Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

Speed of the iPad Air 2

Yesterday I happened upon the first situation where the speed improvements of the iPad Air 2 (over my 4th Generation iPad) became apparent and impacted my life. 

I use Notion on the iPad as an accompanist, and at some point I export audio out of Notion (which is incredibly easy to do) to an AAC audio file, which I then import into forScore to link to score (the audio can then be played from the score, sent over AirPlay). 

The conversion process in Notion used to take a while to complete. The app saves the file as a WAV, then converts it to an AAC, then exports the file to the destination (“Open In” would be an easier step, but Notion saves the file to Dropbox, Sound Cloud, e-mail, or to the app’s folder that can only be accessed through iTunes).  This process used to take a little while on my 4th Generation iPad–minutes.  On the iPad Air 2, the process takes seconds. 

This is the first time I have seen any process that is substantially faster on the iPad Air 2, and it represents a true time savings for me.  For example, creating practice tracks for a four part choral octavo used to take a half hour (including distribution of the recordings).   Now I could do it in 10 minutes.  In the past, I could never convert a song “on the spot” in a rehearsal as it would take too long. Now I can take 30 seconds to do this task. 

Incidentally, it seems that Notion makes an audio file just as fast (if not faster) on the iPad Air 2 as it does on my 2008 MacBook. 

I’m not sure what other situations will occur where I will see speed improvements…but this discovery is both repesentative of the speed of the device and a real time saver. 

A Series of Rants…#1: Economics and Green/Red Note Apps

I try not to be a negative person, but from time to time, we need to express the truth, even if it is negative, particularly if it will help other people. I have a series of such items that I have been thinking about, and I would like to take some time to express those thoughts.

My first “rant” is about economics and green note/red note applications.

For the record, I am talking about apps/programs/services such as SmartMusic, Music Prodigy, and the coming services of Weezic (although pricing is still not known for Weezic).

I am fortunate to teach in a 1:1 (which in and of itself is deserving of a rant or two). I wholeheartedly support 1:1 programs of any kind, and I support iPad 1:1 programs. There is tremendous potential in such programs.

One of the wonderful aspects of green note/red note applications is that they can be used to help students learn their notes, and to keep them accountable to their learning in a way that is understandable to them AND their parents. I recently blogged about a director who felt that the majority of their work was done with phrasing and shaping of vowels–not right or wrong notes and rhythms. That hasn’t been my experience. Even with my best efforts and the efforts of my colleagues in my school district, the hardest aspect about putting music together has been for students to learn the right notes and rhythms. Remember–I am a choir director, and sight reading is generally atrocious in choral music. There are exceptions, and I am happily working through the method of Dale Duncan’s S-Cubed Sight Reading Method (started in March). The skill of sight-reading just isn’t there, and if kids can’t sight-read, the majority of your time will be spent pounding out notes and rhythms.

Technology can be used to help this, in many ways. It can be used for formative and summative assessments that keep students accountable to the skills they are supposed to be learning (let’s be honest…the number one issue with sight-reading, particularly in choir, is that it is so hard to keep students accountable with assessments…and assessments take so long to correct!). The green note/red note applications that are available are an ideal solution to this process. But what I have learned is that they all cost too much.

A few years ago, I worked at the newest high school in our state, and for the majority of my students, finances weren’t an issue. We also had practice rooms with computers, and students could complete assessments at school (before school, at lunch, after school, from another class) if they couldn’t afford a subscription to a program at home. My current school doesn’t have that scenario.

Don’t get me wrong…I think SmartMusic’s $40 annual fee and Music Prodigy’s $30 annual fee are really amazing–in my last audition with the Minnesota Opera (eight years ago–I stopped when I was married and started a family) I paid $55 for a thirty minute rehearsal with a pianist plus their performance at my audition. If I use any of SmartMusic’s (limited for vocal/choir) literature, or I enter my own Finale files as an accompaniment, $40 for a year of a piano player that follows me for rehearsal (or even performance) is a bargain. If I had a student in Hockey, $40 wouldn’t cover a single glove. It seems like a bargain. When SmartMusic considered asking $8 per student for a practice room subscription, I thought that was fair–my students at my former school would have paid that. I didn’t understand the outrage expressed by many teachers using SmartMusic.

But then I started working at my school, where 40% of our students are on free & reduced lunch, and well over 20% of my choir students needed a donated t-shirt for our concert apparel because they couldn’t afford $8 for a t-shirt. Other students paid $8, but their families may not have eaten that night (lots of people fake afluence).

To add to the problem, we don’t have practice rooms, either. But every student has an iPad, and most students have Internet access at home, either their own, provided free by the community, or off of someone else’s Comcast Xfinity account and wireless router in their neighborhood.

But we can’t ask our students to pay $40 per year for SmartMusic, or even $30 per year for Music Prodigy. They have iPads, but we can’t leverage their use in choir for accountability. Or band. Or orchestra. And to be honest, a price point of $40 or $30 in choir bothers me as well, as that provides little or no literature that we can use–the literature in the program has to be created (or scanned and edited) by me. It isn’t the same as a band student that can use SmartMusic as their method book, justifying $8 of that $40 per year right off the bat, or a band director that can program their entire concert based on SmartMusic’s band catalog.

Truly, this irritates me to no end. It is frustrating to be so close to a solution (1:1) but hampered by economics. Our district is reducing nearly $8 million next year, so we’re not going to be looking to provide SmartMusic for our students. I currently have over 300 students…SmartMusic for each of my students would be $12,000. I am relatively certain that our six secondary schools combined provide less than $12,000 for sheet music for the entire secondary music program (my budget is $0). Either way, the choir program raised about $3000 with fundraising this year, most of it going back to music purchases or t-shirts.

Perhaps it is an issue with funding from our school district, or perhaps it is just the tough breaks of the economics of area. But what I have learned is that more schools are in my current position (1:1 with no money for additional apps) or worse (not 1:1, and still no money).

And it isn’t just green note/red note programs that are the problem–this also applies to any subscription service (e.g. MusicFirst products). I don’t hold any grudge against any of these companies…they deserve to be paid for what they do. But those companies need to know (and probably realize) that many of us are locked out of their services, even with attractive pricing. We KNOW their pricing is affordable, yet we KNOW it isn’t affordable for many of our students or our schools.

This is why apps are so attractive on the iPad–buy them once and keep upgrading for free, or freeze with the last version that works with your OS. A “true” app isn’t a recurring expense. You can pay $3 for an app, knowing that you can use it again (thank goodness for that change). So a $900 expense is diluted over a number of years.

So…here’s the question…can someone make a green note/red note app that can be purchased ONCE and then run on the iPad (versus a server that requires upkeep), and then find some way to have students beam their scores to a teacher version via Bluetooth? Can we change the paradigm of a server-based green note/red note service? Can we make this type of program accessible to all, while still allowing someone to make some money off of the concept? Yes…content would have to be provided by the teacher/director (get out of the royalties business), but in truth, assessments should be short (no more than 30 seconds) and specific to either develop a skill or to assess a skill. And the assessment should be based on MusicXML, so it can be created in any app and uploaded to the program. And if anyone wants to go into business on such a venture, send me a note. I’d be happy to partner with you. I just don’t have the programming skills myself to make it happen.

Looking for a Surface Pro?

After my post about StaffPad and Surface Pro, I received an e-mail from an old blogging friend, ViolaJack. In her e-mail, she mentioned that Microsoft sells refurbished Surface Pros on eBay at a significant discount.

While I am always a little hesitant to buy expensive technology sight-unseen, there is no danger in purchasing a device from the legitimate Windows store on eBay. As of today (I cannot promise that these prices will contnue), you can buy a 128GB Surface Pro 3 with a keyboard for $850, which is a savings of $279. That makes a pretty expensive device quite a bit more affordable.

Personally, I would buy a new MacBook before a Surface Pro 3, but if I happen to win the lottery…(generally, you have to play to win). But if YOU are interested in a Surface Pro 3, particularly with the news of StaffPad (and maybe even MuseScore 2.0), you can't beat $850 for a new, refurbished Surface Pro 3. It is a beautful device with top-of-the-line hardware.

Five Years of iPad

It seems that April 3rd is considered the birthday of the iPad. I remember standing in line to buy my first iPad, at the Richfield, MN Best Buy, which is literally in the shadows of Best Buy Headquarters (I had a bad experience with Best Buy last fall, and I have not been in a Best Buy since). If you want to read about my first iPad, you can read this old post.

Since that April date, an iPad has been my main tool at school, thanks to a number of apps including forScore, unrealBook, Notion, and Keynote. In the past five years, I have personally owned four of the six models that have been released…the iPad 1, the iPad 2, the 4th Generation iPad, and just a couple of weeks ago, my iPad Air 2.

So much has happened in the past five years, including wireless mirroring. I remember how excited I was in the fall of 2011 to stream from iPad to a screen without wires. Now there are ten ways to do that!

Many of the technology blogs are celebrating the iPad today, while declaring that “tablets need to take the next step.”

I'm not sure what that next step is. Certainly, a larger iPad (the iPad Pro) would be a welcome addition, and there is always room for improvement in apps (ask any developer, they will quickly admit that they can and will improve their app over time). But as I work on this iPad Air 2, I'm not sure what else the hardware itself can do, and in fact, Apple has packaged more hardware in the last few generations of these devices than the accessory makers can take care of–example? Bluetooth MIDI. The device has been physically capable of this for more than two years, but iOS allowed for it last fall, and there are only a handful of accessories that can take advantage of it.

Sure, a true active stylus, such as the Microsoft Surface, would be a nice addition. That said, I wouldn't want to be tied to any stylus, either. But if you think back to the time where everyone complained about the iPad's lack of a USB Port–the combination of Bluetooth and Cloud computing has taken away much of the need for USB devices (including storage). The greatest flaw in the current iPad line is the existence of the 16GB iPad…no one should ever buy an iPad with only 16GB, and Apple should not be selling that device. Every iOS device should start with 32GB. Period.

By the way, until I can purchase the Zagg Rugged Case for my iPad Air 2, I am using a Finite case that I found on Amazon for $10 (the cost of a replacement screen for the Griffin Survivor cases that we use with our school 4th Generation iPads). My previous case for my iPad, the strange looking but extremely useful Gripcase, is not avaialble for the iPad Air 2. While the Zagg case appeals to me, this Finite case will last for some time.

Five years with the iPad…it is hard to believe it has been that long…but I can't imagine teaching without it. Although I am at a 1:1 where students often take their devices for granted (and some actually complain about the iPads), I wouldn't trade my iPad for any other device in my classroom.

Coming soon…the iPad Air 2 (to me)

I did it. Today I finally decided to order an iPad Air 2. I have been thinking about a new iPad for some time; and was waiting for Apple’s March announcment as well as T-Mobile’s announcement this past week.

I bought my 4th Generation iPad in the fall of 2012. I did so when the 3rd Generation iPad (introduced that March) was replaced by the 4th Generation. The 3rd Generation iPad had the retina screen, but still used the 30-pin cable, and often ran slower than the iPad 2. The 4th Generation featured a faster processor (the A6X, if memory serves), as well as the lightning adapter.

This iPad has served me well over two years–almost two and one half years. It has survived one broken screen (amazingly, the screen took all the damage), and has been my main tool on a daily basis. Without a doubt, I spend more time on an iPad each day than I do my iPhone or my old 2008 MacBook.

My iPad has been showing its age as of late, including a crash mid-presentation today in class. There was no explanation, the device shut down, the Apple logo appeared, and the device didn’t restart. I had to reboot the device (hold down the power and home buttons) and then everything was fine again. I think the memory-intensive apps that I use are simply starting to tax the capabilities of this iPad. And that’s okay–this device has had hours upon hours of use.

Two days ago, I saw that you could buy a 128GB iPad Air (1st Gen) for $549 from B&H. That was tempting. Today I noted that you can buy a cellular 128GB iPad Air 2 from Best Buy for $699.

Now that we are with T-Mobile, I wanted to own a cellular iPad. T-Mobile allows you to buy a 64GB iPad for $99 and 24 monthly (no interest) payments, or a 128GB iPad for $199 (plus tax for the whole device) and 24 payments. That makes the largest iPad affordable. So I called up T-Mobile, and asked if they would match Best Buy’s price. They wouldn’t, but did offer a $50 discount (making the downpayment $149 plus tax). And they also allowed me to take advantage of T-Mobile’s 200MB of Data free each month with no service contract (I orginally thought that I would buy the $10 monthly data matching plan, which would be 2.5GB per month for our phones–something I still may do in the future). To put this another way, if I simply give up drinking pop each month, the cost of the iPad is covered (and I will be on a better road to health).

I have been using an iPad Air 2 with my choirs this year, but the device is owned by the choir program and is used for classroom management (students scanning in and Casper Focus, primarily). Although the iPad Air 2 is noticeably lighter, smaller, and thinner (same size screen), I haven’t noticed any improvements in speed–but then again, I don’t use the memory-intensive apps on that iPad that I do on my “old” iPad.

At my presentations this year, I have been telling people with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Generation iPads that it is time to move up; and I have told 4th Generation owners (like myself) that the time for us to upgrage is nearly here. I am now proving that with my own pocketbook.

I was also waiting to see if Apple would release an iPad Pro in March; now it seems unlikely that we would see such a device until the iPad refresh (likely October). I am also starting to think that an iPad Pro may not be “just” an iPad, but a type of “transformer” device. We will see what really comes out this coming fall.

Yes–I absolutely understand that a new iPad will be out in the fall, and that device will be slightly faster and likely have more RAM. There may be a better camera, and perhaps it will be even thinner. For owners of the iPad Air or iPad Air 2, there will be little need to upgrade. But for owners of older iPads, I am guessing that 64-bit programming will be required (it is now!), but required ALONE, for iOS 9, meaning that only the iPad Air, and iPad Mini 2 and newer will be able to run iOS 9 and future apps. This would mean that all owners of 4th Generation iPads (and earlier) would have to upgrade if they wanted to run any new apps or app updates. That’s a guess, but three years into 64-bit processing, doesn’t that seem likely? This fall, the 2nd Generation iPad will be nearly 5 years old (4 years, 7 months). The 4th Generation iPad will be 3 years old. The apps on those devices will keep working (like apps loaded on 1st Generation iPads, which are frozen at IOS 5).

It also stands to question: what is the realistic lifespan of an iPad? Two years seems to be the agreed-upon life of a phone. What is a fair life for a tablet? 4 years? 5 years? My MacBook turns 7 years old this November. What is the lifespan of a MacBook? Much of the answer lies in what you use your device for, and at what point the advancements in technology make the upgrade expense worthwhile. My MacBook is almost there in terms of improvements that I would gain by upgrading.

So, I am looking forward to working with my iPad Air 2, and the addition of Touch ID will be wonderful. It is amazing how many students will freely touch your personal device without asking. I am planning on puchasing the Zagg Rugged Keyboard case as soon as it is available–this looks like the iPad case I have always wanted. 128GB on my iPad will also be wonderful (I currently have 64GB). My current iPad will go to my father-in-law, who still uses my old iPad 2 daily. I am also interested to see how my use of an iPad will change when I have LTE available…all of my iPads have been wi-fi only to this point.

This also means that it is unlikely that I will buy the Apple Watch, at least in the early days. I am fearful that the 2nd Generation iPad watch will be an evolutionary jump, much like the iPad to iPad 2, and iPhone to iPhone 3G. When you pay that much for a watch (starting at $399 for my wrists, and my ideal combination is the $999 stainless steel combo), it simply can’t be replaced every year (or three). If you have an iPad 2, four and a half years later, you can still use it with most modern apps. Not so with the iPad 1. There is a reason I upgraded immediately from the iPad 1 to iPad 2, but waited until the 4th Generation iPad and now the iPad Air 2. I will likely do the same with the Apple Watch–wait until the next generation.

That said, Father’s Day is coming in June…


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