Photo courtesy Indamixx.

Touch form factors make sense for music creation on the go: a mobile tablet with finger-based interface seems ideal for performance and travel. In the fast-evolving hardware, though, it’s tough to work out exactly what will be a hit and what will be a flop. Multitouch tablets have splintered in two – consumer-centric, inexpensive tablets like the iPad and Android tablets gravitate at one end, as higher-powered tablets are reserved for the business market. Worse, the entire computing industry is choosing battery life over all other factors, which doesn’t jive well with audio. (Almost everything you do to improve audio performance saps power. Doh.)

But that could leave opportunities for computer makers to cater to musicians. Here’s just one example, and it lies right at the convergence of next-generation, Linux-based operating systems, touch-centric design, and more efficient mobile computing.

Indamixx, who have previously done Linux-based laptops using tablets and netbooks, are now readying a multitouch tablet based around the current-generation, dual-core Intel Atom chipset. The Linux OS means you can run the terrific tracker-for-the-rest-of-us Renoise, as well as a variety of free software; that’s Renoise pictured as the Indamixx tablet hangs out by the rooftop pool of LA’s The Standard last weekend, for its public debut. (Indamixx hosted a Renoise-themed blowout party.)

Early specs: single core N450 Atom (prototype only; final model is planned to be dual-core), 2 GB RAM, 3 USB ports, 1 VGA port, 1 Ethernet port, analog audio I/O. That’s much like what you’d find on a netbook, and it’s a far cry from the computing power of a desktop or laptop. But with optimized software, it could be ideal for mobile production and performance. (Even with optimization, tablets, by contrast, can’t compete on computing horsepower – and they’re not really set up for terrific low-latency audio performance, either. Oh, and you get better hardware support from traditional Linux operating systems than things like iOS, Android, and Chrome OS.)

More details came out on the Renoise forum. The other surprise there: while Renoise is largely a QWERTY-centric experience to most of us, Indamixx tells us the touch approach works very well. I’ll believe it when I — uh, touch it — but I’m interested how that works.

The product will launch May 11, 2011, but we should have more info before then, and we’ll visit them at NAMM.

If you’re not in love with the hardware, you’ll be able to use the OS with your own rig, too, if you prefer to build or buy your own system. Dual-booting to Ubuntu will also be an (unsupported) option.

I got some further details on the direction they’re going from the source.

Whereas the Transmission custom distro Indamixx has used in the past was based on Ubuntu and Debian, the new OS is MeeGo, the distro with powerful backing from Intel and Nokia. It’s still Linux; it even uses RPM as its package manager. But it’s probably the most mobile-centric of the mainstream Linux distros. (By the way, Linux fans, don’t sweat those details too much – the development environment for MeeGo runs on Mac, Windows, and other Linux distros, and software ports pretty easily between them.)

I’m not thrilled about the touch digitizer on the development unit – the serviceable but unspectacular MosArt sensor used on Asus’ T91MT netbook – but it sounds as though that’ll change to something much better before this ships. (It should be just fine for development purposes.)

The choice of MeeGo, though, is certainly interesting. Indamixx lead developer Gabriel Beddingfield and founder Ronald Stewart are raving about how the OS feels and operates, and say they’re getting terrific performance out of the system. I’m eager to try it first-hand. Gabriel has more to say:

CDM: How does this differ from Transmission as we’ve seen it in the past?

Gabriel: It’s effectively a reboot of Transmission. All packages
currently in Transmission will be ported over. The end user-will reinstall this MeeGo-ized Transmission on their device.

Unlike Transmission 4, there will also be a Live CD / Live USB version that you can preview before installing.

Why MeeGo?

Unlike any Linux distro we’ve found so far, MeeGo is from the ground-up about multi-touch, portable devices that compete with iPad and Android. The main “desktop” user experience is sharp, fast, and finger-friendly.

Our departure from MeeGo is in tuning it for audio. Out of the box, Transmission will be more concerned with a high quality, low-latency audio rather than preserving battery life. However, our experience with the Atoms shows that battery life is pretty good, too.

Multi-touch support will come by way of Qt’s Multi-touch framework… which is expected to have a relatively smooth upgrade path to Xorg 1.10 or 1.11 when Xorg officially supports multi-touch (Q1/Q2 2011). [Note that this is a different solution than the one that Ubuntu is providing.]

How will users install their own software?

MeeGo is also working heavily for app-store integration. So, users will be able to install free and commercial apps from Intel, Ovi, or other app stores. MeeGo’s architecture will ensure that the apps will work on this device.

In addition, it’s still Linux… and so users are still able to hot-rod their systems.

What’s the multi-touch digitizer hardware?

Will be capacitive, and will at least be dual-touch.

Right now we’re developing on an eGalax dual-touch that appears to have some pressure-sensitive features (can differentiate between a mouse-over and a click), and we’re also using a Cando dual-touch that is a little more primitive.

Stay tuned for more — consider this a teaser for now. I’ll also have a look at a number of hardware options that take another approach to touch and performance, offering flashy multi-touch tables that make you look sexy onstage. Stay tuned here.

  • gbsr

    i cant even begin to imagine the hassle of sitting down and programming a tracker with your fingertips on a touchscreen.

  • @gbsr: Like I said, I'll believe it when I see it. But I will give it a shot.

    In the meantime, I'm sticking with qwerty for Renoise.

  • Are you sure the tablet is using the Intel Atom N450 chip? That's a single core processor (with hyperthreading, so it shows up as two cores in the process manager).

    The Atom N550 is Intel's new low power dual core chip.

  • Renoise is one of many apps included.

  • Sorry, Brad, it's in fact single-core N450 on this prototype but I believe they're planning dual-core.

  • echolevel

    It's not hard to tweak a tracker for touchscreen use. Some of us were tracking and even performing live with MilkyTracker on PocketPC centuries ago – all you need is a piano-keyboard GUI area, 0 to F buttons and some dexterity with editstep/octave controls.

    Having said that, even for people who can't be arsed to track (it wasn't *that* much fun on PocketPC, I'll admit), Renoise's Duplex and Matrix offer a lot of potential for live pattern-jiggling.

  • Jebby Deringer

    Would be nice with a bluetooth keyboard. Although being Linux means it will be supported I can't see developers taking much focus away from Apple where there's a huge user base, more money to be made, and extreme ease when adding new apps.

    I'd love to see trackers for the iPad as long as there is keyboard support because the speed of tracking is greatly damaged by using just a mouse or fingers.

  • The gravity of benefits with Renoise on Indamixx 2 is aimed more at the pattern matrix with live sequencing and performance. It's next level next gen stuff we call fun! 🙂

  • danoise

    Ah, so the Renoise+Duplex combination will allow you to attach (at least) three separate controllers to the tablet?

  • Greg

    App Store, even with no price = Not Really Free.
    Ditto heavy marketing of Shareware.

    Any particular reason that the word "Fedora" never comes up in this article?

  • Fine – want mention of Fedora?

    MeeGo has derived a lot of work from the Fedora community, and those two distros continue to collaborate. Fedora 14 will include a MeeGo spin that uses the MeeGo UI.

    But MeeGo isn't Fedora. I mean, I could go through the contributions of Fedora … and GNU, and GNOME, and the Linux kernel, and All of those things are important, but no, they don't really fit.

    MeeGo as a Linux distro IS a free OS. The licensing is complex because of the number of components in Linux.

    As for an "App Store" being "Not Really Free," that ain't necessarily so. The Free Software Foundation explicitly says free software can be sold. There's no reason you can't distribute GPL software through a store.

    I don't know the specific rules of the store Intel is building, but I don't think, for instance, that it has the sort of restrictions on GPL-licensed software that Apple does.

    Anyway, the whole point as I understand it is also allowing people with commercial and proprietary software to distribute via the store. Canonical, of course, is doing the same thing. I don't see a problem there. Neither Canonical nor Intel nor Nokia is engaging in any attack on free software, to say the least.

  • Jase M

    I think echolevel has a point about a GUI for touch devices. It would be interesting to see someone create a note interface with piano or a hex/concertina button layout and an effect interface with hexadecimal input. With Renoise 2.6's scripting, Someone could create something like that.

  • Human Plague

    Not really a constructive comment, but reading this articles gives me 404 error for nogravatar.gif?

  • jon

    Where is the midi remote script folder ? i dont have one, also no nanoKontrolMyr in live's preferences, I'm on OSX 10.5 by the way

  • so, this appstore, does that mean that you are limited to appstore installation?

    he does say "in addition, its still linux" which leads me to believe that you can install/remove whatever software you seem fit. any clarification on that perhaps?

    i doubt youd be able to find an alpha/beta test of something incredibly interesting in an appstore, really?

  • Peter Kirn

    @gbsr: Intel's App Store is just an additional way of getting apps. MeeGo uses rpm package management. Any rpm package can be installed. And you can install from source. It's Linux.

    There's more on the app store here:

    There's a validation process associated with it, described here:

    This is very different than what Apple is doing on iOS and the Mac App Store; it's a quantitative validation to the extent you can do that, rather than qualitative. They're basically looking for screwed-up packages.

    Commercial apps have to use their SDK (Qt-based, which is actually quite nice), but open source apps don't even have to do that.

    Honestly, the only obstacle the Intel program faces is getting some developers onboard.

    I also have to see how hard it is to build apps or install rpms against MeeGo. It's Fedora-derived, but there may be some wrinkles.

    So, in short:
    * You can install whatever you want, with or without the App Store.
    * Even the App Store itself is pretty wide-open.
    * For convenience with a broad range of apps, MeeGo will probably have some catching up to do versus distros like Fedora/RH and Ubuntu/Debian.

  • prep

    I love the growth in the Linux audio, but one thing I feel is holding it back, quality soft synth's. I had started with Ubuntu Studio, moved to the best distro I know of, KxStudio, which gave me Wine and wealth of DAW apps, but I just couldn't make it all work for me. LinuxDSP is making quality plugs, I'd like to see the same development in the synth arena.

  • Very cool use of MeeGo operating system! I'm glad to see it starting to get some good notice.

    I'm excited about this product, too. I look forward to the day, probably at least a few years away, when I'll have a portable tablet that can I can use to capture music ideas as they occur, and will support professional-grade composing, recording, mixing and mastering. It's coming!

  • Pdexter

    Wow this looks very interesting actually and great to see MeeGo here.
    Too bad it's still quite far away.