Among the numerous not-quite-revelations Steve Jobs breathlessly announced today about the iPad2 -- faster processor, thinner case, two cameras -- one especially caught our attention: Apple is bringing its amateur-friendly music production software GarageBand to the tablet computer. (It's also bringing iMovie over, but that's another post for another blog.)
So what's so great about GarageBand on a tablet? After all, GarageBand is an inherently limited and incomplete piece of software. It's made for amateurs to compose soundtracks to their home movies. It's not for serious musicians.
Or is it? We know of "real" musicians who have access to fancy studios and feature-laden gear but use GarageBand as a kind of sketchpad to record and play around with musical ideas. And given that the iPad is kind of like a sketchbook itself, it seems these two could be perfect companions -- especially when you take into account the amazing features of the iPad's touch screen.
The coolest new feature of the software is obviously the pressure sensitivity allowed by the iPad 2's accelerometers, which will enable you to hit piano keys or drum heads in GarageBand more like a real instrument. No more awkward musical typing, as one currently does with a keyboard on the standard version of GarageBand. There are other touch features, too, including a guitar simulator that allows for a palm-muting sound. It may now even be possible to play thrash metal on an iPad.
GarageBand for iPad supports eight-track recording and mixing, which is plenty given the other limitations on hand. It comes with more than 250 loops, tons of software instruments, and effects. The program even has features to help the non-musically inclined summon chords and other song elements with a simple button. And once you've sketched out your next chillwave single on the new iPad, you can e-mail the song as an AAC file to the blogosphere. That's all pretty sweet for a $5 app.
But GarageBand on the iPad also has some severe limitations. Unlike a real laptop, the iPad doesn't have any input ports aside form its audio connector. While there are already devices, like iRig, that will allow you to use your iPhone and iPad as a mini guitar amp by sending a signal through that jack, it's obviously far more limited than a real computer. A USB port or two would greatly help realize the iPad's potential as a musical tool by enabling producers to send more instruments in and out of the thing. (Update: One commenter below says you can in fact use an instrument USB interface with the iPad's camera connection kit. Can anyone comment on how well this works?)
We're really excited to play keyboard on the new iPad touchscreen, and to mix tracks from the sofa, too. With the addition of GarageBand, Apple is basically endorsing a new era of casual music recording and production, one that promises (threatens?) to turn us all into musicians. But the company can also expect that calls for a few more features from the music-making crowd will only get louder from here.
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