Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

The Other Side of the Equation

I just read an interesting article about mobile app development from the side of a developer. I found the article on Twitter from the account of Denys Zhadanov, who is the CEO of Readdle (the makers of PDF Expert).

As an end user, we often forget about the time and expense of designing an app, and then simply complain about an app. Sometimes we take the opportunity to e-mail a developer (most do not), or we simply talk about the app with other users.

There are a few things that I have learned about app development that are worth sharing with end users:

  1. It costs quite a bit of money to make an app. If you aren't a developer, an app will cost $6,000-$10,000 to develop, and this does not including continuing updates to the app.
  2. Many apps are developed overseas in places such as the Ukraine, where developers charge far less than American or British developers.
  3. Apps won't always do what we want them to do. Sometimes this is due to limitations in the OS, limitiations of the device, the ability of the developer, or the roadmap of the developer.
  4. Most developers have a roadmap. They know where they want to go, and they have a plan in place. Their roadmap does not always equal an end user's roadmap.
  5. In music education, we represent a very low number of overall purchases. Remember–everyone has their own choice of device whether Android or iOS. It is possible that less than 1/3 of music educators even own an iOS device.
  6. Many schools do not earmark funds to buy apps, regardless of platform.
  7. We like to complain about the cost of apps, when the average iPad app is $4.99 or less. Think about that for a second–how many apps do you need to sell to simply be able to afford to go grocery shopping? Particularly after a $10,000 start-up investment?
  8. A developer cannot afford to solely develop an app for music education as their job–most developers will have to be employed elsewhere, or be working on many apps at the same time.
  9. The current model of “buy the app once, free updates forever” is unsustainable.

To developers (or those that hope to be developers), I have some additional thoughts:


  1. Some of the best apps for music education apps are those that developers make for their own use. They see a need, and they make the app first and foremost for their own use.
  2. Make sure your idea for an app isn't already well represented on an app store. For example, if you want to create a metronome app, you really need to have a feature that is unique to your app.
  3. It is REALLY hard to get the news about a new app out there. In my experience, developers that hire PR firms to promote an app may not see the returns from that investment. Most PR firms send out a form e-mail to blogs and other technology reporters. As a blogger, I don't always respond to a PR firm e-mail. You are probably better off doing a web search for similar apps, finding people that write about the apps (bloggers), and sending them an e-mail with a promo code or an offer for a promo code.
  4. Make sure your app truly fits into the categories that a blogger is writing about. For example, this blog is about using technology in traditional music education–heavily focused on using technology in secondary and elementary education. As a result, when I am offered an app, I don't always take it, particularly if I can't see how it can be used in music education. That doesn't mean that I don't think an app should exist. If you choose to contact a music education blog, have a strong idea of how your app can be used in music education. Put another way: how can this app be used by music teachers in schools, or how can it make the life of a music teacher better?
  5. I don't know how to best spread the news about apps. Bloggers like myself, Paul Shimmons, and Amy Burns have lists of apps on our blogs, and Amy and I have books in the iBooks Store. Most folks are unwilling to search for these resources, and even in 2015, sessions such as “60 apps in 60 minutes,” are some of the most attended sessions at conferences. A good use of PR funds would be sponsoring a person such as Amy, Paul, or myself to attend conferences and to present these sessions. The process is usually a 6 to 8 month process requiring applying to present and then being subject to the selection committee of that state. A presenter would suggest several sessions, with one focusing on just (or mainly on) your app. At the same time, most developers do not have a PR budget to pay for such expenses, and the direct sales from a single presentation would likely never pay back the expense (word of mouth might eventually do so). That said, if you aren't going to be a vendor at a music conference, this might be a more affordable way to make it into the minds of music educators.

It’s not about the device…

There has been a big movement in the last months in educational technology that is based on this concept:

“It's not about the device, it is what you do with the device that matters.”

Interestingly, one of the bloggers I have used as a source in the past, Richard Wells, is changing his blog (and Twitter handle) from iPad4Schools to Eduwells.

I find myself on both sides of the movement. My blog, from the start, has been about technology in music education, and my first book (which I am going to begin updating), Practical Technology for Music Education, looks at technology in a larger sense in music education. While I am an “iPad Apologist” in music education, I have always seen my role as helping any teacher (music or otherwise) with technology, but doing so from a persepective of what has worked for me. I have also spent a small amount of money making sure that I have at least one of each “major” platform at my fingertips so I can research problems and questions from readers. The one exception is StaffPad, which really only works with the Surface 3 (or newer) or any Surface Pro–and I find myself unwilling to buy a $1100 device for a single program, particularly when there are other devices I need or want.

I suppose that a education technology expert that has “cornered” themselves as a “single device” expert might find themselves at a point where they want to be seen more than as “just” an “iPad Expert.” I think that is where Richard Wells is at–and that's okay. I would guess, however, that he still believes in the iPad.

This movement also shows the dominance of Chromebooks in education. Sure, iPads are still in schools, and they are still selling in schools. However, if you are considered an “iPad Expert,” is a school/district going to hire you to offer professional development if they are a Chromebook school? Nope.

All that said, I think it is ludicrious to move to the “the device doesn't matter” side of the line. Devices are NOT created equal, and cannot be used equally in all subjects. The problem lies in a combination of hardware and software inequalities between devices. Even the newest devices (e.g. Chromebook Flip) fail to solve all the problems. This is why BYOD is a false solution. Sure, you can write a paper on any device (although it would be incredibly frustrating to do so on a phone without an external keyboard), but can you do everything else you need to do?

While my goal remains to help teachers regardless of the technology in their room, whether Windows PC, SmartBoard, Promethean, Chromebook, iPad, or anything in between), I still strongly feel the iPad offers the best solutions for music education for the teacher or the student. While there are still some tasks that are best handled on my MacBook, I can travel and teach for a long period of time without having to use a MacBook. I understand that people who own the iPad Pro are experiencing even more freedom from their notebooks computers than I do with my iPad Air 2.

The problem, is, of coruse, that most technology initiatives fail to take what is best for music education into account. Other criteria take control, such as cost, ease of IT management, and the existence of a physical keyboard.

In closing on this Thanksgiving Day, let me express thanks to everyone who reads this blog, is subscribed to the blog, or gets the blog in their e-mail. And if you have bought one of my books, or used a referral link–thank you. Your support is appreciated.

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.


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