Author Archives: choirguy

Apple Education Event, March 27, 2018

Earlier this morning, Apple held an education event, where it offered some new solutions for education.  I’ll be visiting with Robby Burns in the near future on his podcast about the education event, but I wanted to cover some highlights and offer some initial reactions.  I work in a 1:1 iPad environment and have done so for five years.  I have “hands on” experience with teaching and iPads.

First, Google Chome has been kicking the hind end of the competition—including Apple—as it comes to education.  School districts are simply too tempted by low cost devices that have a keyboard and offer free services/apps/storage.  If you are a music educator, you are fully aware that you need more tools than the Google Suite, and that those services (rightfully) charge a key.  There is also a very good chance that your school district isn’t budgeting any extra money for you to have those services.   We’re also actively ignoring Google’s willingness to sell data to provide those low cost services. As reported widely today, Chrome represents 60% of the education business in the United States right now, and Apple only 11%.  Just yesterday, Google announced a Chrome-based Tablet, set to compete with the iPad for $329.  It will be interesting to see if these devices become “accepted” in Chromebook schools—proving that the choice of Chrome devices over Apple devices isn’t really form factor, it is an anti-Apple bias, which still exists.

Second, what was really announced today?  As I wasn’t there (I would have loved to have been there, and as I’m on Spring Break, I could have made that happen), here’s the list as I know it:

  • A new 9.7” iPad that is faster and works with the Apple Pencil for the previous price point of $329 for end users and $299 for schools.
  • Apple Pencils will sell for $89 to education
  • There are new cases, including a good looking Logitech armored keyboard case for $99
  • iWork has been reworked to allow for annotations.  This is cool in Pages—but will be positively AWESOME in Keynote.  I’ve used PowerPoint and I have used Google Sheets, but I find Keynote to be the best tool for what I do.  I have always said that Keynote is a program that acts as if PowerPoint and SMART Notebook had a baby.  At this point, I would rather work on a mirrored iPad in KeyNote than on SMART Notebook on a SMART Board.  My school recently decided against getting SMART Boards in every room in our new school—a decision that will pay for itself with this announcement.  SMART activities are great, but many have been messed up on the Mac platform for years with Flash anyway.
  • Apple Classroom will now work on MacBooks, too (a major request)
  • It appears that iBooks Author is somehow integrated to Pages on iPad, allowing you to finally create iBooks content on the iPad (This has kept me from updating my own iBooks, to be honest).
  • There is a new homework hub that will integrate with education apps, allowing teachers to assign work and track completion.
  • And school assigned accounts now get 200GB of free storage per account.  That is a nice change.

Third, it is unclear how some existing services will decide to work with Apple.  Can Schoology tap into the new homework hub?  I think Apple has made a poor decision in not acquiring JAMF, which is what most schools use for Mass Device Management (MDM).  MDM should also be free for schools, provided by Apple.  You want the market?  Eliminate the extra costs to run Apple products in schools. I also did not see Apple address the problem of in-app purchases for school apps (there is currently no way for a school to pay these costs).  Apple also didn’t solve the situation where students can stop management simply by going to Airplane Mode or restarting their device (Yes, kids do this—all the time).

Finally, I wish we could be honest and admit that part of the problem is that Google refuses to provide their own suite on iOS with the same functionality it offers on its own platform.  I am very aware of this as I work with Google Slides.  I have to work on a computer in Chrome or on a Chromebook to have full functionality, whereas even working in Chrome on an iPad isn’t enough.  There is a “nod” to provide basic functionality—but if you really want to work, you need to move to another device.  That is a purposeful choice by Google, and if Apple did such a thing, they would be mocked for it by the press (you can run most Apple iWork apps through iCloud.com, by the way).

All in all, the biggest changes in my life due to today’s announcement will be the ability to write and draw in Keynote and the ability to create an iBook on the iPad.  I don’t see schools buying Apple Pencils for students, but I can see some students opting to buy them (what happens when they are stolen or broken, I do not know).  It sounds as if Logitech is making an Apple Pencil device for education—I need to read more about it.  Perhaps this opens the door for 3rd party Apple Pencil devices?  That wouldn’t be so bad.

We are also going to have to update my own children’s 4th Generation iPad Minis, as those devices are getting dated (and are in rough shape).  As a parent, I can see myself buying a 9.7” iPad in the place of those iPad Minis, with a keyboard case from Logitech and a Logitech “pencil.”  I could also see buying the new iPad for my parents (my mom has the previous generation 9.7” iPad).  I just wish Apple would start those devices at 128GB these days.

I don’t know if this is enough for Apple to “win,” and I’m not sure Apple wants to “win.”  I think these changes make it possible for Apple to keep competing, and today’s announcements certainly do that.

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forScore and Musicnotes.com

Today in its Twitter feed and blog, forScore announced its coming partnership with Musicnotes.com, where you will be able to pay for music and open it directly to forScore.  Yes…you could do this now, as Musicnotes.com allows you to download in unprotected PDF format–but you would have to go through several other steps to get the music from Musicnotes.com to forScore.  Let’s hope this is a beginning for a number of publishers–and that other sheet music and MusicXML apps will be able to benefit as well!


Thoughts from TMEA

My wife and I returned yesterday from a short trip to San Antonio, where I presented a session on the S-Cubed Sight Singing Method on Saturday morning.  A huge thank you to everyone that attended that session!

I had previously blogged that I had applied to TMEA and none of my proposals were accepted—furthermore, because we had a new principal, I did not apply at any other conferences.  At some point—it must have been October—TMEA contacted me, letting me know that someone had withdrawn their proposal, and asked if I would like to present one of my sessions, specifically my S-Cubed session.  I was happy to accept that proposal, and used two of my personal days (not sick days) to attend the conference.

My wife and I have been flying Spirit airlines over the last year, and we really like the company.  We travel with a minimum of belongings, and every flight has been a positive experience.  If you travel with more stuff, I can see how Spirit would be more of a negative experience—but we’re happy with it.  I even bought a sopranissimo ukulele so that I can fit it in the Spirit-sized personal item.  We couldn’t fly into San Antonio on Spirit, so we chose to fly into Dallas, where we rented a car.  We stayed in Dallas on Wednesday night, made our way to San Antonio on Thursday (having dinner at our favorite restaurant, Guillermo’s), and I spent Friday at the convention and Saturday morning at the convention as well.  We had dinner on Friday at Lulu’s—home of the 3lb cinnamon roll (we did not order one—at least this time).

I attended a few sessions—both of the offered ukulele sessions, as well as a couple of other sessions.  My main focus at conferences is to make connections with other like-minded (or like-interest) people, so it was fun to have lunch with Robby Burns and Daniel Jamieson on Friday, where we talked about a lot of things (note to self: I have to download Bear notes for iOS), as well as to finally meet Greg Dellera and Ryan Sargent from MakeMusic, Meredith Allen from SoundTrap, Katie Wardrobe from Midnight Music, and to say “Hi” to John Mlynczak from Noteflight and Floyd Richmond from Houghton College.  I also enjoyed meeting Andy Ramos, who has been making ukulele play along videos as well.  I didn’t spend very much time in the TI:ME area, so I missed a number of my techie colleagues (e.g. Barbara Freedman and Amy Burns) but at a conference as large as TMEA with the limited time I was actually there, that isn’t a surprise.  As my wife was with me, who is not a techie nor a music educator, and I didn’t want to ditch her or force her into additional conversations (e.g. meals) where she would be bored.

TMEA’s exhibit area is simply overwhelming if you aren’t used to it.  Even so, there were a few products that were not represented this year (I am sure that the costs to have a booth are overwhelming), and in that case, I wish the vendors would still come and float around with their product (that is what I would do).  Interest in ukuleles was sky high (I’ll apply again to present next year) and vendors were selling a lot of them.

What I’m trying to sort out in my brain right now is where we are at, as a profession, with music technology.  We have more tools than ever—and there are functional tools on every platform, even though some platforms (in my opinion) remain better suited for certain tasks.  And it is pretty clear that there is still a huge divide between “traditional” music education and what we consider “music technology.”  I think elementary teachers are better suited to incorporate music technology into their lessons—but when performance becomes the focus (where the majority of secondary music education lies), “music technology” is still a rare course in many schools across the country.  It is nice to hear from teachers who have such programs—and understandably, they challenge “performance based” music educators to do more.

I guess it is always true, but we have a long way to go.

I love going to Texas, and if I have one conference that I can attend/present at, it is my top choice (and there are MANY fine conferences across the country).  If you haven’t been to TMEA (and there is a one day TI:ME additional conference on Wednesday for $50 extra), make it a priority next year to go!  You won’t regret it, and if you are from the northern states, it is nice to see 70º in February (it was a little colder this time than it has been during my other trips).


New Pricing from SmartMusic

This news was released a couple of days before TMEA, but MakeMusic has just announced a whole new pricing plan for SmartMusic.  The cost is $40 per educator, giving the educator access to all of SmartMusic’s tools, and then there are three new tiers for student accounts for SmartMusic.

Basic ($4 per student per year) allows student access to all method books and any materials that you create as a teacher.

Standard ($8 per student per year) allows student access to method books assigned by the teacher and teacher-created materials, as well as solo and ensemble, as well as “group” literature assigned by the teacher (i.e. if you want to assign your concert literature to students, this is the plan they will need).

Premium ($12 per student per year) allows students to accesss all content on SmartMusic on their own.  They can still access assigned lesson books, literature, and teacher-created materials.

The old plans required a set starting fee ($399 per year) plus a 50 student minimum.  The new pricing allows for a program of any size to use SmartMusic.  The Premium model used to cost $40, or $20 through the school.  That’s a major savings for the student on that plan…at either price point!

Many programs will want to look at the $8 pricing level, which would give students access to method books and the scores they are working on in class (provided that the scores are a part of the existing SmartMusic library—and many directors choose literature that is a part of the library).  You can create your own resources…but that takes a greater commitment of your time and energy, and you would not have access to the recordings that are a part of SmartMusic as well.  Choral music educators are used to creating their own materials, but we generally have two to four voices plus piano, unlike a band score with a much wider range of instruments/parts.

With the $8 model, think of the cost as $1 per month per student.  That’s an incredible deal.  Add $0.50 per month ($1.50 per student per month) and students have access to everything on SmartMusic. That is a great deal, too!

If you haven’t been using SmartMusic and price or the previous structure didn’t work for you…it might be time to check out SmartMusic again, and to see what the “New” SmartMusic is all about!


Ultimate Guitar Acquires MuseScore

Reported first by Scoring Notes, it appears that Ultimate Guitar has acquired MuseScore.

MuseScore has been an outlier in the world of music notation.  It is an open source, free program that can do most of what musicians (including educators) need a program to do, and it runs much like Sibelius.  This past weekend, I visited with a fellow music education techie who mentioned that they have not upgraded Sibelius since version 6, and are generally using MuseScore for most of their work.

Music Notation is a crowded industry right now, with programs such as Sibelius, Finale, and Dorico, as well as programs like Noteflight and Flat.io, and platform specific solutions such as Notion (Mac/Win or iOS), StaffPad (Win), Komp (iOS), MusicJot (iOS), Symphony Pro (iOS), Forte (Win), and others.  George Hess just wrote about this today as well, and he does what I do…most of his work in Notion (Mac/Win or iOS).  I move to Finale when I can’t do what I need to do in Notion.  All of these are paid programs.  And now there are notation editors in programs such as SmartMusic and Soundslice, too!

MuseScore has been the outlier.  Several years ago, I asked college students what programs they used, and they all used MuseScore.  What did you use in college?  Do you still use that application?  Chances are, you do.  What does this mean for the future of software notation?  And now that MusicXML is not controlled by a company and can be freely used by every application (and new versions of MusicXML will be even better)—there is nothing to stop you from using whatever program you want to use.  So why not choose free?

The large elephant in the room has been this: why pay for a notation program when a free version does nearly everything that you want it to do, with similar results?  The answer usually lies in three categories:

  • I need tech support that I can call; I don’t want to rely on a community for answers
  • I want a program that is easier to use (Notion and Dorico)
  • I need all the power I can get because I am a super human

I’ve been watching MuseScore for years, occasionally using it (the Sibelius-type note entry is hard to wrap my mind around as a Finale user), and have simply marveled at its existence.  George mentions that the core developers of MuseScore wanted to make money with the program even when it was free.  I suppose they have, at least now with the acquisition.

Ultimate Guitar has been very useful for me as I make ukulele play along videos—I check their chords when I work with music to make sure that chords I am using are correct.  However, if you want all the functions of Ultimate Guitar, you need to subscribe (e.g. transposition).  We call this a subscription/freemium model, and it works.  In the world of iOS apps, it is one of the only ways to sustain income over time (versus the one time purchase of an app).

MuseScore and Ultimate Guitar are both promising that MuseScore will remain free and open source; and that MuseScore 3 (which could once again change the playing field) is still under development.  All that said, I’m betting that MuseScore will be a freemium application, offering basic features for free, but advanced features for an affordable monthly or yearly rate.  Again, mind, you, that is MY guess and has NOT been stated by either company.  Just remember…if you want a product to make money, you have to actually collect money somehow.

Soundtrap was recently acquired by Spotify.  Peaksware acquired MakeMusic and Alfred.  Hal Leonard acquired Noteflight.  Acquisition seems to be a part of the process in the field of music technology.

If you want to follow this industry more closely, follow the work at Scoring Notes and the thoughts of George Hess!