The Most Expensive App? And expiring apps?

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Years ago, when the App Store was a new thing, an app made the news by being expensive…$999.  It was entitled, “I Am Rich,” and only showed a glowing ruby on the screen.  We’re not sure if the “I” referred to the buyer, who clearly had a lot of money, or the developer who would quickly make $699 per sale.  The problem is that a number of people bought the app, thinking it was a joke or a typographical error–and found themselves out of $1000.  Apple quickly pulled the app, and then refunded money to purchasers.

Several years ago, a person came to me at a show and showed me a $700 app for piano tuners.  I couldn’t remember the name, and a search for tuners didn’t result in a quick find–and I didn’t want to spend much time looking for it.

This weekend, I was shown that app at a music convention…it is “Cyber Tuner” and it now sells for $999.  It is a professional app for piano tuners that is made for their needs.  It also represents one heck of an investment.  That said, the app has incredibly positive feedback from purchasers.  Furthermore, it is an “iPhone” app and not a universal app for iPad (it runs on the iPad, but has not been designed specifically to work on the iPad).  Please, if you choose to buy Cyber Tuner, use my referral link, and send 7% of the purchase price (which comes of out Apple’s 30%) to my referral account!

I do wonder what a $999 app can do in terms of tuning that a $3.99 app cannot (such as TonalEnergy Tuner, a favorite of instrumental music educators).  So I opened up TonalEnergy Tuner, and this warning appeared:

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I have been seeing this warning from a number of apps as of late, and am thankful for it.  Many developers stop developing a product, when every app should be tweaked for the latest OS at least once a year.  This warning might force developers to update on a yearly basis.  I just read an article this morning that Apple is beginning to purge outdated apps throughout the App Store in a very rigorous fashion.   I am not sure if developers are being warned, or if the apps require a certain date for their last update, or if they are looking at compatibility/last OS that it was developed for.

 

Music Education & Technology Podcast #5 Out Now

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The latest podcast by Paul Shimmons’ (ipadmusiced.wordpress.com) and myself is available on Soundcloud (and likely iTunes overnight).  In this episode, we discuss BLE MIDI, Sheet Music Scanner (see my previous post), and Noteflight.  Our special guest is John Mlynczak, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Noteflight, a Hal Leonard Company.

I was sick during the interview (on my birthday, incidentally) and I apologize in advance for the condition of my speaking voice in the second half of the program.

Show notes are available at metpodcast.wordpress.com

Sheet Music Scanner: MusicXML ready!

Some time ago, I blogged about a couple of apps that could take a picture of your music and play it back for you.  To be honest, I can see some use for such a feature–but I needed a scanning app to do more.  I need scanning apps to be accurate and export MusicXML to another program.

Well, the developer of Sheet Music Scanner took that feedback and kept working on their app.  To make a long story short, I have been pretty sick (when you hear the new episode of our podcast, you will know what I am saying) and I also was a bit dismissive of the app after trying it out originally.  I put off testing of the new features when I should have been looking at the app with an open mind.

Once again, I made a foolish mistake.  Lesson learned (once again): never assume that because something doesn’t meet your needs that it cannot improve to meet your needs.

This weekend, the developer of the app released the newest version, which  includes a couple of amazing features:

  1. It works on iPad or iPhone (it always has, but I just wanted to mention this)
  2. You can open a PDF from an online storage location (iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive) and recognize the score.  No other scanning app for iOS deals with PDFs.
  3. You can export to MusicXML.

I have been putting this to the test with some choral music.  I have been pleasantly surprised by the results.  For example, here is a Mozart score from the Choral Domain Public Library:

After saving the score to Dropbox and opening with Sheet Music Scanner, the app took about two minutes to process the seven page song (it moves as fast as 5 pages a minute on my iPad Air 2).  I then exported to MusicXML and opened the score in Notion for iOS:

 

I did edit the first measure which ended up having an additional half note, no time signature, and no key signature (the key signature began in measure 4).  That editing took all of 20 seconds.  The end result was a highly accurate scan–with the exception of the multi-measure rests on the next pages.

There are a number of things the app does not do (yet), such as: triplets / tuplets, percussion notation, dynamics, also double sharps, double flats and grace notes.  These are all on the developer’s roadmap over the next year.

It also doesn’t scan lyrics, and after initially being disappointed in that, I wonder if that isn’t just a blessing in disguise?  As the app just “gives you the notes,” doesn’t that make it a better teaching tool rather than a tool for copyright infringement?  The app also doesn’t include diacritical markings like accents, staccatos, etc.  And to be honest, if you need to add those, use Notion and its new handwriting feature.

I did try a 37 page double-choir Bach score, which the app crashed on.  I don’t blame the app–I have seen live choirs crash on the same literature!

Here is the amazing thing: the app is $3.99.  You will have to do some clean-up, and you will need to do some editing.  But this is a developer who has figured out how to scan music, in an industry that has been developing similar products for 20 years or more!  There is no doubt that NotateMe with the PhotoScore In-App Purchase is more accurate than Sheet Music Scanner, or that it scans for more things–but the NotateMe package is $70 (already a better investment than computer apps that do the same thing)–and Sheet Music Scanner is $3.99.

Seriously–go spend the $3.99 for Sheet Music Scanner and $25.00 for Notion (buy the handwriting feature) and try out this combo for yourself.  I think you will be amazed at what you can do!

A Stylus for All Devices

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At the introduction of iOS 4 (2010), Steve Jobs said, “If you see a stylus, they blew it.”

Reality isn’t that simple.  If you NEED a stylus to operate a device, you have “blown it.”  That said, there are situations where you need more finite control on a writing surface than just your finger.  Both Samsung (on earlier, non-exploding Note models of phones and tablets) and Microsoft (Surface devices) have capitalized on that ability.  There are times a stylus is wonderful, and in music, we have a lot of those moments.

For example, if your digital music reader can accept written input, a stylus is usually far better than a finger.  Another example is writing notation (or diacritical markings) with NotateMe or Notion in iOS.

Apple understood this–they were not handcuffed by Steve Jobs’ earlier pronouncement about styluses.  When the iPad Pro 12.9″ device came out, the Pencil came along with it–and other than criticism for being glossy and rolling away too easily, it is generally accepted as the finest non-Wacom tool on the market for any stylus device.

If you own an older iPad (as I do), or any other device than an iPad Pro (phones, Android phones, Android Tablets), you cannot use the Apple Pencil.  It does not register on a non-iPad Pro.

I searched for the right stylus for years.  I originally liked the Cosmonaut, a large white-board marker type stylus. I later fell in love with the Maglus, followed by styluses with Fiber Mesh tips, and finally I fell in love the Adonit Jot Pro.  I have an entire drawer full of discarded styluses (styli?).

The problem with Stylus input is that a touch device is looking for the capacitve touch of a finger, with a minimum circular area of 4mm.  A stylus somehow has to mimic a larger area while giving the user a finer “tip” than their own finger.

About a year ago, Adonit introduced the Jot Dash, a pen-like stylus that didn’t need a Bluetooth connection or to have specific apps running Adonit’s developer’s kit for the stylus to work.  It is battery powered, and when turned on, the Jot Dash creates an electrical capacitive touch from a very small pen-like tip.  I have used the Jot Dash since Christmas last year, and it has been the best stylus experience of my 8 years of iOS device use.  It is a $50 stylus, and it doesn’t work as well as Apple’s Pencil ($99)–but it far outperforms any other stylus I have ever owned.

About two weeks ago, Adonit announced two new styluses.  The first is a new version of the Jot Dash, and the other is a thin and flat stylus called the Adonit Snap.  The Snap was immediately appealing for three reasons.  First, the Snap charges with an embedded micro USB connection.  The Jot Dash requires a separate magnetic USB charger–and I have lost track of that charger a number of times.  Second, I liked the shape of the Snap, as it was reminiscent of the Maglus Sylus, which was shaped like a drafting pencil.  A drafting pencil allows you to hold it like pencil or a marker–which was very functional and something that appealed to me.  Third, the Snap has a button that is intended to act as a bluetooth shutter for a cell phone.  As an added benefit beyond those three things, the Snap is roughly $10 cheaper than the Jot Dash and it has an embedded magnetic mount to help hold it to a device.

I ordered a Snap, and the it arrived last week.  After a week of use, I wish the Snap was a little thicker.  It is almost too narrow (and slippery) to hold comfortably.  The dimensions of the Snap are purposeful…it is meant to be a small stylus to carry with a cell phone.  Even so, I would prefer a bit more meat on its bones.  The Snap\ is also shorter than the Jot Dash…and I would have made the Snap just as long.  It isn’t too short for writing…but it could have been just a little longer in terms of feeling more like a writing tool.

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Note the back end of the Snap, which is a micro USB plug.  My only concern about this improvement is dust and debris that may collect in the plug

In use, the Snap functions the same as the Jot Dash.  Something is strange with the iPad Air 2 (my current iPad) where the tip of the Jot Dash or the Adonit Snap draws a diagonal line as “wavy” if you go slow (I do not believe this happens on any other device).

The Snap beats the Jot Dash in that it charges in device with a needed USB adapter…and that fact alone may make it worth the purchase.

So…if you need a stylus and don’t have an iPad Pro…consider either of these two styluses.  The Jot Dash 2 feels better to hold, the Adonit Snap is just more convenient to use without having to worry about the location of a charger.

 

Using WAV files in Notion

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Several weeks ago, Paul Shimmons (ipadmusiced.wordpress.com) and I talked to Micah Blouin from PreSonus about the new version of Notion 6 and other offerings from PreSonus for music education on the ME&T Podcast.  Check it out if you haven’t already done so!

One of the things Micah discussed was “pinning” a WAV file audio track to a Notion score, and using their feature called N-Tempo, where you can “tap” a tempo into a score to sync it to the WAV file.  He mentioned that this feature was great for transcriptions.

I recently contacted an artist about the possibility of transcribing a song of theirs so my 8th grade students could sing it in our spring concert.  I received permission today, and since I am still recovering from a bad cold that hit two days ago, I began working on the song.

In Notion, I suggest creating a separate instrument to “pin” the WAV file to, and if you don’t have a WAV file, there are plenty of web-based sites that will convert existing audio to a WAV format.  Just keep in mind that WAV is an uncompressed file format–so a audio recording is easily ten times larger than other popular formats (mp3 or Apple’s m4a).  Then you make a N-Tempo instrument track, and you plan the rhythm you want to tap to.  If you are working with an artist that shifts tempo freely, it can be better to make the N-Tempo track the same as the melody part.  Then you enter Notion’s N-Tempo recording tool (it looks like a joystick) and tap the tempo using any key on the “A” row of your keyboard.  To stop recording, hit space or ESC.

Side note: I have used “tap tempo” in Finale, which requires the space bar.  It took a look in the manual to realize that the space bar was NOT the entry method for Notion.

It helps if your WAV file starts with the downbeat…so use an editor to trim your audio before importing it.

At any rate, using this method made the transcription easy and fast, and I would definitely recommend it to any one.  I will certainly be using it again!

P.S.  “O Hanukkah, O Hanukkah” was NOT the score I was entering today.  I just used it as an example as it is in the Public Domain.