Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

Some Thoughts on the Chrome OS News…

Imagine for a moment that you are the developer of an operating system for mobile devices. While you may not be the first operating system on the market, you gain instant acceptance from consumers because you offer your operating system for no cost, and you generate your income from the advertising on that operating system. Hardware developers love your product because they don't need to pay you to use your operating system.

Then imagine that your competitor introduces a new (or new-again) form factor, a tablet. As a reaction, you introduce your own tablet. Your competitor's device becomes a favorite device in schools, but your tablet does not. As a result you scrap your plans for your tablet to be the answer in education, and you develop an entirely new platform that will work well in schools.

Then, imagine that over a few years, your device begins winning in the field of education, and you are selling more of your “new” platform than your competitor's tablet. Your device is inexpensive (less than half the price of your competitor's product), offers a secure environment that can be centrally controlled, and comes with a productivity suite that meets many of the needs for education.

What would you do at that point? What would be your next move?

I am, of course, talking about Google and the Chromebook. Two days ago, several media outlets reported that Google will merge Chrome OS (i.e. Chromebooks) into Android by early 2017. Google has responded by saying that they are committed to Chrome OS, but not denying the overall news. In other words, “We are committed to Chrome OS until our new OS is ready.”

Google and the manufacturers who made Chromebooks have sold millions of these devices to schools over the past three years. There are a number of schools that have ditched their iPads to move to Chromebooks. We have heard repeatedly that the cost of the devices, the keyboard, the security, the central control, and the simplicity of the web apps have been PERFECT for education.

While Android devices come in many shapes, sizes, and price points, they have not been very good in terms of “productivity,” and while key apps are available on both iOS and Android, Android lacks a lot apps and features a majority of ad supported or freemium apps. One of the challenges of being involved in an iPad 1:1 is the App Store. It seems there is no happy medium–either you restrict it completely or students will misuse apps during education. The Chromebook web app store was really limited–what happens when you open the floodgates to all the apps on the market?

And “control” is a tricky word with Chromebooks. There is really no way for a teacher to control student Chromebooks (there is such a solution with iPads). All of the control is on the side of the IT department, specifically with the control of Google GAFE accounts and rollout of devices. Apple has made huge improvements in this process over the years, combined with MDMs like Casper.

And as the Android App Store is only lightly curated–there are plenty of apps with viruses and malicious activity–something uncommon with Chromebook web apps and iOS devices.

It will be fun to see the people who once lauded the benefits of the limited Chromebooks to change their tune and embrace the challenges of an Androidbook.

Also not clear: Will “old” Chromebooks get the new operating system, or will they be left in the dust?

If Android hardware is any example, there will be tough days ahead. Android apologists hate the discussion of fragmentation. Fragmentation occurs when you change your OS enough that older versions of the operating system cannot run apps that have been tweaked for the new versions of the operating system. Some developers will find solutions, but most developers simply move to the SDK. Since the early days of Android, Google has released new versions of its operating system that the manufacturers have refused to update for old devices. This means that, at any time, you can buy a new device that is running old hardware (right now, you can buy Kit Kat Android devices, Lollipop Android Devices, and Marshmallow Android Devices). You might even be able to buy new devices with even older Android operating systems. There is even a support group (and hacking developers) that try to make current operating systems run on old hardware.

Yes, this happens to Apple, too, generally when the hardware can no longer support the new operating system. As for iOS 9, however, it runs on iPads as old as iPad 2, and phones as old as the iPhone 4S. If you have that device (or newer), the only reason you would not have iOS 9 is because you chose not to install it.

So…do you think your 2014 Dell will get the 2017 Android OS? And will your central IT manager be able to control all the devices with one console?

Yeah…some scary times lie ahead. I wish some other people were out there recognizing this.

If you were the director of an IT department, and you had a budget to spend on technology for the 2016-2017 school year, knowing that a new operating system will be coming, would you spend another dime on Chromebooks at this time?

As I referred to earlier in this post, Android attempted to make it as a tablet format in schools. Android is a touch based operating system, whereas Chrome OS is a keyboard based operating system. As one writer put it, Android has been terrible in the area of productivity, while Chromebooks have been terrible in the area of applications and touch-based computing.

Is there any reason to think that Google will get it right? Particularly from day 1?

The funny thing is that I predicted the possibility of a Chrome OS and Android OS merger years ago. With the success of the Chromebook in education, I simply came to believe that Google would stand behind Chrome OS.

I suppose that's the danger of going with a company that doesn't sell hardware. If the company has no reason to continue the support for an old device, it will simply abandon them from time to time. Google has done that a lot over the years. There is no doubt that Google offer some wonderful products. But at the same time they have orphaned a number of them along the way as well.

With this announcement, Google also makes a point that native apps are a better solution than web apps. Surprisingly, Apple made this same journey, but realized it much faster (the first iPhone only ran web apps–often on 2G cell service!).

In the business of music education, companies have been scrambling to find answers for the Chromebook. In Nashville, I talked with a company that was resisting the development for Chromebooks, because they felt that many students were not allowed to take them home due to their fragile nature. I have been trying to validate that claim, but it looks like most schools allow students (particularly at the secondary level) to take Chromebooks home.

Regardless, the philosophy from that company is to provide software on mobile devices that run native apps–mobile devices that are already in the pockets of students and parents.

That didn't look like a good strategy at just a week ago, and now that company now looks brilliant. This also makes me think about the companies that have invested in (bought) other companies to provide experiences on Chromebooks–those investments suddenly look very bad–all because Google is making sudden shifts in their business practice.

It is going to be interesting to see how this all pans out. I knew something would happen when a vice president of Google was given authority over both Chrome OS and Android. I should have realized that the move did not mean that Chome would get more features, but that Android would absorb the best features of Chrome.

From a musician's standpoint, and as a person that owns devices that run all major operating systems, Android still leaves a lot to be desired for music education. This includes apps, MIDI integration, and many more things. It is true that the new HTML 5 programs that are music friendly, such as Noteflight and, will work on nearly any device. But I would also expect to see new native apps to run on the new Androidbooks. Even if developers jump into the new Android unified OS, schools will still struggle to find money to provide web apps, web services, and native apps for music education.

This is all early news that has been verified, but it is unclear how Google will handle everything in the days to come. 2017 is not that far away–for Google or for schools (most schools know budgets and line-items for the following academic year no later March). I am not sure I would want to be an IT director investing in devices that have an uncertain future. While I have been fond of saying, “Buy a device for what it can do today, not what it might do tomorrow,” that quote assumes that there is a “tomorrow” for your device!

Some Thoughts from the NAfME Conference

Durinf weekend/start of last week, I had the opportunity to present two sessions at the NAfME conference in Nashville,Tennessee.

We stayed at a hotel outside of Nashville to save a bit on the cost of the trip (we drove down from our home near the Twin Cities) and between travel time and visiting the exhibits area (called NAfME Central) I didn't have a lot of time to visit many other sessions than my own.

I attended a session by Amy Burns ( and Jennifer Wager about a combined STEAM effort between science and music. It was fun to see how two teachers worked together to make a collaborative unit for their students. There was a timpani session going on next door during their session, and they handled that well. Ms. Burns has blogged about their session, so I will let her speak for herself (link).

I also attended a session by Scott Watson who showed how to use technology to unlock musical creativity via some projects that he had done with his students.

I also attended two sessions by John Mlynczak, who is now the Director of Educational Technilogy for Noteflight. While Mr. Mlynczak presented many sessions at NAfME, the two sessions I attended were on audio recording and another about iPads. I walked away with two ideas from the audio session: first, people in the audio recording industry do not like the results of Audacity. As such, Mr. Mlynczak recommended the use of PreSonus' Studio One Prime, which is a free product but does not offer technical support. He also discussed the way to track audio problems with a sound system–work from the source to the speakers, in a sequential method. Many people attempt to solve audio problems by randomly looking through the system–this approach doesn't solve many problems in a timely manner. In the iPad session, I learned something! Mr. Mlynczak discussed the difference between Made for iPad (MFi Apple Certification) and Works with iPad (not an Apple certification). He also strongly encouraged the use of an external audio recorder (The Blue Mikey) and also noted that PreSonus has an audio input boxes for iPad (The Audiobox iOne and the Audiobox iTwo). Another favorite item in his “kit” was the iLoud Bluetooth Boombox.

Mr. Mlynczak had some other surprises. Did you know you that can buy the PreSonus Music Creation Suite, which comes with a keyboard, Audiobox (not the “i”), Headphones, Notion, Studio One DAW, and a microphone for $210? This is to be used with a computer, but it is a STEAL.

As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Mlynczak used to work for PreSonus and now works for Hal Leonard, specifically with Noteflight. Noteflight introduced Noteflight Learn at NAfME, and it is a product that is going to do a number of things in the next months. Right now, it is priced at $69 for ten students, and $1 for each additional students (per year). Soon, the price will go to $2 per student. Right now, Noteflight Learn gives the full version of Noteflight to all your students for an incredibly low price. In the days to come, Noteflight Learn will be offering more tools, including the ability to record students. In the future, the program will be adding access to Hal Leonard literature (as an additional cost) and perhaps other features. While the service isn't there yet, this may be the first step forward into solving the issue of combining notation, playback, literature, and assessment for every teacher on every platform. The concept of providing a literature library through Noteflight is particularly exciting–imagine being able to program enough literature for a concert and to have have modern tool avaialble for instruction and assessment as a teacher! There is still a lot of development to come–but I am very interested in this product. I always preferred the use of a stand-alone notation product, but Noteflight paired–and as the core–of an entire ecosystem is very, very interesting!

Some other thoughts about the NAfME National Convention: The exhibit area was surprisingly small. While I am sure that it costs quite a bit to be an exibitor, the lack of competition probably makes the cost worthwhile–your product has less competition and can't get lost in the shuffle. I would urge companies to consider attending NAfME specifically for this reason. The Gaylord Opryland was incredible, but offered little for families with small children, so we won't be returning any time soon. I was shocked by the changes to Opryland. Back in high school I marched with the Pioneer Drum and Bugle Corps from Milwaukee, and our spring camp was held at a military base near Nashville, and I remember going to the Opryland theme park while on that trip. That theme park has been gone for more than 20 years!

Next year's NAfME will be held in Grapevine, Texas. I don't know if I will make the trip, as I plan on trying to present at TMEA again in San Antonio in February. While I would be happy to present and attend NAfME again (hopefully not losing my gear), TMEA is expontentially larger in size. I still remember the year NAfME came to Minnesota and basically replaced our own MMEA for a year. I liked that approach as I felt that I didn't have to make a choice between attending a state conference or a national conference (a lot of us don't get a lot of release time for conventions).

I will be adding the presentations from NAfME to my website within the next few days. Thank you again to everyone who attended my sessions, and to the presenters whose sessions I attended!

An Expensive Trip to the NAfME National Conference in Nashville

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to present two sessions at the NAfME National Conference.  My wife and I traveled via car (my one-year-old to me 2006 Prius) and then stayed in a hotel about 40 miles away to keep costs down.

As usual, I brought a number of iPad accessories to show in my 30 apps in 60 minute session on Sunday.

After my second session, the next presenters began to set up immediately after I stopped speaking (there was a 30 minute gap between sessions).  They set up directly over my equipment, and between answering questions and trying to pack up, it was difficult to get my things collected.

I traveled to Madison, Wisconsin on Thursday night for a presentation on iPads in Music Education, I had not worked through any of my belongings after returning from from Nashville on Tuesday, as I taught on Wednesday and Thursday.  Before I left on Thursday, I went to put my travel kit together and realized that I had lost two very important pieces of my “kit” in the shuffle at NAfME.

First, I lost both of my Miselu C.24 keyboards.  These are small iPad-sized keyboards (they were meant to be a cover for the 4th Generation iPad) that I had magnetically connected together and in one of Miselu’s felt sleeves.  Second, I appear to have lost my PUC+, my bluetooth wireless MIDI connector.

I paid only $99 for each of the keyboards as a part of the Kickstarter event; and the PUC+ was a demo unit/gift from Zivix.  Replacement cost of the technology is $199 for each keyboard and $99 for the PUC+.  That means $500 (and these items have all reduced prices).  Ouch.

I have contacted my hotel, the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center, and NAfME–as well as the presenters that followed me after my second session.  I am hoping these items show up–but it is not looking good right now.

Obviously, I had no desire to lose these items or to give them away (although I have given away tech, such as the AirTurn BT-105 that I was given/exchanged for at TMEA three years ago, since I was given an AirTurn PED) and I’m a little bummed about it.  I have presented in a lot of places over the years and have never left any other of my gear behind.

I have some other observations about the NAfME conference that will follow in another post.

NAfME Session #1 – 30 Apps in 60 Minutes

As I write this, we have just spent 14 hours on the road, driving to Tennessee so that I can present a session called “30 Apps in 60 Minutes” at the National Association for Music Education Conference in Nashville.  This presentation is on Sunday at 11:00am.

I have given many “XX apps in 60 minute” presentations, which often become a marathon attempt at showing the best of the apps that are out there–often showing 3 or 4 different apps with a similar focus.

For this session, I wanted some time to be able to discuss each app, and thus had to pick (what I feel) the best thirty apps on the market.  Apps were left off the list, and other than grouping all of the GAFE apps as one app, I kept to the list of 30.

My second presentation will be on forScore at 2:30 on Monday.

And if you are interested, the session “handout” is here: 30 Apps in 60 Minutes (only available in PDF format).  I will add the presentation and the handout to my “Past Presentations” in the future.

I am looking forward to presenting at and attending NAfME!  If you are at NAfME, I hope to see you there!

Asus Chromebook Flip

Okay. I did it. I went and bought an open box Asus Chromebook Flip today–as well as a Chromecast.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present a rather broad presentation about music education and technology as it can be applied to Orchestra with MNSOTA (Minnesota String and Orchestra Teachers Assoication). As I often do with “broad” presentations, I spent a bit of time talking about SAMR and form factor in my presentation. I find myself often having to describe why Chromebooks are not a great fit for music education. On the other hand, I remain open to new technology, and I talked about how the Chromebook Flip might be a better fit.

Throughout the past day and a half, I spent my free time pondering Chromebooks. As I have written on a regular basis, the Chromebook is winning in education, and as time goes on, there are more solutions for music. For example:

1) Did you know that there are now two HTML Music Notation programs? One is the long-established Noteflight (now owned by Hal Leonard). The other is a French start-up, Both will work on a Chromebook.

2) Did you know that in addition to SmartMusic’s scheduled arrival to the Chromebook in the Fall of 2016, there is already a Chromebook-friendly music assessment program called PracticeFirst (from

3) Did you know that there is a dedicated HTML 5 sheet music viewer, NeoScores, which will receive some major updates in the next 3 months?

4) Did you know that there is a Web MIDI standard in development, which will (finally) allow Chromebooks to be used with USB MIDI instruments? (See this link) Web MIDI is already in Chromebooks–there is a lack of apps that utilize it so far.

5) Did you know that most web-based programs work on a Chromebook?

6) Did you know that Chromecast now works with the entire desktop, and that you can purchase AirParrot to show a Chromebook over an AppleTV? Chromecast is $35, and I am not sure how much a HDMI to VGA adapter costs for the device. In the past, my Kanex ATV Pro (converts HMDI to VGA for Apple TV) did not work with my Chromecast. That said, Chromecast mirroring is “laggy.” Whereas sound can sometimes lag when I mirror with an iPad, the video and sound both lag on Chromecast–even with the latest version of the device.

7) And most importantly, did you know that there is now a Chromebook that folds in half and can be used as a tablet (in truth, there are two such devices right now–the Asus Flip and the Acer R11 Convertible)?

I now have the Asus model in my possession. After (Minnesota) taxes, it came to $239. That’s less than 1/3 of the cost of my iPad Air 2 (which I maxxed out with LTE and 128GB of storage). On a more comparable note, the entry model iPad Air 2 (at 64GB–don’t ever buy a 16GB device again) is $599. So the Asus Flip was less than 1/2 the price of the “base” iPad model that I would consider buying. I purposely bought the Flip with 2GB of RAM because that is what schools would buy if they bought them (they would not spend the extra $50 for two additional GB of RAM).

Asus Chromebook Flip, left; iPad Air 2, right

I have been spending the evening with the Chromebook, and overall, I am impressed. The Asus Flip is very close to being a solution for music education. If money wasn’t an object, I wouldn’t choose the Flip over an iPad; but if your school has a choice between buying a Dell or Acer clamshell model or the Flip, I would encourage the purchase of the Flip for use in music and other non-typing classes.

I’m not making the claim that the Flip is more durable than other models…I would be terrified of dropping it, and it doesn’t seem like you can use a case with it without impacting its ability to flip. It is significantly smaller than my old Samsung 303 Chromebook, and the screen is only slightly smaller than my iPad. The Flip has a 10″ (diagonal) screen, but is in a widescreen mode versus the iPad’s 4:3 mode. Therefore, the Flip’s screen is only 5″ wide (roughly) while the iPad is nearly 6″ wide. The screen of the Flip is nice–most Chromebooks have low quality screens, whereas the Flip’s is clear. It doesn’t compare to the iPad’s retina screen, but then again, the iPad costs two to three times as much. If you didn’t buy the Flip for the flipping, it would be worth it for the screen versus other Chromebooks (other than Google’s top of the line Pixel model). If you are a musician wanting to view music on a device, and the iPad is too small, skip the Flip, unless you are going to use a MusicXML music viewer such as NeoScores, where notation can be instantly resized. If you need a bigger screen, wait for the iPad Pro in about a month.

The Flip weighs about 1 pound 15 ounces, whereas my iPad Air 2, in its case, weighs about 1 pound 8 ounces. Most tech journalists would complain about the difference of a half a pound, but for most users, you could deal with it. The most awkward thing about the Flip is holding it with the keys in the back…it is a feeling that takes getting used to. The keyboard itself is disabled in this mode, and the touchscreen overlay (something I suspect Asus put together above Google’s operating system) works surprisingly well–far better than some Windows devices that I have used. Asus should get this right, as they have made many Android and Windows tablets, convertibles, and even Flip devices in the past.

One oddity about the Flip is that it has a unique charger, when most devices are shipping with USB charging capability of some kind. Having a proprietary charger in today’s mobile world is a strange choice for a new device. Other than its unique charging port, the Flip has two LEDs (battery charging and power), a volume rocker, a power button (on the side of the device), a headphone jack, a MicroSD slot, two USB ports, and a mini HDMI out port. I wish they would spend the extra $3 and ship these devices with a mini HDMI to regular HDMI adapter.

The negatives of the Flip, with the exception of the solution of the form factor issue, remain the sameas other Chromebooks. As a whole, there are not a lot of quality apps for the device, and nearly all of the quality apps require a subscription for the best features. While I love what Noteflight,, NeoScores, and MusicFirst are doing by creating a number of quality apps, many schools simply cannot afford a subscription (for the record, Noteflight and NeoScores have free versions, and is still free). I think that developers deserve to be paid, even if schools are too cheap to pay for software. The issue is that when your school district has selected a device for the primary reason of cost savings and streching their dollar, they aren’t putting aside money for music departments to buy music specific apps–and to do so annually (In comparison, on the iPad, generally, apps are “buy once”). Other than NeoScores, I cannot find a PDF web app that allows for horizontal page turns and allows annotation. And I do not believe that you can add a scanner so that an app such as NotateMe’s PhotoScore (in-app purchase) could be developed/created.

Samsung 303 Chromebook, left; Asus Flip Chromebook, right

That said, we’re almost there with this device. If programs can establish themselves with Web MIDI, and NeoScores works out the bugs, Google incorporates more of Android into Chrome, and Chromecast mirroring can become less “laggy,” the Flip is just about the perfect form factor. Teaching in a 1:1, I no longer think you want to distribute a device where students can detach a keyboard. I used to think this was a good idea; but having seen what students do to iPad cases, I fear what they would do to a Chromebook detachable keyboard. As a result, a device where the keyboard folds back might very well be the device that can work for all subjects without compromise. We’re almost there–and the remaining issues might be worked out before this version of the Flip reaches its end-of-life. I wouldn’t tell you to go buy a Flip today–it still has most of the compromises of any Chromebook.

In closing, I think the iPad still holds the greatest value for education (music and otherwise) with available apps, accessories, mirroring, and MDM control (particularly with Casper by JAMF). There is a strong chance that your decision makers may not see the value in a device that costs two to three times more than a Chromebook. In that case, advocate–at the least–for this device. You should never buy a device for what it might do, but there is enough promise around the corner that many additional uses could be present on the Flip in the next six to eighteen months. I can’t promise that, but it seems likely. The worst possible scenario is that your decision makers choose a clamshell device that won’t ever fit easily into your music room. Try to educate those decision makers that there are better options on the market that either do work or potentially will work better for all subjects in the future.

P.S.  The animated GIF at the top of the screen was recorded with my iPhone 6S with the new “Live Pictures” feature, and then converted to an animated GIF with the app Live GIF (link).  Inserting it into the blog required saving the image OFF of the iPad and then uploading it via the web on another device (incidentally, the Asus Flip) as iOS doesn’t play well with animated GIFs (or more specifically, not yet).


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