If you’ve been following any of my activity for some time, be it here, Facebook or my YouTube channel, you may have already gathered that I am a musician. Pretty much an understatement, as most of my output revolves around instruments, apps and related gear. What may not be as obvious is that I am a fan of technology making life as a musician easier.
When I first started out as a guitarist, the idea of being able to have a home studio was pretty far fetched. Recording equipment and all the needed instruments and gear, let alone a proper recording environment cost thousands of dollars. As time progressed, the idea has become more accessible, as personal computers began to make their way into the average person’s home. Then came along laptop computers powerful enough to run your necessary software while on the go. Now, here comes the iPad(and other tablets) to take portability to a whole new level.
Even in the last five years, I’ve witnessed the evolution of the iPad itself, going from a personal device to a very useful tool. As a musician, I saw tons of potential in the iPad, hoping there would be a market for apps and devices that would aid in the creation and performance of music. The first wave of peripherals for the musician came in the form of audio and MIDI interfaces. Soon to follow were products that were designed specifically to work with iPads. Things looked pretty promising for users of iPads-as-instruments, that is, until changes were made. Manufacturers had to adapt their ideas to follow the evolution of the iPad itself in order to stay relevant. While this worked in most cases, there were some products that became obsolete, and with them, the potential for a great design went right behind it.
One idea of which I became particularly fond was a MIDI controller specifically designed for the iPad. What separated this unit from a standard USB controller(which would work just fine, through used of Apple’s Camera Connection Kit) is that this unit was equipped with a docking cradle that allowed you to plug in your iPad directly to the controller, which served double duty as a MIDI I/O and audio output. It had the ability to send an audio signal via 1/4′ output to a mixer, thus making it able to use for recording or live use. The connector also was able to charge your iPad. All in all, a great idea. Since this product was introduced, I thought it was a glimpse of things to come, as this first release had many desirable features, but lacked many others that would be useful for live performance. I waited about four months to receive mine, as I had pre-ordered it a month before it’s release date and then had to wait for back orders to be caught up. This told me it was a great idea.
After about a year, something happened. This once hot item was headed the way of the dinosaur. That’s a pretty short time for a device that was originally difficult to buy when they first were released. What happened?
Disclaimer: As I do not really have access to the proper connections to know what really happened, I can only speculate by my own observations. This all said, if anyone reading this would happen to know someone who could contact me for follow up on this topic, please have them contact me.
As previously mentioned, as technology developed, many manufacturers adapted. Most of the newer products went for a more universal design, allowing for other devices to be compatible. Smart move, considering how fast technology develops in a short time frame. Some ideas were updated while others were left behind. The aforementioned controller of which I became very fond was an idea that faded out when Apple redesigned their next generation iPads with new connectors(at the time, this controller was equipped with a 30-pin connector). This caused a problem with using iPads beyond the second generation, as third gen iPads began to sport the lightning port. So why didn’t this manufacturer make a MKII version of this product? I’m sure it could’ve easily been made, while incorporating a host of new features, such as knobs and faders for more control, a more sturdy casing(the original was plastic) and maybe even a 61 key version(the original was only 49 keys). My guess is that the company in question felt it wasn’t cost effective enough to keep updating a design that would have to keep being updated close to annually to keep up with the evolution of the iPad. Since then, I believe the company has gone on to a more universal controller, incorporating many of the features I mentioned, minus the cradle and connector.
Since then, I have upgraded one of my iPads to the Air first gen and thus, a new controller, as my older one started having connectivity problems. While the new controller I use is much more flexible in the control department, the features I miss most are the docking cradle and built in audio output. I still own two of the older controllers, as they can still run my iPad 2 and even act as a USB controller for when I eventually buy a laptop.
In closing, I’d like to say thank you to the manufacturers who have developed products for musicians who use iPads as part of their rig. If ever this blog makes its way to any of these folks, I hope it would be considered to look at some of the past ideas that held great potential and see about making the evolution happen again.
While I have not actually mentioned the product name in the blog, I did make a video talking about this very subject and the exact product in which this blog is related. You can see it here.