Repost (from my other blog)…several months after owning an iPhone 3G

I thought I would take a moment to write my thoughts about the iPhone 3G. I longed, even pined, for a iPhone for more than a year, until my family’s contract with Verizon expired. That very same day the contract ended, we were in the AT&T store, purchasing iPhones for my wife and I.

I was looking forward to the perfect “convergent” device…that would encompass my iPod, cell phone, PDA (which I didn’t have any more, but missed), and camera. Ultimately, there is no such thing as a “perfect” item, but I have to admit that the iPhone 3G comes close, and gets closer all the time.

I think the way that I’ll approach this is to use that same old paradigm as the Clint Eastwood movie, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”

The Good (or the Great):

  1. Cell Service with AT&T has been very good. My only dropped calls have been from callers on the “other side” of the line.
  2. Full internet connectivity has been incredible…particularly at school where my wifi doesn’t allow my e-mail client (on iPhone or computer) to access g-mail…so thank goodness for 3G, which allows me to get e-mail all day long. The only bad part is that the e-mail client won’t just abandon the wifi connection when it doesn’t work, so I have to manually exit the wifi network. This only happens at school with an aggressive firewall at play.
  3. Apps. Lots of fun, lots of productivity, and more coming. I’m working on my apps, and I hope to have some time while my wife’s family is in town to work on them some more.
  4. Calendar. I know Blackberry may have a more “robust” service, but we’ve been able to set up calendars for home, my work, and my wife’s work, and there has been far less confusion about who is busy when.
  5. Camera. My Mom and Dad live 300 miles away, so when the kids do something worth taking a photo of, we can quickly send a picture and keep them in the loop.
  6. Battery life. I know some 3G owners complain about this, but we have chargers available in our cars, at home, and and work. We recharge whenever it is convenient, and that’s been good. I’m used to a Verizon RAZR that needed to be recharged daily, even with a new battery and no use…as well as PDAs that seemed to have a shorter battery life, even though I could carry spare batteries.
  7. Updates. Apple keeps making the iPhone experience better. I love the changes in OS 2.2, which allows for the direct downloading of podcasts, such as ESPN’s PTI, which I love. I don’t get to sync my iPhone every day, so it is great to be able to download a half-hour podcast on the run. In addition, Apple significantly reduced the amount of time needed to sync to a computer (particularly the back-up). Good work.
  8. No SD/mini-SD slot. You don’t need them, and syncing is fast enough not to need it.
  9. The developers. They seem to be good people, and when I’ve had an idea for an application (such as a bug fix or a feature request), most have taken the time to get back to me…some have actually adopted my suggestions and put them into play. That’s good customer service. When is the last time a PC software author took my feedback into consideration (even when it was offered)? Never?

The Bad (or the okay)

  1. Web Browser: The iPhone’s Safari is the best mobile version of the Internet…I’ve read enough reviews (even on competitor sites) to know this is true. But the lack of Flash integration is frustrating. My stepson (who has a 2G Touch) plays Club Penguin, which is Flash-based. I want to enter Coke Rewards, but don’t want to text, but that also is Flash-based. I think Flash SHOULD be integrated with mobile Safari…let users decide whether to turn it on or off.
  2. Storage. 16GB is adequate for most purposes, and if I need my whole music library (which would fit on an iPod classic), I have my Macbook. But 32GB would be nice to carry a few more movies (converted with Handbrake, resulting in files between 600 MB and 1.3 GB.), particularly my 10 favorites, and new movies as I upload them.
  3. SMS plans. We bought 200 messages each, at the premium of $5 per person, per month. We can go unlimited for $20 a month. Really, AT&T, we’re already paying $30 per person, per month for data…can’t you just throw this in as part of the fee, or give us a bargain on the SMS fees? We all know they don’t cost you anything. Sure, we’d use them more. That’s the point.
  4. Camera. Although it’s great to have, just as all the reviews say, it’s only 2MB, and doesn’t do a great job indoors.
  5. Resets. I was used to resetting daily (or multiple times a day) on a Dell Pocket PC (X5, X30, and X50v models). With my iPhone, I reset whenever I install a new app (i.e. turn off and turn on again), or when 3G stops working, or when a program crashes hard (not often).

The Ugly (or the Bad)

  1. Web Browser: Again, lack of Flash. Much needed.
  2. No cut and paste. Some people say that they don’t need it, I find myself wishing for it all the time, or to use it to quickly delete text as well (such as in a forwarded e-mail).
  3. Programs. I want four programs. Lego Starwars. Hot Hoops (a Pocket PC game). A Microsoft Office Suite. You can work around some things, such as writing yourself an e-mail or using a program like Evernote, but they are work-arounds nonetheless. And I want a music writing program (e.g. Finale Notepad).
  4. No video recording. You can do it with a “jail-broken” iPhone, but I don’t want to do that. Put in a video recording app.
  5. “One program at one time.” Apple’s worked it out so that you can only run a program and listen to music in the background…you can’t run two programs at once. I wish there was a way to do this, because a couple of neat apps, such as step trackers, can’t run when the device is “blacked out,” or when another program is running. Either make an imbedded step tracker that runs quietly all day as a stock program, or allow specific programs (with fair warning) the ability to run in the background all the time.
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Ocarina

After reading enough reviews, I finally paid $0.99 to purchase Smule’s Ocarina. The program is unique, as it allows you to “play” a digital ocarina, based upon the fingering you use and the amount of air you blow into a microphone. There are four fingering holes, and the fingering (based on actual ocarinas, I believe) does not follow the logical fingering of a flute, clarinet, or saxophone.


The sound created by the ocarina is difficult to describe, but I’ve read that those familiar with the old game “Legends of Zelda” will recognize the sound. I’m not familiar with that series…so I’ll take their word for it.

The program has some other options, as it has the ability to broadcast what you’re playing over the Internet. Therefore, one of the screen options is a globe, where you can search for a specific melody or user, or randomly listen in on someone playing anywhere on the globe. I’ll be honest, it’s pretty fascinating to be listening to someone playing in Cape Horn or Siberia. You look for a place on the globe with a glowing light, which indicates an online user.


The ocarina has several settings, so you can change the master key or mode to best represent the song you’re playing. One special mode is “Zeldarian,” which I honestly need to research a little more.


The program became addictive when I began looking into the resources on Smule’s website. There is a very active forum, where users post fingering charts for various songs. Smule also provides fingering charts for every scale in PDF format, and also provides a chord chart generator, so you can create your own charts. I’ve been saving these charts (at the moment, a lot of holiday music), and I’ve been having a great time playing through these songs. As a music educator, it bothers me slightly that the charts do not represent rhythm, and that most users are moving away from standard musical notation, but then again, isn’t this how we train beginning students on recorder?


So what problems are there with ocarina? Well, there are FEW problems in general. First, the program doesn’t work with the iPod touch, and that’s a shame. It is far more likely that iPod Touches will be used in the school environment…and if Ocarina was available for the Touch, there would be many potential options for the program (I’ll get into some of these later). Smule should be partnering with a hardware manufactuer to make a small bud microphone for the iPod Touch (which doesn’t turn off the external sound), especially since the Touch’s earphone/mic jack is in the same location as the iPhone’s microphone. The other problems with Ocarina aren’t actually problems, but opportunities for the future. How about the ability to play duets over the internet, or with a pre-programmed accompaniment? How about the ability to record your performance? What about the possibility of other voices, and incorporating a brass instrument keypad (three or four piston or rotary valves for the right hand)? The possibilities are endless.

In regards to education, the program has limitless possibilities. I will actually have my Theory students compose a piece for Ocarina (even if they cannot play it) using Smule’s online score generator. I often talk about the challenges of writing music in other systems beyond our traditional system, and here is a chance for my students to experience those challenges. I can see an elementary classroom where students are learning to play an Ocarina on an iPod Touch rather than recorders. I can even see situations where someone playing an Ocarina could accompany a choir in place of a flute or other wind instrument.

In conclusion, this program is one of those gems for the iPhone, and hopefully for the iPod Touch in the future. It wasn’t written specifically with music education in mind…but can’t you see how it could so easily be used for music education? At $0.99, this is one of those bargains that should be on your iPhone…and then go spend time on Smule’s webpage. Be careful! You might become addicted!

Cleartune

Cleartune is another iPhone/iPod Touch tuning program, which has characteristics that would make it functional for many instruments. It is available, at the time of writing, for $3.99 at the AppStore. Unlike a competitor’s product, it only has two functions, a tuner and a tone generator.

The interface of Cleartune is attractive, yet old-school. The design screams “analog,” much like a Compact Disc imprinted like an LP. As you play a pitch, Cleartune indicates what pitch you are playing, along with how sharp or flat you are from that particular pitch. The tuner seems to work very well, and it samples infrequently enough that it seems to be “not twitchy” in regards to helping you find your intonation (a competitor’s product, Just Tune, was much more twitchy in comparison). I sampled the tuning abilities of the tuner on a tuba and a string bass, and both were registered by the program.


My only complaint of the visual and functional part of the program is the use of sharps all the time…I wish the option would exist to change all sharps to flats, as brass players (and high school band students) tend to think in terms of flats rather than sharps.

The program also includes a tone generator with four optional waveforms (sine, triangle, saw, and square), as well as options for setting A (440 or otherwise) as well as setting equal temperament (default) or other forms of temperament.



In regards to the tone generator, I’d like to see two other options, so it could be used in my choirs as well as for bands. First, I’d like the ability to switch the tone off without exiting the tone generator mode. You can’t do that at the moment…you can only switch to the tuner mode. Second, I’d like a way to control the volume with a slider bar on the screen, even though the iPhone has volume controls on the side of the device. The same pitches (all accidentals in sharps) is true of the tone generator as well, and I’d like to see the option of flats as well.


In terms of the tuning function itself and the usefulness and layout of the tone generator, Cleartune is worth the $3.99 at the AppStore, and is probably a better investment than Just Tune. If Cleartune would address these other features, as well as consider adding a metronome, this would be a fantastic all-in-one application for music education.

Just Tune

I presented a session on the use of iPhones in secondary (choral) music education this afternoon, and I felt that I should include a tuning program or two, for the sake of instrumental music teachers. Although there seemed to be about four tuning programs at the AppStore, only two had multi-function to include a number of instruments with different timbres and ranges. One of those two programs is the $0.99 “Just Tune” which includes a tuner, metronome, and pitch generator/tuning tone. From the very start, the program is misnamed, as it is more than a tuner.

The tuner is attractive, clearly shows the pitch you are playing, and indicated whether you are flat or sharp. The only negative aspect of the graphics is the ever present guitar in the lower right corner, as the tuner is designed to tune more than a guitar. I had a chance to try this tuner with two lower-pitched instruments, a string bass and a tuba. Just Tune was able to discriminate the pitch of both instruments, but had more difficulty on the string bass, even when the iPhone was held directly next to the instrument’s f-hole (yes, that term made us giggle as undergraduate music majors). I’d describe the program’s tuning characteristics as “twitchy,” almost as if it reacted too quickly to changes in pitch.
The program also includes a metronome, which is a nice feature to include, and it shares the same graphic “feel” as the tuner.

The final part of this program is a tone generator, which could function well as a pitch pipe, but it can be problematic to quickly change pitches as needed by singers…however, for an instrumental music teacher, who usually uses a tone generator on Bb or A, this is a welcome addition. The sounds created by the tuner are very loud on the iPhone, almost at a level that would be functional for use with a band.
All in all, Just Tune is a great program for $0.99. . I will post another review of a competitor’s product (Cleartune) in a future post.

FreePiano

A free alternative to MooCow Music’s Pianist is FreePiano, which gives you two octaves on the keyboard, in choices of the voice of a grand piano or a toy piano. There are no options for recording or different octaves, and the keys are smaller than MooCow’s Music Pianist. Ultimately, if all you need is a piano with two octaves, FreePiano is your option. If you’d like some additional options, pay the $3.99 for MooCow’s Pianist.

Karajan (Beginner)

One of the music applications that has been available is called Karajan, available in both a beginner (free) and full ($14.99) at the Apple AppStore. It is a music and ear trainer for the iPhone and iPod Touch.


Music theory is a challenging college course, but ear training courses tend to be more so. Karajan, from the introduction of the AppStore, has provided an application that is geared to help the musician learn some basic theory items, and more importantly, to train the ear.

The beginner version of the program allows you to “train” in several areas: Intervals, Chords, Scales, Pitch, Tempo, and Key Signatures. The full version of the program may offer more areas of focus.

In the beginner version of Karajan, you are tested on your ability to identify specific intervals (only a Perfect Union, Major Second, Perfect Fourth, Perfect Fifth, and Octave). All other intervals are likely included in the full version. When you identify intervals, you are told by a pop-up whether you were correct or incorrect in your answer.



I personally believe that the interval part of the application is valuable, as identifying intervals is a key component of successful sight reading, as well as dictation of music. It would be nice if the user had the option to identify intervals visually as well as aurally.

Another useful element is the Chords area of the program, identifying each kind of chord (only Major and Minor in this case) by ear.


Once again, it would be beneficial if the program would also require you to identify chords visually.

Another interesting feature focuses on scales, identifying them by ear. I can see the benefit of this task…but I had never heard a minor pentatonic scale before.


Once again, I would also want the ability to test scales by sight, not just sound.

The last truly useful element of the program featured a visual identification of Key Signatures (Only three in the beginner program).


The last two components of the program did not seem very useful to me, as a music major. First was a set of exercises which focused on identifying specific pitches. I know some individuals believe you can develop perfect pitch…I have not experienced that fact for myself. I have seen how musicians develop relative pitch. Ultimately, this exercise isn’t very useful, at least in American music education.


Another odd component was a set of exercises built around identifying specific tempos, within twenty beats per minute. This also appears to be a useless exercise for me, partially as tempos are relative to interpretation–and as metronomes are so accessible in our culture. The exercise would be more useful, in my opinion, if a specific tempo was played and the musician was asked which Italian tempo terminology (Andante, Allegro, Presto, Grave, etc.) was most appropriate. This component really missed the mark for me.


And, should you wonder how you did in all the areas, the program offers statistics for all of your various attempts:


And, of course, there are preferences you can set for the program as well, identifying which instrument provides pitches and so on:


Although Karajan is a well-designed, attractive, and functional program, I’m not sure it does all the things it could do as a music and ear training tool. The program has some very useful tools (to a point, with the beginner program), but it also has some tools that are basically useless for American music students. The program already covers some visual literacy (key signatures) and should do the same for scales, intervals, and chords. Perhaps the full version of Karajan includes these items…but at $14.99, I’m not going to take the risk and buy the program. And the beginner program is so limited in function that I can’t recommend it, either.

As a result, I don’t recommend this program…unless two things happen. First, a decrease in price, matching other programs ($5.00 tops) would perhaps make the additional ear training with intervals, chords, and scales worth the investment. Second, visual tests of intervals, chords, and scales would also be very beneficial.

Gengar Studio’s Pitch Pipe

Gengar Studio has created a program called Pitch Pipe which sells for $2.99 at the Apple AppStore.


As I have previously mentioned, I teach high school choir, and choirs often have the need for a reference pitch. As of the date of this review, there are two pitch pipe applications available, and of the two, I chose to purchase this program. The program is simple and effective, with clean graphics and ease of use. When a pitch plays, the pitch is highlighted on the screen, and it appears at the bottom of the screen as well. The sounds, with one exception (which I will mention in a moment) are good, and I particularly like the volume slider on the bottom of the program. I have used Pocket PCs and Palm devices in the past to give pitches for various events (singing the National Anthem at a Minnesota Twins game, or to give a pitch backstage with the Minnesota Opera) , and the ability to adjust volume ON the same page as the pitch pipe itself is a great thing.

There are two things, and only two things, that the program could improve upon. The first is to offer various pitches for the “home key” of the pitch pipe, such as with the original Master Key Pitch Pipe. The C to C is offered, and is the most popular, but an F to F and E-flat to E-flat should also be offered. Second, the sampled songs fade in, so that there isn’t an abrupt start to the sound. Unfortunately, the sampled sound isn’t very long, and you can hear the “dip” in the sound as the “fade-in” loops in the recording. The “dip” almost sounds like a change in pitch. I would suggest sampling a pure wave of sound, and allowing the program itself control the “fade in” as the sound begins. As a teacher, I wish I could offer a pitch for the length of time of the recording…but there are times when a pitch needs to be sounded longer. Ultimately, this is a real negative, as some other programs offer sine wav sounds that last indefinitely.

If you have a 1st generation iPod touch, you’ll need a way to amplify the sound from the headphone jack, otherwise all iPhones and 2nd generation iPod touch models will project the sound over the external speaker.

At $2.99, this program is a good value, and it looks great and works reasonably well. Considering a actual Master Key Pipe will cost you between $18 and $25, not counting shipping or tax, that’s a bargain! This program is recommended for use in music education.

Application Description (from iTunes):

This handy application provides pitch references for musicians and singers.

It’s a chromatic pitch pipe ideal for a cappella singers and timpanists. With thirteen pitches, each a half step above the previous, Pitch Pipe provides all of the notes of a single octave, so a singer can start in any key required by Western music. To use, play the initial key note or tonic of the piece to be sung. You can also play the first sung note of the song, particularly when the song begins in unison or with a solo.

Having a Pitch Pipe inn your iPhone is useful because you always have it with you. Normal pitch pipes can gradually change pitch as the material hardens with use, and since they are often carried in a pocket, lint can work its way into the device and affect the sound. Pitch Pipe for iPhone has none of these problems.