One of the key factors to look at when evaluating similar applications for the iPad (or iPhone/iPod Touch) is to look at how frequently they’ve been updated. Some of my favorite apps, such as Symphony Pro, forScore, and UnrealBook, have been frequently updated since they were released. If you see an app that hasn’t been updated for a very long time, it’s usually best to go another direction.
A long time ago, before I knew UnrealBook, there were two “main” music readers for the iPad: MusicReader and forScore. I wrote an app comparison between the two, and most of my comments are no longer valid, because these apps have changed so much over the past fifteen months.
I want to give credit when credit is due, and I’ve been pleased to watch MusicReader for iPad develop into a much more “open” application. Originally, MusicReader required the purchase of the desktop version of the software (although there was a free trial period). MusicReader has become PDF-based, and its core iPad app is free. If you want additional features for the iPad app (metronome, tuner, music player, music symbols (or “stamps”), you can purchase an upgrade for $4.99 within the app itself.
The desktop version of MusicReader is still available for $36 or $60, and the desktop version allows you to scan music, optimize music for the iPad, and export music to the iPad (rather than going through the iTunes applications tab). The desktop version can also handle splitting files and batch conversions, as well as to open FreeHand Music Tablet files, so if you were a FreeHand tablet owner, it may be worth it to invest in the desktop app just to be able to convert your files. If you buy the iPad app, there is a discount code in the app for the desktop version, saving some money in the process (this is a nice addition). Potentially, the desktop version might be an ideal application for any music reader, if the resulting PDF files are fully optimized for the iPad (I will have to try this at a later date).
Since the core MusicReader iPad app is free, I would suggest that you download the app and see if you like it. I have been struggling to figure out how the library management works (without reading the manual), and have found page turns to be a bit slower than competing products. That said, none of my PDF files have been optimized with MusicReader’s desktop app, which could make a significant difference in page turning speed. I prefer downloading sheet music without going through iTunes or a desktop application, and direct Dropbox integration would be a welcome addition. I also like the sheet music search function, which looks for music at both PDF retailers (e.g. Sheet Music Plus) and public domain sources (but note that the Choral Public Domain Library is not included with this search feature). This sheet music search program is provided by the developers of MusicReader, and is a nice addition to the program.
As a side note, there was a bit of negative feedback on the iTunes store about the (immediately) previous version of Music Reader, mainly about crashing. An update pushed out yesterday, so I don’t know if those crashes have been addressed. I find such negative criticism about a free app (particularly for an app that has been continually updated and improved) questionable–for any app on the AppStore. There are developers (thankfully, not of my favorite apps), that purposely seed negative feedback about their competitors.
This app is worth the download, first because of the price (free), and then because of the updated user interface and also because the iPad version no longer requires the purchase of the desktop version. You’ll have to decide whether the $4.99 update is something you want to do, but if you’re planning on using the app, I’d encourage you to update, to spur further development of the app. I feel that a musician should have several good music readers to fall back on, so it would certainly make sense to have a copy of forScore or UnrealBook in addition to MusicReader (or any such combination). Ultimately, forScore still has the best overall graphic design and fastest page turns, UnrealBook still has the best playlists and some special features for music education, and MusicReader has the best starting price and a great new Internet search feature. You can buy all three (full versions) for $15.00, total. Isn’t it wonderful to have so many options at such great prices?