Earlier this evening, the latest version of Notion for iOS (link) hit the app store, specifically version .143. I am a member of the beta testing group for Notion, and have signed a non-disclosure statement about the app. Specifically, I cannot talk about what is in a beta until the features go live. I also cannot talk about the process of app testing.
That is all fine and good, as the latest version of Notion now offers handwriting from My Script. The folks of My Script developed a software development kit that allows any app (that wishes to license the SDK) to add handwriting recognition for music.
If my memory serves, the inclusion of My Script in Notion completes a loop. Back in early 2013, a company called “Think Music Technology” made a splash in the world of technology and music when it showed a coming app that would convert written music to digital music. This was life-changing “stuff.” It turns out the promo video was not an existing app (several music technology bloggers took great joy in debunking the promo video) but instead a part of a coming crowd sourcing campaign. Think Music Technology eventually ran an unsuccessful campaign, and the product never came to market. Two of Think Music Technology’s partners were My Script and Adonit (a stylus/accessory manufacturer).
My Script took advantage of that failed campaign, taking writing samples from musicians and using them to create their SDK. There is a live web page from My Script showing music annotation, which can still be accessed at webdemo.myscript.com. My Script also makes that calcuator that you can write equations on and have the app solve the equations (to the chagrin of math teachers everywhere).
Since 2013, there have been a number of apps that convert handwritten notation to digital notation, most notably NotateMe and StaffPad on Windows. I don’t know of any other company using the My Script SDK for music notation.
To be honest, handwritten notation on an iPad (or Windows device) is not the fastest way to get music into digital notation. It is fun to use handwriting apps, but for real work you will want a keyboard (ideally QWERTY and piano) to enter notes.
Where I have found Notion’s handwriting to be most useful is in adding expression, ties, and slurs. Slurs are a bit of a nuisance on the iPad, but drawing in a slur is a very quick solution. If you add expression elements to your scores (most of us do), then the in-app purchase for annotation will be worth the investment. Do you have to buy the handwriting feature? No. Could it make your life easier? Yes. Remember that the feature is somewhat new and there may be occasional bugs to work out. Whenever you enter on the cutting edge of a new feature, expect some bumps along the way.
I wish that the handwriting could be included as a part of the program’s initial cost, mainly because schools using volume purchasing cannot access in-app purchases (IAP). Speaking without any authority from the company, I see why they need to charge, as I am sure that My Script doesn’t offer the SDK for free (nor should they).
At a session I attended at NAfME, one fellow attendee complained about the $30 IAP for the sounds in Notion. I attempted to make point that these sounds would cost hundreds of dollars on other platforms. While the app itself is $14,99, you can add the sounds for $29.99, and handwriting for $7.99. That’s still less than $60 for an app that can do most of what you need a notation program to do on the iPad while using fantastic audio samples. That is still less than StaffPad on Windows ($70), and still significantly cheaper than any other desktop notation software with the exception of MuseScore, which is free. All that is to say that I think the app is a steal at this price point, even though it costs significantly more than your average $1.99 iPad App.