Some More Changes At MakeMusic

Last year was a huge year of change at MakeMusic. The company was acquired and went private (off the stock market). This was followed by some changes in the leadership team (two VPs were let go, one VP, Michael Good, was brought on the team) and other levels of management were also impacted (both program managers of Finale and SmartMusic were let go). In addition to the changes, SmartMusic (in particular) had a rough first half of the 2013-2014 school year with a number of technical issues.

As with all things in life, a lot of good things happened, too. Finale 2014 was released with a number of new features, a lot of new code, and backwards compatible file formats; SmartMusic continuted to grow in functionality on the iPad, and now SmartMusic also shares backwards compatible files. Michael Good discussed many of these improvements on a recent blog post (link).

Today brought news about another big change at MakeMusic. MakeMusic is coming under the umbrella of Peaksware, Inc. Peaksware was behind the acquisition last year, and MakeMusic will continue to exist as a brand of Peaksware. I had the chance to chat with Gear Fisher, the CEO of Peaskware, for a few moments and to ask some questions about the immediate future of MakeMusic.

Ultimately, this change won’t likely impact the typical Finale or SmartMusic user very much. The biggest change is that the company will be moving from Minnesota to Colorado (plans are to do this in Quarter 1), and the company is assessing personnel right now. A number of employees will be asked to join the company in Colorado, and those employees will have to make a personal decision to move or not. After this past winter in Minnesota, I don’t know why anyone, given the chance to move, would stay here.

I find myself to be sad that MakeMusic will be moving–it has always been wonderful to have MakeMusic (or its predecessor, Coda Music Technology) as a “local company.” At some level, it is a personal sadness, because I would have enjoyed working at MakeMusic as a local company (As part of a blended family and all that entails, we cannot move out of the area). It isn’t often that you find companies filled with good people that are passonate about the meeting point of technology and music education.

Beyond that, Finale will continue to improve, SmartMusic will continue to improve, and the company should be better positioned to exist and compete in the future. This was the ideal time for such an announcement, as all of the turmoil from the acquisition last year has finally settled down and the products are stable. Jobs will be moving (or created) in another state (not outsourced to another country), and I hope that a majority of the development teams–including some leadership–will stay in place, albeit in another location. The end result of today’s announcment is that there won’t be much of a change for the end user, but there will be big changes ahead for all of the 130+ staff employed by MakeMusic.

I wish all of the MakeMusic team the very best. For those that will be moving to Colorado, best wishes for the process of relocation and as you continue to develop and refine MakeMusic products. And to those who choose to stay in Minnesota, best wishes as you search for new positions. To all of you: your work (including those that have worked in the company in the past) has made a significant impact on music and music education. Thank you for your work! And best wishes to Mr. Fisher, as he takes on the role as CEO over MakeMusic through this position as CEO of Peaksware.

One additional note that might be of interest to music educators: I had opportunity to ask Mr. Fisher about his own musical background, and he had been a saxophone player in his school days. He did, however, state that his current experience with SmartMusic comes from his own home, where his 11 year old daughter is learning the clarinet. She is using SmartMusic as part of that process. It is encouraging to know that the CEO of the company–if not using the software himself–is seeing the software used as it was meant to be used. That experience will offer him fantastic insight into the product for years to come.

Are Chromebooks or iPads Better for Schools?

Yesterday an article entitled “Are Chromebooks or iPads Better for Schools?” circulated across Twitter, showing up in my feed at least ten times. The article, for the most part, describes how the Hillsborough, New Jersey school district, after a year of piloting iPads and Chromebooks, sold all their iPads and distributed 4,600 Chromebooks. Click here to read the article.

As always, I am concerned about how devices can be used in music education and other electives (this blog, as named, is about technology in music education, and that will always be my primary concern).

As you read the article, notice four things:

1. iPads are highlighted as failues in LAUSD and Fort Bend, Texas–as well as directly linked to the disasterous Amplify tablet rollout in the Guilford County Schools (North Carolina)

2. Teachers are interviewed in the article, but did you notice the subject areas they teach? Jennifer Harmsen, Social Studies. Larissa McCann, Science. No music or elective teacher's thoughts are recorded about the subject.

3. Anti-iPad/pro-Chromebook feedback from Hillsborough's IT Director:

While nobody hated the iPad, by any means, the iPad was edged out by some key feedback, said Joel Handler, Hillsborough’s director of technology. Students saw the iPad as a “fun” gaming environment, while the Chromebook was perceived as a place to “get to work.” And as much as students liked to annotate and read on the iPad, the Chromebook’s keyboard was a greater perk — especially since the new Common Core online testing will require a keyboard.

Another important finding came from the technology support department: It was far easier to manage almost 200 Chromebooks than the same number of iPads. Since all the Chromebook files live in an online “cloud,” students could be up and running in seconds on a new device if their machine broke. And apps could be pushed to all of the devices with just a few mouse clicks.

Hillsborough educators also tend to emphasize collaboration, and they found that Google’s Apps for Education suite—which works on either device—was easier to use collaboratively on Chromebooks.

I have written about these items before: there is nothing wrong with a “fun” device, as long as the teacher simply manages their classroom. A fun device can be used productively, too. New iPad management tools, released as part of the failed LAUSD situation, make the management of iPads MUCH easier. But without a doubt, GAFE work best on a Chromebook, Mac, or Windows computer that has a keyboard. GAFE is centered around the concept of typing (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations). On other other hand, GAFE apps do seem to work better on an iPad than Google's own Android tablet.

4. And most importantly, although hidden in the article:

At Hillsborough, the Chromebooks are currently being supplemented by 3,000 Nexus tablets, handed out by Google as part of a new pilot program.

Did you notice that? The school district was given 3,000 Nexus tablets by Google–I am sure that had nothing to do with their choice of Chromebooks over iPads.

To be fair, there is a positive paragraph about iPads as used by David Mahaley, an administrator and classroom teacher at Franklin Academy in Wake Forest, North Carolina. But the overall message of the article is clear: Chromebooks are the way to go.

I simply urge you to remember that there are other subjects in education beyond social studies, science, or English. Your choice of 1:1 technology needs to be the best fit for all subjects. Please don't forget us! There is more to say on this subject–but as you read stories that are pro/anti devices, make sure to look at all the details and all the angles!

 

Another iPad. App…”Feed”

I will be writing more about Feed in the near future, but Feed is an interactive looping app with a unique user interface. I was contacted by the developer about the app, and just downloaded the app. In looking at the app's description in iTunes, I noticed that the app is on sale this week for $1.99, which is 70% off. I may not get a chance to write about the app for the next few days, so I thought I would mention it while it was still on sale. This is a new version of the app (v 2.0), and they are celebrating the latest release with the discount price.

If you are a teacher or musician that uses loops, it may very well be worth your time to get this app. The developer/company has been using the app to teach courses in music education (as well as some programming courses) in the UK…so it is an app that is being field-tested in education as it is being developed.

I will wrote more about this app later! But if Feed interests you, you should buy it while it is on sale.

PDF Expert (and all Readdle Apps) is 50% off! ($4.99)

I have long suggested the purchase of PDF Expert by Readdle–it is the best PDF manager that I know of (for the iPad). This isn't an app for your music PDF files, but it is an app for all the other PDF documents that come into your life. I have used the app for everything from signing contracts and personal bank documents to applying to present at conferences.

I had been using the old version of PDF Expert (4th version), but a new version was released in late 2013–but Readdle required you to purchase the new version (this is understandable, as companies cannot continue to update an app for free forever). I was going to wait until the app went on sale before I bought it.

Over the last months, Readdle has offered sales on many apps–including offering some for free–but PDF Expert 5 has never been on sale before. It is on sale right now for 50% off, and yes, I bought it this morning. This is a 48 hour–so the 50% sale will not last long. This is one of those “front page apps” on my iPad, and it will likely be the same on yours. Don't miss the sale!

 

MyScript Online Handwritten Notation Converter

Can you remember back to early 2013, when a company announced a revolutionary app that would covert handwritten notation into digital notation? The app was actually a concept–and was a promotional video that went viral in the world of music education technology. Ultimately, it turned out that the commercial was using existing technologies to show a “proof of concept,” with the hopes of generating a crowd-funded app.

The app never reached its required level of funding, and the company changed courses, selling copies of the app in advance as they worked on handwriting analysis, audio sounds, and so on. Sadly, the company announced this past March that their developer had quit and that they were going to attempt to keep working on the product–but would be returning reservations and so on. For all intents and purposes, it was a “the end” letter (see note below).

Meanwhile, another company–Neuratron–introduced a music handwriting recongition app (NotateMe — Now $39.99, and it also scans music for an additional $29.99 in-app purchase–a free one-staff trial version of the app is also available) in January of 2014.

At the time that ThinkMusicTechnology was attemping to fund their app, they had two partners–MyScript, the makers of several handwriting based apps, including MyScript Calculator (it's cool…try it) and Adonit (makers of a good line of precision styluses). I thought that the ThinkMusicTechnology app had a strong chance to make it, particularly because of their relationship with MyScript.

Today, MuseScore (of all organizations) retweeted an announcement about the MyScript music notation HTML 5 web app. It works on all devices, and although audio doesn't play back on the iPad–it works. Go try it out. I wish you could resize the handwriting area–and MusicXML export is a bit odd, as it pulls up a separate page with the actual MusicXML coding (not a downloadable or “open in” file). My guess is that this is the engine that was supposed to be behind the ThinkMusicTechnology app, and since that app is not around, MyScript still wanted to do something with all that work.

So…try it out. Make a bookmark to the page. And to those of you in 1:1 schools, this might be another option for notation (obviously, it will be easier to draw on a touch based machine, which could mean Windows 8.1 devices, Android, or even the rare Chromebook touchscreen computers.

Is this going to replace NotateMe for my workflow? Not a chance, particularly with NotateMe Now available for free (for use with students)–plus NotateMe also has PhotoScore (which is a game changer). However, the HTML 5 approach is a positive development–and perhaps it is something MyScript can license to other programs (Noteflight, perhaps?). And it might be a good time for some of the exisiting notation products (Finale, Sibelius, Notion, even the coming Steinberg program) to consider an acquistion of a platform that works for the “next generation” of notation entry.

These are exciting times—there is always something new out there to try!

 

Note: I have said this before, about Symphony Pro…which was resurrected and is available again. That said, take my analysis with a grain of salt.

 

 

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