Critical Point: the iPad isn’t a lot of things.

I’ve been working throughout the weekend, preparing rehearsal tracks for my curricular and extra-curricular choirs, as well as for our all-conference choir [I still have quite a few songs to finish for my curricular choirs, but I’m in the recording stage for the all-conference music].  I bought the full version of SmartScore for better scanning with Finale (Finale includes SmartScore Lite, but the full version is much more accurate and interacts with PDF files (even though it turns the .PDF into a. TIF file first, which I have had little success doing with SmartScore Lite–always too many errors with SmartScore Lite and converted PDFs to TIFs).

As I enter this music (eventually) into Finale, the end result is a very solid and very flexible electronic copy of the music.

I love having my choral music on my iPad.  I love UnrealBook and ForScore.  But I’ve made a huge error in my process: the iPad isn’t a choral octavo, it isn’t an 8.5×11 sheet of paper, and it isn’t a PC.

I’ve found myself wishing for music companies to put out digital copies of their music, offering mass licensing.  I still think this is a good idea, but the problem is that I’ve been thinking in terms of octavo format.  My instrumental friends complain that the iPad is too small to display a lot of instrumental music.  They’re right…if they’re thinking of the original size of that document.  So they’re wrong: they should be asking for an iPad optimized copy of the music.

So here’s the “million dollar” combination of ideas:

  1. Sell music that is formatted for the screen of the iPad, rather than expecting it to display a scanned page.
  2. Like iBooks, make the fonts of the music a fluid concept, allowing the musician to choose the size of the font they want.
  3. Page turning doesn’t have to be an issue, with accessories like the AirTurn already on the market.

Can you see where I’m going with this?  My problem is that I’ve been trying to make the technology fit the current standard, rather than finding ways for the standard to change for the technology.  Oddly, I don’t make this mistake  all the time.  For example, I don’t want SmartMusic for the iPad that functions exactly like the Windows/Mac Version…I want it to embrace the qualities of the iPad and be different.  The same is true with a version of Finale for the iPad.

And I guess this is where the iPad is succeeding…and the iPhone is succeeding…when tablet computers have been available for years and not really gone anywhere.  I’m not picking on Windows Tablets, and I’d strongly encourage you to visit the website of ViolaJack, who uses Windows Tablets with instrumental music.  But I’d also guide you to a wonderful blog My Marco Arment, who created the app called Instapaper, as he considers the tablet market.

Here’s what I’m saying: if all a tablet does is simply what a PC does, then all you really have is a limited computer…a computer with a short battery life and no keyboard.  Maybe it can be more useful in some situations (such as fitting on a music stand), but for the average user–and perhaps more importantly–even the beginning user–the full PC (notebook or desktop) would be far more useful.  And thus, the Tablet Windows PC remains rather static in the market place…because if people are going to drop that much money on a device, they might as well just buy a laptop (which is often less expensive, and has more features).  Although there is a touch-screen or digitizer interface, the net gain of the Windows Tablet doesn’t change the interaction between the user and the device very much, except for the missing keyboard…and Windows by its very nature is extremely keyboard-oriented.

The tricky part is that the iPad can do a lot of things that a PC can do, and can be forced to to a lot of things a PC can do.  But it isn’t a PC.  There’s nothing wrong for hoping for an app to be available on the iPad–in fact, that makes sense.  But it’s foolish to want or expect that app to run the same as it does on a PC (and vice versa, now that the Mac App Store is open, it’s foolish to expect a PC app to run the same way it does on an iPad).

The iPad represents a paradigm shift of how we use computers, and it crosses over just enough to make it work like a PC most of the time when we need those functions.  Think of Apples’ own apps, Pages and Numbers.  A word processor and a spreadsheet are elements from the PC world that work at least basically well on an iPad–but for now, they work better on a PC.  Somehow, the web changed, and I think it can be argued (except for Flash websites, of course), that much of the web is better experienced on an iPad (And I saw today that Google states that 90% of computer use is dedicated to surfing the web).  So, if 95% of your computer use is based around word processing, the iPad isn’t for you.  But if you browse the web more than anything else, maybe it can adequately meet your needs.

And let’s talk ease of use.  Again, my two-year old interacts with iOS with no barrier whatsoever.  We’ve all read stories of the 92-year old who uses on an iPad on a regular basis.  Could these same “extremes” of the age continuum interact the same on a PC?  I don’t think so.  The iPad completely revolutionizes the interaction between the user and the technology.

So, back to my beginning thoughts about UnrealBook and ForScore: is it bad to try to fit existing scores into the iPad?  Ultimately, no…because doing so CAN work.  But ultimately, what we should be doing is importing those songs into music notation software, and reformatting the output to fit easily on an iPad screen.  Time (and cost) is the crucial ingredient here, and most music educators don’t have time to full import a score into their music notation software, such as the details of dynamics, diacritical markings, and overall phrasing (SmartScore does a reasonable job of importing text [and some of these other features], which is something I’ve been trying to include in scores I’ve brought into Finale over the past years).

So here’s the challenge: what size “paper” would fit best on the iPad, and what size notation would be “best” for reading music on the iPad (acknowledging that customized font size is something that is not an option at the moment)?  Is there a “standard” guideline that is published for the music industry (if so, could someone send it to the wonderful folks at the Choral Domain Public Library, as those scores vary so much in terms of quality and format)?  Or is it time to do so?  Then of course, you can use apps like UnrealBook and ForScore to view iPad-formatted PDFs.

And here’s the best part–since music is managed digitally, there is no reason that most scores couldn’t be recreated with several outputs in mind (e.g. printed octavo, photocopied 8.5×11, iPad).  I still get irritated when I see any piece of music that is “permanently out of print.”  Seriously, music publishers, for a small fee, send it to me, and I’ll scan it, and send you the original back that you can store as a .MUS (Finale), .TIF, and .PDF file on a thumb drive with thousands of other songs, so you can continue to sell the piece and make additional money.

In conclusion, as you use an iPad, you need to remember that it isn’t a lot of things.   However, when the iPad’s potential and user interface are enabled through a well-written app, the result is a “magical,” or I’d say, “organic,” experience.  When the iPad is asked to act like a PC, or a piece of paper, it might do passably well, and it might fail.  Ultimately, we should be working hard to embrace those apps that break PC barriers and take advantage of the unique iPad user interface, and encourage those apps which make the iPad into a PC to adopt more iPad-like qualities.

**As a side note, Android, when it becomes truly tablet friendly (Which will happen later this year–but for now all Android tablets are using a version of the phone OS), will face the same challenges as the iPad: PC users (Mac, Windows, and Linux) that expect a tablet to work like a PC.  I think the luckiest technology users  in the whole world are people who come to iPads with limited PC experience, because they are able to embrace the iPad UI for what it is, and they roll with it, without having the flawed expectations of an iPad always working like a PC.





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