Google Android platform running on the TMobile G1. Photo (CCJosh Russell. (Ironically, a Silverlight evangelist for Microsoft!)

I’m not exactly doing the Android a great service by talking first about all the applications you can get for the iPhone. But I’m still optimistic about the potential for the Android platform. Because it’s built on the Linux kernel, because Google has open-sourced nearly the entire platform, because Google is taking a far more open, developer-friendly approach, and because Android will run – license-free – on almost any hardware, there’s no reason to doubt the Android has a lot in store in the future.

That said, it’s not the distant future in which you’re interested. What can you get in the short term?

With the current SDK, the answer is simple: not much. The Java-based developer tools initially released for the Android are great for building various kinds of mobile apps, but they fall short for anything creative or audio-related. I think they deserve some patience: Apple took a long time to release any SDK at all, and Android out of the gate includes features still lacking on Apple’s platform. The bad news for musicians is, it’s features like real-time audio capabilities that are lacking.

Fortunately, Google has a new 1.5 SDK (“Cupcake”) available in previews now, which should push out to devices very shortly. Briefly, this includes features that allow better audio performance and functionality, plus a full-blown environment for dynamic and responsive music unlike anything seen even on the iPhone. JET from SONiVOX (yes, the folks who do sample libraries) is the best part of this. I’ve talked to the SONiVOX folks, and you can even expect some desktop tools to make creating dynamic music easier. It’s more like a music engine for games than a music tool, per se, but a) it should allow brilliant game scores and b) I think we can warp it to other uses, as well.

And there’s already at least one app that starts to develop the potential of musical applications, called – conveniently enough – Musical.


You can read SONiVOX’s brief description of JET:

I hope to do a full preview with them soon.

Christopher Souvey has been working as hard as anyone on applications for musicians, with a suite of tools called Musical. Right now, Musical is somewhat limited, but you can read why Christopher thinks the 1.5 SDK will change that, once it’s publicly available:

The Future of Musical

If you want to see why an SDK matters, hearing how it’ll change an application is a great way to do it. Christopher’s experiments also demonstrate that, despite what you may have heard, the lack of multitouch capabilities in Google’s SDK are probably not some massive conspiracy theory involving Apple. You can read my previous take on this, which pointed out that even the person who hacked multi-touch capabilities on the Android doesn’t think Apple somehow talked Google out of doing multi-touch:

Android, Apple, and Multi-Touch, from the Man Who Hacked the G1

Christopher’s own work demonstrates this in practice. Yes, you can get more than one touch on the one currently-available Android in North America, the TMobile G1. The problem is, HTC’s G1 isn’t very good at multi-touch. You can get two fingers, not five as on the iPhone. And if your fingers are too close, it doesn’t work.

My guess is, Google is working as fast as they can, prioritizing whatever is the greatest immediate need. (Novel concept.) If a handset carrier can ship a device with real multitouch capabilities, you can bet multitouch will show up in the SDK. And there’s no reason to believe handset makers (or even netbook makers) won’t do just that. There are already sophisticated multitouch solutions from the likes of HP, so Apple is extremely unlikely to permanently corner this market.

Of course, the flipside of this is that multi-touch just isn’t all that interesting on the G1 – probably not worth hacking your phone, even. I love multi-touch, but given how small mobile devices are to begin with, and how many lovely multi-touch apps are already available on iPhone, I’m personally interested in exploring more single-touch gestures and interface design.

Anyway, right now you can go check out Musical Pro, and it’s only likely to get better. Features so far:

  • Metronome
  • Tuner
  • Keyboard instruments with Wi-Fi MIDI controller capabilities
  • Pitch pipe
  • Tuner

Nothing earth-shaking – it’s very similar to the early days of iPhone music apps – but there’s every reason to believe that deeper apps could come soon.

Oh yeah, and I have an Android of my own now and am working on some development experimentation. So why I am writing this? I need to get back to coding.

Stay tuned.

  • Can't wait for some good Android music apps!

  • Anyone know of simple utlity apps? Im looking fomr a simple circle of fifths type tool so I can suss up lsdj chord progressions on the go.

  • I love my G1 as a phone, but I've been pretty disappointed with the musical apps. Everything I've tried so far (including Musical) had nasty latency. Here's hoping they'll fix that with Cupcake.

    @peter: I remember having a pitch pipe that worked off of a circle of fifths… I think it was called something generic like "Audio Tuner." Other than that I haven't seen anything useful for composition purposes or otherwise.

  • That's correct, that's a side effect of the way the platform works. It's NOT hardware-related (G1 is plenty powerful), and it's not the developers' fault. It has to do with the API for sound. On the other hand, you'll recall the first iPhone SDK required you to "code" entirely in Safari webpages, so I'm willing to give them some patience. There are all kinds of fixes to soundpool in Android 1.5, a new interactive music engine that does MIDI, etc. — I'll be testing all of this and will report back.

    Given that we do have more potential for apps, though — add your wishlist here!

    My guess is, too, it'd be fairly easy to port apps developed in Android to Java / JavaFX for netbooks and desktops and such — not to mention, eventually we may see Android in other places.

    So, if you've got an app you want, I'd love to hear it.

  • Brad Fuller

    Peter said:
    "The Java-based developer tools initially released for the iPhone are great for building various kinds of mobile apps, but they fall short for anything creative or audio-related"

    Do you mean "Android SDK"?

  • My dream is to see Android on multiple devices and have the same apps run seamlessly across all platforms. I'd love to take a project from my desktop and throw it on my phone or netbook so I can work on it during my commute. Or better yet: cloud based projects.

    I use Evernote for keeping track of my ideas. I love the way it works on multiple platforms (I have it on my desktop PC at home, my Mac Pro at work, my tablet PC, my iPod Touch, and I use the web interface on my G1) and syncs seamlessly. Given that Android is an OS that can potentially run on all those devices, is it possible that the same seamless experience can happen for audio? I understand that processing power and memory makes audio apps function much differently than simple note taking software, but I'm thinking of something like the Korg DS-10… imagine working on a little piece in a light-weight sequencer and being able to pull it down wherever you are. Sort of like what Ableton's doing with the share function in Live 8 (except I can't run Live on my phone). Could be killer.

  • Johan Larsby

    I made a litte blog documenting myself writing a vibronome (metronome that vibrates instead of clicks) for j2me, iPhone and Android, guess witch enviroment was the worst?

    The android app is published though, the j2me and iPhone is not far away, and it is free. if you are interested in my escapade.

  • Oooh…*runs to Market to snag

  • Great idea, Johan – and I do know that this is your own personal experience. I am confused by some things, though, in your description:

    Documentation and SDK installation on the Android – harder? Really? Processing is very easy to install; it's designed to be that way (although I also use it in Eclipse.) But it seems that Eclipse was only hard to install because you already had Xcode. Getting Xcode requires an Intel Mac running Leopard, *plus* a special developer account. Sorry, but I think Eclipse wins here hands down, and I've never had trouble with the installation.

    The GUI builder in the Android SDK isn't as nice as the one Apple gives you, I agree.

    It sounds like there are some Mac quality issues with the Android SDK. I'm not sure what the issue is with the emulator, honestly, because I haven't seen those issues, but I know how frustrating they can be. Rather than punch someone, file a bug report! Google's making some serious headway on improving the SDK, APIs, and documentation — and note that they're doing it a lot faster than Apple did after the iPhone launch. With any product, they need detailed, accurate bug reports in order to fix problems, though.

    I'm fairly certain you can synchronize visual feedback with a thread, as is possible in Swing, etc. I'm still becoming familiar with that myself, however, so I'll have to get back to you — the Android APIs are a whole new world.

    Anyway, it's a good idea to publish these things and get feedback. I know the jury is still out on some of the Android things — it's *not* actually standard Java development as we know it, and there are a lot of specifics to these devices, so I'm still wrapping my head around it myself. I do think that in the long run you may find yourself happier with Eclipse — and if not, by the way, someone has ported the SDK to NetBeans, which feels a lot peppier on the Mac to me.

    But yes, keep the advice coming. Just make sure that you're filing bug reports for things that really do seem to be quality issues.

  • @Brad: Uh, yep, whoops – no Java on the iPhone. 😉

  • Hi, I'm the author of Musical Pro, and now that Cupcake is apparently being slowly rolled out OTA, I have just released a new version with a real tuner (with live microphone input) that displays an FFT graph of the sound picked up by the microphone. I haven't optimized everything else (latency-wise, etc) for Cupcake because not enough people have it yet, but the Tuner has been the most requested feature by far, so I've been rushing to get it done.

    Details here:

  • Johan Larsby


    First of, yep, they are all personal, installing eclipse is easy, but there are loads of manual steps that needs to be done to install the android SDK.

    Xcode might have been easy for me since I do already have the leaopard mac, you don't need a special account, or at least it takes about 5 seconds to create it. That is excluded the ability to test on an actual phone though, that cost's money and includes a session where you have to be approved.

    The problem was to synchronize the vibration with what was shown, the vibrator runs a little in the background and out of control.

    I am certain that android will be kick-ass, especially since installing cupcake, the actual phone-part has become a lot better. But it is not as finished *now* as the iPhone (they have had a lot more time though)

    I really should have filed bugreports, but I was busy whining 🙂

    Christopher, NICE!

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  • alex


    Your work is really appreciated. Musical was one of the first apps I got when I got my G1.

    could someone please port the iPhone app to the G1? That would be awesome for me as a jazz musician

  • lou

    so February 2010. has anyone had more luck developing music apps for android? until I see an equivalent of Beatmaker, which was iPhones first big music making app (which came out almost immediately after the store opened) I can't really take android seriously. I haven't seen anything on the net beyond August 09 on the subject. everyone seems to have gone quiet.

  • James

    Try out Electrum.

  • hobbit125

    Peter, I have recently released a circle of fifths app for android. You can find it up on the marketplace. It allows you to change the key that it is oriented on and highlights the appropriate major/minor/diminished chords for the key.