Some Tablet Thoughts from a Developer (and CEO)

I am a music educator, and I specifically teach middle school choir, although I hold licenses for K-12 general music, band, orchestra, and choir. That is what I do for my day job, and the topic of music education and technology is simply an area of interest for me, as well as a hobby. The blog, of course, generates very little revenue (unless you buy a recommended app from a referral link, which will send 7% of the proceeds my direction), and the iBooks I have written also do not generate much income. Ultimately, the goal is to “give back” to the profession.

One of the privileges of writing the blog is the chance to interact with developers and other bloggers. At the same time, in general, app developers seem to value interaction with app users–good feedback can help the app improve, and a positive recommendation (either on the App Store or in person) can result in more sales. Not all feedback is useful, to be sure, but the conversation is important both ways. This is a new concept…in the past, end users had little or no way to express thoughts or ask questions about the programs they used.

Over the last months, I have had the opporunity to visit with Martin Dawe, CEO of Neuratron, about their app, NotateMe (and NotateMe Now), which is available on iOS and Android. It was the first app to allow you to convert music handwriting into digital notation–and as of last month, the app now allows the camera of a device to scan existing sheet music into digital notation. The app costs $39.99, and the in-app purchase is an additional $29.99. While the app environment has trained us to think that a $5.00 app is expensive, the truth is that most apps are underpriced. While $70.00 for that app combination may seem expensive–the truth is that the purchase of a scanner and “full” PhotoScore would be greater than a $300 purchase.

I am fully in support of NotateMe, just as I have been of PhotoScore since I bought the program for my MacBook several years ago. Although scanning music isn't an exact science (there are always issues), I have found PhotoScore to be the best scanning software available for my computer. In my testing, the PhotoScore in-app purchase results in scans that are nearly as accurate as the Mac/Windows version (the full version allows for a number of other features…but my main concern is just getting music from paper to digital with the least amount of errors).

I see a time coming where a number of musicians and music teachers may purchase a tablet just to scan music. If your goal is to simply scan music, what tablet should you buy?

My traditional answer is: an iPad Air or an iPad Mini with Retina Display. However…if you can, wait until November as new iPads should be released for the holiday season. Why the iPad? There are more music apps of higher quality, apps that tap into the iPad's Core MIDI functionality, and more music-specific accessories (including the JamStik, which recently started shipping to Indiegogo backers).

I realize that I am iPad-focused. As I thought about this topic, I decided that I would ask Martin Dawe (CEO of Neuratron) what tablet he would recommend, as he comes at the issue as a developer who works with iOS and Android.

Mr. Dawe suggested Samsung Galaxy Note tablets for use with NotateMe and PhotoScore (he personally owns both a phone and a tablet that are Note versions). This is because the Galaxy Note includes an S-Pen which allows you to write on your screen, is pressure sensitive, and has auto-palm rejection (built into the NotateMe app). If you are using a Samsung Galaxy Note tablet with NotateMe, your music writing experience is going to be better than using any other Android device or an iPad/iPhone.

Additionally, if you are interested specifically in the PhotoScore in-app purchase of NotateMe (I do think this will happen), Mr. Dawe suggested the purchase of a newer Android device with a higher resolution camera (generally, 8 MP versus the current 5 MP version found in iPads) and auto-focus. Not all Android tablets have auto focus, which is needed for accurate scanning.

Incidentally, Neuratron uses a cross-platform tool to program for Android and iOS, so updates are pushed out at the same time for both platforms, and could potentally move to other platforms as they develop/mature.

I recently purchased a 2013 Nexus 7 Tablet so that I could run the latest software from various developers. If I were to spend “big money” on a tablet that wasn't an iPad (I bought the Nexus 7 for $200), I would consider the Samsung Galaxy Note 12.2 (Android $649 starting price) or the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Neither device has the same music app resources as an iPad, but both are stellar machines. Both devices have a larger screen than an iPad, and when it comes to music reading, that is a good thing. The number one thing that could make the iPad better for music educators? A larger iPad as an option for reading music scores and working with music notation (although an S Pen would be a nice addition).

I need my tablet to do a few more things than Android or Windows tablets can currently do (limited mainly by the availability of music apps) such as the features offered by forScore (or unrealBook) and Notion (or Symphony Pro)…so the iPad remains the tablet I would recommend; but if you need a tablet for the purpose of scanning music, consider the advice of Martin Dawe and purchase any one of the recent Samsung Galaxy Note models!




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