Category Archives: iPad Accessories

iPad Accessories

Presentations from the 2014 Iowa Music Education Professional Development Conference

This weekend (Friday), I had the privilege to present three sessions at the Iowa Music Education Professional Development Conference (I usually just call this the Iowa MEA).  If you are in a surrounding state, I really recommend this conference.  It is a smaller conference and most of the vendors are local–but clinicians come from across the country to present on a wide variety of topics.  Don’t let the size of IMEA fool you–it is packed with professional development.

My first session was a summary on the latest with the iPad in Music Education.  (PDF of the presentation: The Latest and Greatest with iPads in Music Education).  In summary: better hardware, better iOS, better [and continually improving] apps, and better accessories for music education.

My second session was an overview of some of the ways you can use devices OTHER than iPads in your classroom (PDF of the presentation: Technology for the Rest of Us).  This was a discussion of web apps for all, Android, Chromebook, and Windows “Tile” Apps.  There was one big surprise about Chromebooks that I will be blogging about soon.  I also recommend Chad Criswell’s post about High Tech options for low-cost budgets: http://www.musicedmagic.com/tales-from-the-podium/low-cost-musictechnology-options-for-the-music-education-classroom.html.

The final sessions was my core “60 Apps in 60 minutes,” which is more than 60 apps.  (PDF of the presentation: 60 Apps in 60 Minutes).  On the positive side of things, my overall list changes very little over time–but the best apps continue to improve with each passing generation.  As a secondary teacher, it is a joy to be able to recommend Amy Burns’ FREE interactive book, “Help! I am an Elementary Teacher with One or More iPads” to elementary teachers looking for even more elementary-focused apps, applications, and lesson plans.

I love presenting in Iowa–it is a relatively close convention (about a 3.5 hour drive from my house) in a wonderful town (Ames), and Des Moines is only a short drive away.  On Saturday, my wife and I drove down to Des Moines and visited the Iowa State Capitol (it is a beautiful building–if you have not visited it, do so) and then went to blow our own glass Christmas ornaments at Studio Fuzzishü in the West Des Moines area.  We wanted to spend some time in the East Village and perhaps at the Jordan Creek Mall, but parking was an issue in both those places.  We also had the chance to visit some friends of the family that had moved to Southern Minnesota on our way back to the metro area of the Twin Cities.

mi.1 Wireless MIDI Interface

When is the last time you bought something on a whim, and you were happy that you did so?

Several months ago, one of the projects I was backing on a crowdfunding site (I can't remember if it was a Kickstarter or Indiegogo project) sent out an e-mail recommending another project, the mi.1.

The mi.1, if you look at its Indiegogo page or company website (Quicco Sound), is a small device that plugs into existing keyboards, creating a wireless MIDI interface between the keyboard and an iPad. The “cost” of backing was $35 at the time, and I figured that I couldn't go wrong backing the device.

That device shipped out in October, but some issues with the required app for the device kept the company from releasing the app until this week. Now the mi.1 connect app is available on the App Store, and I can finally use my mi.1.

The mi.1 uses Bluetooth LE to connect your keyboard and your iPad (or iPhone). This was the first time I have used Bluetooth LE, and I'm a bit surpised by it. You don't turn anything on in your Settings…the devices simply talk to each other. I'm a little concerned that some harmful things could be transmitted in such a way (not from the mi.1, but from other Bluetooth LE “senders” out in public), but all the old frustrations of Bluetooth pairing are gone.

The first time you connect the mi.1, you are asked to open the mi.1 app, connect to the device, turn Bluetooth off and then back on, and then update the firmware of the mi.1. This is a twenty second process, and you're good to go.

My initial attempts to use the mi.1 with notation software on my iPad failed, but later attempts were successful (I have been using Notion for most of this testing). The video I created shows me entering notes through my keyboard via the mi.1 to Notion. Latency seems to be good…and it seems slightly faster (i.e. “normal” to send data to the iPad than it does to send data from the iPad to keyboard. I haven't figured out how to make Notion (on the iPad) play back via the mi.1/keyboard.

In 2009, we built a new high school with an embedded seventeen seat MIDI Lab. Every computer had a M-Audio Keystation plus a microphone for each keyboard. These computers (and the furniture in the room) were eventually removed to put computers in every practice room as well as the rehearsal rooms, and the keyboards were distributed throughout the district to teachers who needed them. The keyboards were not Core-MIDI compliant and would not work with iPads. (Interestingly, with the termination of Windows XP support, the computers themselves are no longer useable, and the iPads we purchased while I was at that school are now the only way for students to use SmartMusic in the practice rooms. I would have not expected that sequence of events).

The mi.1 changes the usefulness of those keyboards–and all other non-Core MIDI compliant keyboards, plus it gives you a way to connect a keyboard to your iPad without any MIDI cables. I am not sure what the street price of the mi.1 will be, but if the device is priced less than $50, it will be a cheaper solution than the purchase of a dedicated Lightning to USB Camera Kit adapter and a Lightning cable, and it already is cheaper than most MIDI box solutions (iPad or otherwise). At the moment, the mi.1 cannot work with a Mac, but I see no reason why it could not do so eventually.

There is one other item of great promise…Apple included MIDI over Bluetooth LE as a core component of iOS 8 (and I would be willing to bet that it is hiding in Yosemite as well). The mi.1, in a future update, will be able to connect directly to your iPad without the need for the mi.1 app, directly through MIDI via Bluetooth LE.

Are there any problems with the device? Not really. Some thoughts:

  • The company is from Japan, so communication from the company, both on the website and in materials provided by the company, is a little awkward in English. You can tell that the translators are not fluent English speakers, and Google Translate may even be in play. The company would be well-suited to hire some English experts (or even a British, Australian, Canadian, or American team) to re-work all communications intended for English settings.
  • Although the company missed its deadlines and had some issues with their app before releasing the app, they were much closer to reaching their Indiegogo deadline than other items I have backed.
  • Documentation with the device was limited; some people need much more detailed instructions–even for a product that is simple.
  • I don't have the equipment to test latency…which I imagine will improve as the device can accept input from the mi.1 without the middle-man app.
  • There is a coming update that will allow you to attach to multiple mi.1 units!
  • I, of course, focus on music notation apps as a music educator. I would imagine that this device would be very exciting for iOS musicians. For example, it works with GarageBand.

The device isn't available yet for purchase…but when it is, it is worth a purchase if you plan to use your iPad with a keyboard that has traditional MIDI connections. Those connections are 30 years old…and this device makes them relevant again. I didn't think this $35 crowdfunded device would have much of an impact on my life…I think I was wrong. It may be the best $35 I have spent for a while.

 

Revisiting the Apple TV (peer-to-peer AirPlay on iOS 8)

In October of 2011, Apple introduced wireless mirroring via AirPlay from an iPad (or iPhone, or iPod Touch) to an Apple TV. This functionality was later reproduced on computers (Mac or Windows) running programs such as Reflector, Air Server, X Mirage, or others. Working with an Apple TV resulted in a few negative consequences:

  1. Your connection was at the mercy of your wi-fi network. If your network was not set up properly with Apple's Bonjour Services enabled, your Apple TV didn't work. Additionally, if your network was slow or bogged down, your AirPlay connection would suffer (stutter, crash).
  2. You are always at the mercy of Apple's most recent movie releases that can be purchased in the iTunes store and played on a TV. Imagine my daily joy of teaching a freshman men's choir while Cameron Diaz's “Bad Teacher” was a daily selected movie.
  3. The Apple TV requires an HDMI to VGA adaper, most notably the Kanex ATV Pro.
  4. It became cheaper to install one of the “AirPlay” apps on a computer already connected to a projector than to purchase an Apple TV and Kanex ATV Pro.
  5. The Apple TV always mirrors an iPad in a 4:3 format (unless playing a movie), often adding an additional border that is not present if you connect your iPad to a projector directly with a cable.

With iOS 8, Apple quietly announced a new feature with the Apple TV…you can connect to an Apple TV without using a network. This is called peer-to-peer networking.

Apple recommends connecting your Apple TV to your network with an Ethernet cable, and then simply searching for your Apple TV as a separate device. Here's the trick: you need an iPad from 2012 (or later) and the latest version of the Apple TV (Ver. 3, Model A 1469), or newer (should the next version come out).

Many problems with Apple TVs and mirroring are directly connected to wi-fi networks. As a result, I literally couldn't wait to try mirroring without having to use a network. Today I purchased one of these new Apple TVs ($99 plus tax) and immediately went home and installed the device in our TV system, with the intent of bringing it to school (we had an existing 1st Generation Apple TV, so I simply unplugged it and plugged in the new Apple TV). I didn't have an ethernet connection available, so I used our guest wireless network to connect the new Apple TV. Updating the device to its latest software took about 30 minutes. Once that was finished, I looked for the Apple TV, and sure enough, it was present on the AirPlay menu. For the record, my iPad runs on our personal wireless network, so it is not using the same network connection as the Apple TV.

Everything works flawlessly. There is still a slight delay in audio/video, which should be expected. I love the idea that the Apple TV doesn't have to be hindered by a wi-fi network any longer. This really frees the teacher that loves their iPad, wants to project it at school, but has an anti-Apple IT department that will not authorize the Apple TV (or iPad) to connect to the district wireless. Furthermore, if your iPad is already connected to a network, your wi-fi connection on your iPad remains connected to the internet–I have tried to use Ad Hoc networks generated by my MacBook to mirror to Reflector in the past, losing my connection to the Internet. I see presenters across the country bringing along an Apple TV to be able to wirelessly project to their audiences (I will be doing this as well).

Was there anything special in the setup of the Apple TV? No. I choose to rename my AppleTV and to enable a password to connect to the device; but even this is unnecessary. The only thing you have to do is update the operating system of the Apple TV, and have a 2012 or later MacBook (yes, AirPlay works with later MacBooks), iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch running iOS 8.

There are still additional benefits for using a computer-based AirPlay program, such as the ability to project more than one device at a time (the Apple TV is a one-device-at-a-time device). But the ability to wirelessly project without needing a network is a wonderful addition–at a very affordable cost. Have you been waiting to wirelessly mirror? Here's your chance!

Note: My 1st generation Apple TV, which we use to watch movies from iTunes, Netflix, and from my Mac Mini (we use Mac Mini as a Entertainment Center with all of our audio and movies), will NOT allow peer-to-peer networking with a MacBook, iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. Although the exterior of the device hasn't changed (a rather understated black box), the internals of the Apple TV have changed over time. Make sure to buy the 3rd Generation Apple TV, Model A 1469, or newer.

 

The Zivix JamStik is Now Shipping

Back in 2013, Kevin Honeycutt (a former art teacher, who is an now educational motivational speaker) tweeted about the JamStik, a guitar controller for iOS (and Mac) that was an Indiegogo campaign. I wrestled with the idea of “buying into” the device, but finally decided to jump on board. The JamStik was being sold at a discount to early backers, and I submitted my $219 to be an early backer to the project.

Well, time passed. The company, located nearby in Minneapolis, Minnesota, took prototypes to various computer and app shows. And I was (and still am) teaching at the middle school level where students are asked to choose between band, choir, and orchestra–meaning that as a choir director I have students who either love singing or cannot play an instrument. This has convinced me that students at the middle school level–even if selected by hand because of their reluctance to sing–should have another option as a performance class–guitar. I understand this is an unpopular stance, but I strongly believe in it. Furthermore, I teach at a 1:1 iPad school, so a guitar controller for iPad makes sense as a way to learn guitar. Small, light, rechargeable, and NO TUNING. Yes, guitarists need to learn how to tune a guitar. But I have never been in a guitar class where all the guitars were in tune (within any individual guitar, or with all the other guitars in the room). Tuning is a skill that can be taught along the way. With this in mind, I saw (and still see) the JamStik as a device with a lot of possibility for education, even at a suggested price point of $299.

The problem was that the JamStik was delayed, then delayed, and then delayed more. Thankfully, the company was busy enough at prodcut shows to demonstrate that it was still in the game. And last month, units to the original 900 backers began.

My JamStik shipped last Friday, and arrived Tuesday night. I have had some time to play with the device, and it is perhaps the first device that I have ever backed that has lived 100% up to its promise (with the exception being the shipping dates along the way). As promised, it is a five fret MIDI guitar controller for iOS or Mac. It is solidly built, and uses real strings with infared sensors. Although it is probably a “toy” for a “real” guitarist, I think “real” guitarists could make real music with it. At the same time, for casual guitar players, like myself (actually, I have a hard time calling myself a guitarist) or for educators teaching (or students learning) guitar, this might be the perfect device in a 1:1 iPad setting.

The device connects to your iOS device (I have used it with both my iPad and iPhone) with a wifi connection, which is broadcast by the JamStik. If you run the JamStik Connect app (free), and JamStik Connect runs in the background on your device, you can use the JamStik with just about any CoreMIDI app on iOS. JamStik Connect broadcasts its own audio (you get a choice of five guitars) out of the iPad, so if you plan to use another app, you have to turn the guitar sound created by JamStik Connect “off.” Otherwise, you get the sound of the other app PLUS the sound of JamStik Connect. This isn't a problem, but it is something that may take a moment to figure out when you hear two guitar sounds out of one app. I do wonder if each JamStik creates its own channel and network name, and I wonder if it is possible to have a room of JamStiks in an educational setting, or if that would be wifi overload. The wifi component surprised me…for some reason I thought it would be a Bluetooth device.

The apps that come with the device seem to be well made…Jamstik Connect works well (no discernable delay) and Jam Tutor is solid. As a music teacher, my only “complaint” about JamTutor is that it doesn't teach guitar from “traditional” notation, which always one of my goals when I teach a guitar class. Think about the power of letting students use JamTutor so they can learn at their own pace, and then supplementing the experience with traditional “guitar” methods including notation and tablature! I have not worked with their sequencing app, JamMix. All the Zivix apps are free on the App Store.

As with all devices, I only see two “negatives” with the JamStik. First, as a MIDI device, you can shift the JamStik up or down an octave or two octaves. You cannot, however, shift MIDI in terms of half steps. I can see the possibility of a basic guitar player wanting to use chords from the key of G, but to transpose the JamStik to another key (such as F or C)…but you can't do this with the JamStik hardware at the current time. You would need some kind of display to show you your transposition, which the JamStik doesn't have. In other words, the JamStik lacks a digital capo. That might be a negative for some owners, but I am not sure if a future firmware update can address this functionality.

Second, the strings, although not actually amplified, are not tuned to the pitches we normally associate with a guitar. As a result, as you pluck the strings, you can hear the “pluck” of the actual pitches, while the MIDI sounds comes through your iOS device. This makes for a small amount of dissonance. I don't know if it is possible to tune the JamStik to the actual pitches (in truth, just being “close” would be enough to solve this issue). Maybe this only bothers me as I am a music teacher.

From what I have gathered, the folks at Zivix have said that the strings are very rugged, although I expect we will see ways to buy replacement strings and batteries soon.

One of the tough things that has happened is that the JamStik is now in some Apple stores while some unknown number of JamStik owners are still waiting for their JamStik from backing the product back in 2013. My guess is that Zivix thought they were going to meet all their deadlines, signed a contract with Apple based on those deadlines, and then had issues with parts (a stock e-mail from Zivix, sent to backers who inquire about their missing backed device, explains the part shortage). I think Zivix was requried to ship product to Apple, not having shipped to all backers first. That is a hard thing to take if you have been waiting more than a year for a device–and additionally Zivix's lack of addressing that situation (to date) is a little awkward. I don't think there is any explanation that can soothe feelings after a year of delays and now the Apple store situation. I personally would always to like to see open communication from a company, but I tend to be more patient and am not the litigating type. I also have my JamStik in my hands at this point.

I filmed a video with the JamStik earlier today; I will post that when I get a chance to edit it, which may not be today.

$299 may seem like a lot of money for this device, but a traditional backpack guitar (I have one of these from my time teaching guitar at the high school…it was just easier to deal with than a full guitar while teaching) costs around $200. For the added benefit of being able to bring MIDI into an iOS Device or Mac via a wireless connection based on infared sensors? $299 seems like a pretty good price, and as with all things, I would expect that advances in the product might eventually lead to additional models (a full size guitar?), features, and lower prices. I would also like to see educational sets of JamStiks and educational pricing. If schools were willing to drop thousands on Yamaha's MIE keyboard labs, why wouldn't you consider 30 iPads and 30 JamStiks ($27,000)? The JamStik is a device that could really change how we teach guitar and also help non-guitarists music educators to include guitar in their course load. I am excited to see where the product goes from here.

 

Broken Devices…

Several months ago, my stepson was finally allowed to have an iPhone from his father's house. His cell phone has always been something that has been provided by his father. About the same time, he gave us his iPod Touch, which had been damaged (something happened to the home button), and didn't want it any more. I had found a vendor at the Minnesota TIES (our education technology conference) that repaired devices, so I sent the device to them in February. They let me know it would take a while to receive the part, but expected the part no later than early March. Unfortunately, things haven't worked out. After my last bad experience with a device repair center, I decided to take the calm route and e-mail montly to the company about the device. Last week I e-mailed for a third time, and the owner e-mailed back, apologized for the delay, and told me it would be fixed this week. I had not heard from them this week, so I e-mailed yesterday and they responded to let me know that they were unable to repair the device and would be sending a replacement unit.

I'm not sure what happened during this process, but we didn't “need” the device, as we have three iPhones, three iPod Touches, one iPad, and an iPad Mini in our family for five people. So unlike my last bad repair expeirence with Fastfixology where my Mother-in-law's iPad was out for repair and needing immediate service, I could afford to wait on this one.

I don't know why they should have to replace a device they couldn't repair, unless the attempted repairs damaged the device further, or the device itself was destroyed or lost. I'll be certain to post an update to this post when I figure it all out.

Ultimately, the iPad Mini seems to be the device both of my younger boys gravitate towards, so we may be replacing all the iPod Touches in our family in the months to come with two iPad Minis (maybe at Christmas). The iPod Touches also get lost in our house all the time, while the Mini stays visible because it is larger. Updating to larger devices will make our lives easier as parents, and also stop the fighting between kids about who gets to use the iPad Mini.

On to a personal item…

Our second and last concert of the year was held on Thurdsay night, and as I unloaded my truck at the high school where we perform, my gear bag dropped out of my hands, and my iPad fell out of the bag. I had not zipped up the bag, so there was going to be damage one way or another.

The end result is that even though my iPad was in its New Trent Grabber case with the cover on, the impact on the face of the device was enough to knock the cover off and allow the screen to take the impact; a diagonal crack all along the device, and a smashed corner. The good news: the grabber case actually protected the corners of the iPad. The iPad worked well enough for me to use in the concert (both music and audio), but as a person who promotes the use of technology in music education–particularly the iPad–I knew that I had to get the screen repaired…and I will be using it during some of our last 12 days of school.

I didn't want to send the iPad to the place that is still repairing our iPod–this was an urgent repair and I needed my device back in my hands. A former student whose daughter is now in my choir told me about a repair shop that is in our general community. So on Friday, during an open hour, I drove to the shop and left my iPad to be repaired, expecting it today (Saturday). Sure enough, I was called today, paid the $149 repair fee (retina screen iPad 4), and the iPad is back. You can feel that it is a replacement screen…there are some rough (not sharp) aspects to the bezel of the iPad case. I'm not mad about that at all–have you seen what they have to do to remove a screen? If not, go look at some YouTube videos on the subject.

So…I'm back in business. Apple's own cost is $299 for the same repair (the same price as a NEW 4th Generation iPad with 16GB of memory…I own the 64GB model and have had it about 1.5 years). $150 seems to be the going rate, and you can buy the panel itself for $90…but I would suggest that you know what you are doing if you are going to try to repair your own iPad; you can quickly cause more than $60 of damage trying to repair your iPad yourself.

The company here in Minnesota that repaired my iPad is GopherMods, and I do not have a speciic referral code for you to use. They do some referrals that require an order number and it will give you 10% off a repair–if you use them and want my order number for that discount, feel free to send me an e-mail. It turns out our local shop was a trial of a satellite location, and it is closing to move to a permanent site in a nearby community. This company started as a college student fixing devices in his spare time at the University of Minnesota (where I earned my doctorate, incidentally)…and also “modded” PlayStations. Thus the name “GopherMods” (Minnesota Golden Gophers…the most fearsome mascot of all time–unlike the Badgers, Wolverines, or Wolfpack). GopherMods also includes a one year warranty on the part (which does not include breaking). They are considering expanding their operation to other states, and do accept walk-in orders.

I am working on that repaired iPad right now as I write this post.

So…I have had a number of experiences with device repairs over the past years, and it seems that the best solution may be to find a local shop that can turn around your device in a short amount of time. You can mail your device somewhere, even for a good deal (my horrible experience was centered around a repair that was at cost for an iPad screen because of the wait time on a previous repair)–but if you can't walk in and talk to someone, you might be pressing your luck for a repair.

As for this iPad, I will be upgrading this fall to the next iPad (either Air or a Pro, if that model is released) and giving this iPad to my Father-In-Law who is still using my 2nd Generation iPad that I bought in October 2011. That was another reason to have the screen replaced. I'm thinking about moving to the Gripcase. We have a Gripcase on our iPad Mini, and it really does a great job of protecting the device from our kids. I'm sure that if my iPad had fallen out of my bag with the Gripcase, the screen would not have cracked. Although I liked the Grabber case, I can't recommend it in terms of keeping your iPad safe. New Trent no longer manufactures this style of case, and sells an armored “Grabber” case for the iPad Air. I would consider that case if I owned an iPad Air, but I do not.

My hope for you is that you never have to deal with a broken screen–but it happens. If it happens and you are not under warranty (AppleCare covers repair for a period of time with a co-pay), you do have options. And your best bet may be a good case.

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