MIDI via Bluetooth
Of all the features of iOS 8, the feature that holds the most promise for music and music education is MIDI over Bluetooth. There have been some apps that have allowed devices to communicate with MIDI over Bluetooth in the past, but with iOS, MIDI oveer Bluetooth is in the core code of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite.
If you have a Bluetooth MIDI device, it will communicate with your iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, or Mac. You won’t need wires. And typically, all you have to do is turn on a toggle switch inside an app to enable the connection.
I remember a time when connecting a keyboard via MIDI was a troublesome thing. In particular, when I started working in 1997, my school had a keyboard that was very particular how it would connect via MIDI to a computer for use with an application like Finale. It was essential to make sure that the keyboard was both sending and receiving on the right channel, and that Finale was sending and receiving on the correct channels. It was a mess. Since then, the use of General MIDI seemed to solve a lot of problems.
I also remember loving Moo Cow Music’s Pianist Pro app, as it could be rigged to act as a MIDI keyboard for Finale (or any other notation app), but doing so required a lot of setup on both the app and on the Mac.
I also remember–rather recently–how Finale 2012 would not read MIDI from my new Casio PX350, which has HD MIDI. I had to install some kind of secondary application on my Mac to try to get Finale to speak to the keyboard…and never fully figured it out. Notion connected to the keyboard…HD MIDI or not…without any problem.
Most music educators aren’t looking for MIDI instruments to control advanced performances of multiple digital instruments. This is also true of most users of notation applications (Finale, Sibelius, Notion, MuseScore, etc.). We simply want a way to get input from an external device into a notation app or a performance app (e.g. using an iPad for a sythesized sound instead of the voices offered on a keyboard, but still playing on a keyboard). Bluetooth MIDI is perfect for both applications.
There is low latency with the new Apple Bluetooth MIDI standard (in some cases, less than with wires) [latency is the time between the initiation of an event and the actual occurence of the event], and it is simply easy to use. Better yet, Bluetooth MIDI uses Bluetooth LE (low energy), so even devices on batteries can last for long periods of time
No other operating system offers this feature, but I would be surprised if Microsoft didn’t get on board; and certainly Chromebook and Android could benefit from being more music-friendly. The caveat is that you need an iPad 3 or newer, but in truth, all iPads before the iPad Air are on a ticking clock. The 64-bit processing of the Air (and beyond) will eventually cause developers to only write updates on newer devices.
At the moment, the only app that I know of that utilizes Bluetooth MIDI is GarageBand, but apps can add the ability to utilize Bluetooth MIDI by enabling code in iOS 8 and Yosemite. We are going to see a lot of apps with this feature, and we are going to see a lot of external devices that offer Bluetooth MIDI in the days to come. In the event that your favorite app doesn’t run Bluetooth MIDI, in the meantime, hardware developers are offering apps that run in the background as a bridge between the external device and your favorite Core MIDI app.
Watch for additional offerings in the near future from Zivix (JamStik and Puc) and other hardware manufacturers. If your favorite hardware company doesn’t offer Bluetooth MIDI, it is time to ask, “Why not?”
The video below shows how Bluetooth MIDI functions between my 4th Generation iPad and the Miselu C. 24. As I mention in the video, I have never specifically paired my C.24s with my iPad in any way…they simply “show up.”
At any rate, I am thrilled about Bluetooth MIDI, and it is another feature that will make music making (and music notation) on the iPad an even better experience. This fall, my fellow blogger, colleague, and friend Paul Shimmons was urging MakeMusic to make Finale for the iPad. I agree. At this point, all the “computer” programs should be finding their way to the iPad, as Bluetooth MIDI makes your iPad into a legitimate device for composition. This also goes for apps such as Piano Maestro. Any app that an utilize an external MIDI device should be updated to allow for input over Bluetooth MIDI.