion we’ll call it…a widely adapted method that allows third party software plugins to work in a variety of DAWs.

Apple dropped VST technology from their DAW, Logic and came out with their own similar concept: Audio Units. There are other formats such as RTAS, but AU and VST seem to be the dominate ones. I don’t know if Steinberg has any corporate resentment, but they are owned by Yamaha. And with both companies having a solid foundation with iOS apps, the opportunity to sell plugins and hosts for those plugins will be too great to miss, I would think…(if nothing else pure corporate greed, right?)


Wires in a wireless world

I seem to be on a bit of a parallel with iOS, we’ve both been moving closer to merging iDevice music making with the desktop. (I’m one of a new breed of musician that is coming to desktop music making from iOS). The next step in this advancement is already available and that is audio and MIDI connections between iOS and desktop via USB; that is using the lightning connector cord that came with the device — plugged directly into your Mac or PC.

This tech is available now; a variety of iOS app and Mac-PC combo plugins (VST) from a few different app devs are available. The choices have either a paid app and a fee desktop plugin or the other way around. At this point I have experience with streaming live MIDI back and forth between my iPad4 and my HP Windows 7 PC via USB.

For MIDI and audio, wires (USB) are better and faster than either Bluetooth or wifi; so in this case wires are a-okay. And iOS9 will have some of this ability built in; USB audio to and from iOS and OS X. Although I don’t have a Mac, I still see this as a huge enhancement and since a method to do this is available to me from Wondows 7, I won’t feel left out (I can hope).

It does appear that independent app devs once again are paving the way for audio advancements in iOS — only to have Apple come in right behind them and adapt their basic methods or ideas right into their operating system. This even has a name: Sherlocking, as in: “His app was Sherlocked…” Look it up, but the original victim app had Sherlock in its name.

I actually don’t see this situation as such, since the ability was opened up via the system hardware and iOS anyway. The Sherlocking I suppose would be in that Apple has made this new tech easily available and useable to all app devs…with hooks into the framework. Prior to this, it must have taken some pretty good programming to figure out how to exploit the USB hardware and connections, etc. This was system level programming not application development.

However it seems like things are turning out okay for us app users and app devs; Apple changed many things yet AudioBus is thriving and we will need it perhaps even more. The audio/MIDI over USB apps will still be needed, as are the other apps that provide for audio/midi streaming with other technologies.

With plugins on iOS that can look and act like plugins on the desktop, and direct USB connection between iOS and Mac/PC we are starting to see iOS coming into its own. I think these advancements will help iOS music making gain even more attention.

Foremost to me, the iPad is a musical instrument that I play, and should be recognized as such. That it can do everything else needed in order to produce music is an incredible bonus for sure! We’ve come a long way since the pre-AudioBus days; the journey hasn’t been easy, but the road is beginning to level out. The next set of advances should be a big leap forward and I plan to blog about anything significant that I find as we approach the fall and the release of iOS9

Be seeing you,

— Bourne 14Jun15
* Imagines in this blog post are screen captures of video from the Apple WWDC 2015 — all rights Apple. I claim fair use for educational purposes.

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