Still the One…

This evening, I have been working with my Android Nexus 7 (2013 version). I am waiting for the latest version of Google Android (Lollipop) to be released for the device. Generally, I use my Android device for one of three things:

  • Playing games (particulary Clash of Clans and Star Wars Commander)
  • Watching Netflix or Amazon Prime (you can install Prime via the Amazon Android Marketplace)
  • Checking music education apps on Android

For some time, I have said that if iOS and the iPad didn’t exist, I could be happy with Android. I still think this is true. But as a person who owns a device from all of the major OSes available on the market, I still strongly feel that the iPad is “still the one” for music education.

 

Don’t get me wrong–there are some really strong apps on Android, and some wonderful web-based resources that work on nearly any device. Neuratron, makers of NotateMe and PhotoScore, prefers Android over iOS–particularly the Samsung Galaxy Note. And I have recently discovered “Perfect Ear 2″ on Android, which is an incredibly well put-together app that isn’t available on iOS. Online resourses, such as Noteflight, continue to improve.

 

But when it comes down to a platform that represents the very best for music education, the iPad still is the place to go. At this point in my life, as my far sightedness (literal) requires me to use reading glasses, I would prefer a larger device such as the 12.1″ Samsung tablets. But when it comes down to the list of available apps and available accessories, as well as built in features for music making–such as Core MIDI and MIDI over Bluetooth LE, the iPad is squarely in control. Yes, some apps are on multiple platforms. Some of those are GREAT apps (NotateMe, iReal Pro, ClearTune, StaffWars). But when you need a native music composition app (Notion, Symphony Pro) or a world-class PDF Music Reader (forScore, unrealBook), iOS is the only place to go for those apps. And if you are a musician using a mobile device to mix music–iOS is the only answer.

 

Read this closely…I feel the battle for the device in education has been lost. I think the Chromebook has won. The simple fact is that you can buy (at least) two Chromebooks for the price of a single iPad, and you can replace an entire Chromebook for the price of an iPad screen repair. Will some schools still choose the iPad? Absolutely, and they will be considered “elite” schools, just as Mac schools were considered special in the 90s (while Apple was making terrible products). But the reality is that the majority of schools will look at the “96% of what a computer can do at a fraction of the cost” and try to get the biggest bang for the buck. It doesn’t matter to most schools that the 4% that is lost are those things needed/used by music education and other elective classes. If you consider Chromebooks on the SAMR model, I don’t think Chromebooks transform education–they generally enhance education. Typing a paper or collaborating on Google Docs is not a transformative task. Schools that adopt Chromebooks should be willing to admit that they are okay with only reaching 50%-75% of the SAMR Model.

 

With this reality, I think our strategy has to change as music educators. We aren’t going to get developers to spend their time writing Chromebook apps for music education, as schools aren’t spending money on web apps or web services (if you are already penny-pinching in your choice of device, you aren’t going to save money to buy subcriptions to online services), and Chromebooks–as clamshell devices–aren’t going to fit well into our music classrooms.

 

I think the strategy needs to become this: “Since our district saved ___ million dollars by purchasing Chromebooks for students instead of iPads, our elective classes (music, art, etc.) need to request iPads for our use along with the apps and accessories that are available for our discipline out of some of the money that was saved.” You can ask for devices to be used as musical folders, pit orchestra devices, and as a portable MIDI lab for music theory and music technology courses. You can make a case that several carts of iPads with all needed apps is still less expensive than a dedicated MIDI lab. Don’t forget the usefulness of SmartMusic on the iPad, either. With this approach you can “play along” with a Chromebook initiative, yet have the benefits of iPads in your room. If your district has gone (or is going) “all in” with Chromebooks–I would suggest trying this approach. Music education has always been considered an outlier in education (especially by technology departments), and you might find that the decision makers are willing to consider exceptions for music (and other electives).

iPads in Music Education v. 2.0 underway

I am about to start editing my electronic book, iPads in Music Education, and I expect to wrap up any updates by the end of December. As I look through the book as it exists, much remains the same, but there are some new apps and accesories, as well as a few more resources (such as Amy Burns' FREE electronic book, called “Help, I Am An Elementary Music Educator With One Or More iPads!”).

I know that I want to feature some of the wonderful new (since the last edition) apps such as NotateMe, and that I want to write a new sub chapter on accessibility. Of course, I will also include iOS 8–although I cannot personally use all of the iOS 8/OSX Yosemite features because my MacBook is too old.

I just wanted to ask you–as readers of techinmusiced.com–is there anything you would like me to discuss or cover in greater detail in the next edition? If you have thoughts, please feel free to send an e-mail to techinmusiced@ g m a i l.com (no spaces).

The plans are to leave any updates of the book free, at least until I hit the 5th year of the book; although new purchasers will have to pay for the book. So again, the update will be free for any existing owners of the book. That said, any apps purchased via the links in the book will help provide some continued financial income from the project.

You might have missed this about GarageBand on iOS…

One of the frustrating things that Apple did last year–in the midst of some wonderful things–was to make GarageBand for iOS free, but then to offer all the features of GarageBand via an In-App Purchase.

Schools were unable to purchase In-App Purchases as a bulk purchase (VPP), and one techinmusiced reader left a comment that Apple only allows five IAPs from a single credit card.  As a result, schools were unable to unlock the full version of GarageBand on iOS for their students.

I watched every minute of the two Apple events this fall, and noted that some functionality was added back to GarageBand on iOS (and GarageBand on the Mac), but I missed the fact that GarageBand on iOS no longer has In-App Purchases.

I am in the habit of contacting Apple when I feel like there is a major problem, and had been interacting with some members of the Apple team last year about the GarageBand IAP issue.  After our discussion, I knew they were aware of the issue.  Just this past week, I contacted one of the members of the same Apple team to let them know about the new mi.1 wireless MIDI adapter (see my previous article), and they asked me what I thought about the removal of the IAPs.  I knew nothing about it.  If I didn’t know, perhaps you didn’t know, either.

Students with existing copies of GarageBand will need to “purchase” the IAPs, but upon checkout, they are free-and I think the iOS 8 version of GarageBand is fully functional.

This is great news for schools, and although GarageBand isn’t the same on iOS as it is on the Mac, and certainly not as fully-featured as other DAWs, you can teach a lot of electronic music/music technology concepts with GarageBand for iOS that are transferrable to other platforms (Mac, Apple, or beyond).

I would not have known that the IAPs were removed until May, when we begin our GarageBand units (my own version of GarageBand for iOS is fully functional, as I originally purchased it when it came out in 2011).

Go enjoy the full version of GarageBand on iOS with your students!  Thank you for listening, Apple!

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.

 

A Little Bit About the Choral Director Magazine Article

This past September, I was contacted by Choral Director Magazine, who wanted to ask me some questions about integrating technology into the choral rehearsal. I was happy to answer their questions, and at the end of the interview, I was asked to provide a portrait for the cover of the magazine, and to send some pictures of my choirs using technology.

I wasn't expecting that. I had no idea that I was going to be on the cover of a magazine.

I am extremely honored to be featured in the October issue of Choral Director Magazine. I have been trying to be very quiet about it–but it is a tremendous affirmation that some of my recent career choices have been right for me. As Bach would have written…SDG!

A few other things:

  1. One of my processes have changed since the article. I no longer use Google Forms for collecting daily journal questions/writing prompts. Instead, I am using the Showbie App (paid version), which also allows me to include other kinds of tasks as “bell-ringer activities.”
  2. The actual cover photo was taken at Prescott High School, in their technology office (also the home of their video studio, thus the green screen). I had asked Apple if I could use a local Apple Store as the location of the photo, and was denied (I had contacted a VP who I have gotten to know over the years). I then asked a local Best Buy if I could use their store for a photo–and was told I could by a “manager.” The day we took the photo, I called Best Buy to let them know we were coming in–and was told that the “manager” that had granted permission was not a manager, and that Best Buy could not allow anyone to use their store for a photo without corporate permission. So I tried to call corporate headquarters to get quick approval–and all the Best Buy departments ask you to contact their departments through e-mail, and that they will get back to you on their availability. As a result, we had to find a back-up location where I could be pictured around technology–and thanks to Dallas Eggers, the Technology Director of the Prescott School District, we were able to take the picture. Thanks, too, to December Orpen (www.decemberorpenphotography.webs.com) for her flexibility in taking photos and arranging to take the pictures at Prescott High School. Incidentally, I am not shopping at Best Buy any more. Several employees lied to me, imitated being a manager, and then the person that told me the truth did not offer one ounce of compassion or willingness to help me in any way. I am writing a letter to the CEO of Best Buy about the issue. Had I simply been told, “No,” or “Contact Corporate,” originally, there would have been no later crisis.
  3. I purposely chose objects to be featured in the pictures. This included my iPad in its Gripcase, my Maglus Stylus, my AirTurn page turner, my JamStik, my MacBook, and my Akai L25 MIDI Controller. Several other devices could have been featured, but were (or are) still delayed in shipping/production such as the Miselu C.24 (still waiting) and Quicco Sound mi.1 (article to follow). We also scattered some other technology from the room into the photo (Chromebooks, some PCs, some monitor speakers, a video camera, and a light)
  4. I realize that I speak about “kids” a lot in the article, and I was attempting to speak in a very easy-to-understand way, thinking that I was simply providing information for an article; had I known that I was being interviewed for the “feature article,” I would not have been as informal as I was in the interview. Perhaps the more casual result is better.
  5. It would be exciting if the article led to some other opportunities in the future.

If you haven't seen the article, you can read it here.

 

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