Being expressive and productive creatively is all about finding a workflow that fits you. Form factor is part of that, because location matters. (I discovered this when trying unsuccessfully to operate my MacBook on a bus to Boston this week that wouldn’t accommodate my knees. Mobile devices suddenly had more appeal.) Naturally, not everyone has the same needs or interests. So today, we have some survey data on how readers feel about mobile tech, as well as an update to the iPhone/iPod touch Beatmaker app that could have a big impact on how you use that device in conjunction with your primary laptop or desktop computer.

This site has always been about making music with computers and digital technology. Today, we increasingly have access to powerful computers in mobile form factors. But, despite the simple fact that all of these are ultimately computers, I’ve quickly learned that mobile music production is a divisive issue. Some of you are as passionate about hating mobile tech as others of you are about loving it, perhaps propelled by a strong uptick of iPhone hype and accompanying resentment. Don’t worry — I won’t be swayed too much by either group; I’m committed to computers in all forms, tiny and large, and accompanying digital synths. And analog synths. And, really, anything that makes sound.

That said, the survey results we did on mobile tech are very interesting. Story topics for CDM aren’t a popularity contest, but your responses do reveal a lot. (The best reading turns out to be the write-in portion.)

First up, here’s a look at what mobile platforms people own. I expect the survey is somewhat self-selecting (some of you in the “none of the above” category likely didn’t respond), but note how the game platforms dominate.

That’s platforms you already own. But which are you interested in reading about? The margin on each device increases significantly. (Sony’s PSP doubles; Linux triples.) So that demonstrates that people are interested in learning about the larger landscape, and may be basing future purchase decisions on what’s available for music creation. (It also appeared that stronger support for PSP and Linux came from Europe than North America, possibly in part due to painfully-inflated costs for iPod touch and iPhone in that market.)

Zany Write-In Response

Okay, enough demographics. The best part of doing the poll was getting your write-in responses.
Google’s Android platform unsurprisingly got a number of write-in votes; GP2X got fewer, but I expect people just (rightfully) answered “Linux.” We did get some interesting responses, though:

Mobile device suggestions:

  • Boss Micro BR
  • Buddha Machine
  • Graphing calculators (careful; with the readers here, you might get your wish
  • Korg Kaossilator
  • MPC 500
  • Psion organizers
  • “steam powered”
  • Yamaha QY100
  • Speak and Spell
  • PlayStation 1 (that’s mobile?)
  • Nokia N-gage (but now I know you’re joking)

And then there was the hater/lover argument:
“Not all of us have tiny little girlie fingers!!!” (ouch!)
“The above statement should be “I really couldn’t care less.” As it happens, I am interested in all of them, so I really could care less.”
“mobile audio coverage is getting ridiculous”
“Just keep it to a minimum, guys =)” (Well, it is by definition miniature, right?)
“more iphone!!!! screw the haters”
“Everything. If there’s something new and interesting done with a C64, it could be worth going out to buy a setup.”
“every – f***ing – thing !”

At least someone said “whatever, it’s all good.” Sir, you may be alone in your calm attitude, but the editorial staff appreciates it. Meanwhile, I’ll be exercising my tiny girlie fingers over a variety of devices. (They give me uncanny accuracy in touch apps. So there.)

BeatMaker Update and Workflow

A new BeatMaker video (below)

One of the biggest objections — and a fair one — boils down to “but how do you use this in real life?” The “it’s a toy” argument is a legitimate one if it means you have software you play around with, but that you can’t use as an instrument effectively or work into your own music. (By that token, for instance, my toy piano is actually a valuable instrument.)

So it’s big news that, as many people had hoped, Intua’s BeatMaker has added MIDI export. That means you can assemble ideas and patterns on BeatMaker and bring them into your desktop music software of choice. I’m already hearing from people using this with Ableton Live. This isn’t a new feature — Windows Mobile and Palm apps have offered the same thing — but it’s a big part of the draw of these devices. BeatMaker also has an improved manual, more videos, and Bonjour support:

Intua’s Mathieu also tells us “We’re working on the new BeatMaker killer-update now. Should be interesting !” Indeed.

For the record, that means some of the interesting workflow possibilities now available include the likes of:

  • Building MIDI patterns and audio loops for use elsewhere (PSP Rhythm, PSP; BeatMaker, iPhone/iPod; many others)
  • Building complete tracks using unusual synths (PSPSEQ, PSP)
  • Working on drum patterns, with samples, in a round-trip with desktop software (iDrum, iPhone/iPod)
  • Using your mobile device as a touch/stylus controller, etc. (DSMI, DS; various tools, iPhone/iPod)

All good stuff. Of course, by the same token, there are clear disadvantages of mobile devices — cramped screen space and controls, limited processing power, a lack of full-sized and full-fidelity audio I/O, and the like. But that’s why I’ve always felt conventional form factor computers aren’t really going anywhere. They work really well; these augment what they can do.

  • Just a quick little nitpick, you might want to re-colour the bar graphs so that corresponding items match up. My first read, before looking more closely at the labels, was off.

    Elsewise, while I wasn't the responded to say "it's all good", I certainly share the sentiment.

  • velocipede


    iPhone already near top

    Palm & Windows Mobile low considering their maturity

  • Count me as another "it's all good". Cool music gear is cool music gear, whatever size, system and vintage.

  • Downpressor

    "my toy piano is actually a valuable instrument"

    Very true. It took me years of searching to get a mechanical toy piano and now that I have it I treasure it!

    Also what Bean said is quite important. The use of the same color order in both graphs when different data is being shown is confusing. You really should use the same colors for the same things in both graphs.

    Whomever put the QY-100 in there must either be made out of batteries or have a different understanding of "mobile" than the rest of us. I owned one of those things and never got more than 20 minutes use out of a fresh set of batteries. Fortunately I'd bought it used and managed to sell it off for more than I paid for it.

  • KimH

    "Some of you are as passionate about hating mobile tech as others of you are about loving it, perhaps propelled by a strong uptick of iPhone hype and accompanying resentment."

    The scroll bar is a remedy for extraneous information, but there's no "inverse scroll bar" for reading content that was omitted.

    Vocal iPhone haters are basically trying to grab the remote control, in a bid to relieve their painful knicker-twist-syndrome. But iPhone is the most significant new mainstream platform we've seen in years, and there are amazing musical possibilities…

  • blipmusic

    I think some of the mobile device "haters" are forgetting something. This is about making *music* in the general sense of the word. This is *not* about how we are saying that your expensive Pro Tools studio should be substituted by Beat Maker, Griff or whatever. But, if someone tells me off thinking he/she s a better musician/composer because of the gear they own I'd be pissed.

    The entity that is music is not really dependent on the hardware past the fact that you might want somthing to jot down your idea/piece/symphony on. It's the person behind it. Sorry, but the cliché still stands. How you develop it past that stage is another matter; do you want to keep "lo-fi" or make a big production out of it? Your choice but at that point the music is already there, from that point on it's more of a development phase.

    Looking back on the pieces I've made, the ones I like the most are the ones I made in a sparse enviroment. Those constraints had me focus on the music instead of the blinking buttons. Now, of course there's the problem that I happen to like shiny new gadgets as well; I don't force myself into a dark room with nothing but a cow bell, I'm just saying that expensive pro audio gear doesn't mean "better" music and I never will. If the music is good it's because of the musician/composer. Just look at the curcuit bending stuff, whether *I* like what's coming out of those machines or not is not important, you can't deny that there's creativity behind it all.

    You could the same analogy with games. There are some awesome ideas out there that really shine with the extra polish of todays graphics but I but if the idea is crap no graphics on earth will make it become good one. People might play those old games out of nostalgia but also because they are *fun*. Back then if you didn't have an idea you didn't have a game. It's the same thing with music.

    If I were to be the doom and gloom guy that could mean we create less memorable music for every year that goes by (looking back at classical stuff). But luckily I don't believe that.

    So, if mobile devices are so crap for making music, looking back, how come we have so much awsome music – that we still listen to mind you – made on even "crappier" "devices" with fewer choices and significantly worse audio quality?

    Mobile devices are here to stay. There's no room for a laptop in my pocket, I won't sit on the bus making music for fun on my laptop (I'm sure someone is, though) but I just might with a portable device. It's there when an idea pops up.

    Please let this site stay as a source of creativity, regardless of whether it's an article about Pro Tools or a new app for your iPhone. I'm just here to make music.

    Sorry for the incomprehensible and meaningless rant. No tl/dr version.

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  • I still love my QY-70. Battery life sucks but is not horrible, maybe a few hours – the 70 doesnt have a backlight – I used it on a lot of long train trips, good times. Yamaha should have put a rechargeable battery in there. I still like the QY-70 workflow and the sounds are useable, certainly compared to the Rm1x.

    other portable-ish things: Boss DR-202, Yamaha SU-10, Roland MC-202 (have to put that in sleep mode or you lose everything.)

  • ben kessler

    I agree with some of the other posters. This blog is titled "Create Digital Music." I would say that means pretty much anything that's useful as a tool to create said digital music is fair game for discussion. I can't tell you how many times I've been working on a piece and thought "I really want to use gear X that I spent Y on," just to wind up using less expensive tools I was already much more familiar with. I'm finding more and more that I need to pay attention to what the pieces demand, not what pieces of gear I really want to use. So the more tools you tell all of us, the happier I am. Keep up the good work…i.e. "it's all good."

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  • Chris Hahn

    I love having mobile music devices. For me, mobility means making music in an environment that's more immediate, like a coffee shop or waiting for a train or something. Beatmaker seemed like a bit much to me to be practical, but I'm really loving iDrum. It's fun to make beats, it's easy and I can export them as ringtones and convert them to Wav for songs when I get back to my bigger setup. It's like the cocktail napkin. Why try to scrape together an idea on a cocktail napkin when inspiration hits, when you can have a mobile device or setup and strike while the iron of inspiration is hot. I love my little mobile setup:

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