Earlier this week, I took a quick overview of what options you can choose for connecting MIDI to the iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad. Make no mistake: the coming of iOS 4.2 will broaden your options for mobile MIDI on Apple gadgets. But I realized a somewhat glib comment in my story made some folks – Engadget included – get the wrong message. They jumped to the conclusion that the Line 6 MIDI Mobilizer, a portable MIDI adapter for these platforms, is no longer important. On the contrary, better MIDI support in the OS should make anything to do with MIDI more useful.

To better cover where the MIDI Mobilizer sits in this picture, I spoke to Line 6’s Marcus Ryle. iOS 4.2 is still under NDA, which is part of why you aren’t hearing more specifics; I expect we’ll be able to say more once that NDA is lifted. (That’s when you’ll actually be able to get the OS yourself if you’re not a developer, anyway.) But we can indeed talk about the hardware now.

First, here’s what I was trying to say: if you own an iPad, you don’t necessarily need a MIDI Mobilizer after the release of 4.2. If you’re getting a Camera Connection Kit anyway, and you have a spare 1×1 USB class-compliant MIDI interface lying around, your first step is likely to be just plugging those things in and playing. I’ve found 1×1 MIDI USB interfaces tend to sort of collect in gear closets; I have at least two of them, maybe a third if I dig.

But let’s be very clear about why you would want a MIDI Mobilizer:

  • It’s your only choice on iPod touch and iPhone. To me, having a pocket device that you can use for MIDI transcriptions and saving banks and pocket-able synths and effects with MIDI control is a huge advantage. Since the handhelds don’t support the Camera Connection Kit (at least not yet), the MIDI Mobilizer is currently your only shipping choice for hard-line MIDI, period.
  • It’s really small. See the picture above. You need the breakouts to the MIDI cable, but it’s the most compact solution
  • It’s potentially a good buy if you don’t have other gear. Adding a Camera Connection Kit and USB MIDI interface will add up to about the MIDI Mobilizer’s US$70 street price.

It’s also worth noting that the MIDI Mobilizer has hardware time-stamping, for timing resolution independent of the OS or software that’s accurate to one millisecond on both input and output.

Conversely, if you want a MIDI interface you can swap between your computer and your iPad, with the emphasis on the word iPad, or you want to directly connect a USB MIDI controller, the USB Camera Connection Kit may be a better route. For many daily tasks, I find class-compliant MIDI to be perfectly acceptable. (Windows has been known to have some class issues, but … this isn’t a Windows story, so I won’t go there.)

Anyway, let’s get to the really important thing, and that’s which apps work with the MIDI Mobilizer. Currently, there are a dozen supported apps. These include apps that make sense for MIDI input. Here are the currently-supported apps, complete with iTunes App Store links:

MIDI Memo Recorder
MIDI Surface
S1MIDI Trigger:
Little MIDI Machine
Pianist Pro
NLog MIDI Synth
NLogSynth PRO
Music Studio

Because of the demo videos that have been widely posted, a common reaction I’ve heard goes something like this:

Random person (or potentially, one Mr. Peter Kirn): Why the heck would you get an iPad just to turn it into a big touch keyboard and knobs? Isn’t an actual keyboard and knobs a better solution?

Yes, in fact – that’s a completely rational response. (I’m biased; it’s a thought that has been known to bounce about my very own brain.)

There is absolutely no way, apart from taking up less space, in which a touchscreen picture of a keyboard is as good as, let alone better, than an actual keyboard. It’s useful if, say, your iPhone or iPad fits next to your computer more easily than your computer, for quick synth programming, and it makes sense that people shot videos as proof-of-concept, but that’s about it. There are two ways in which MIDI connections to iPads do make sense in a broader set of real-world situations:

1. MIDI input to an iOS sound source. Knobs and keys and faders turn out to be really awesome inventions. An iOS gadget is actually just a very compact computer. Plugging in a MIDI input is useful for the same reason we’ve been doing it with computers since the Reagan Administration.

2. MIDI output from something that is uniquely multi-touch. Multi-touch control can, likewise, do things knobs and keys and faders can’t. And the iOS gadgets can run everything from arpeggiators and odd sequencers.

Many of the apps now supported by MIDI Mobilizer – and the many others I suspect will soon support iOS’ Core MIDI framework – cover one or both of these two bases. I think there have been a number of demos of #2, so for case 1, here’s one example with Richard Lainhart and Jordan Rudess, playing the NLog Synth. Yes, you could do this with any number of hardware of software synths and no iOS device – but that’s kind of the whole point. It’s just another platform on which we can do this whole MIDI-controlled synth thing. (Insert your own musical genre here, if you prefer to play, say, electropop bluegrass.)

More apps are coming: Marcus naturally can’t comment on the specific apps or iOS 4.2, but he does tell me some 75 developers are now working on MIDI Mobilizer compatibility.

Why the sudden surge? Thank Apple. As I reported in August, a change to Apple’s developer agreement finally made it practical for developers to write apps that support third-party hardware:
MIDI Mobilizer, iOS Hardware MIDI Adapter, Roundup and Open SDK

I’m going to have to stop using the word “open” since it’s dangerously close to meaning nothing, so let’s say what this really means: you can now write apps for someone else’s accessory without them directly publishing your app.

Beyond that, stay tuned for when iOS 4.2 ships – now imminent – for more compatibility.

And for now, these kinds of capabilities remain limited to desktop platforms and iOS, at least until someone works out a way to support MIDI hardware on other platforms. Don’t worry. I’m sure MIDI itself will outlive all of these operating systems – and, presumably, all of us.

Core MIDI + 4.2

By the way, if you are interested in adding Core MIDI support to your iOS 4.2 app, Pete Goodliffe has kindly posted some sample code. I actually think this arguably doesn’t break NDA, because it’s all effectively an implementation of CoreMIDI compatibility from the desktop Mac OS.

Using CoreMIDI in iOS (an example) [Goodliffe blog]
Feel free to come discuss using this code on Noisepages — certainly, any Core MIDI discussion is fair game, and we can all chat publicly about iOS 4.2 after it’s released.

You’ll want this kind of, ahem, disclosure, because Apple’s Core MIDI and Audio frameworks aren’t terribly friendly to newcomers in terms of documentation or samples.

Side note: we’ve likewise been frustrated with Gitorious, so since the Gitorious server itself is free, I may investigate putting it on our relatively reliable CDM servers. Anyone interested in that – a little mini GitHub/Gitorious, full of music and visual code?

  • <q>Random person (or potentially, one Mr. Peter Kirn): Why the heck would you get an iPad just to turn it into a big touch keyboard and knobs? Isn’t an actual keyboard and knobs a better solution?</q>
    For our iPad port of this:

    Sorry for hijacking your comments Peter. 🙂

  • Peter Kirn

    Heh, well, even that is an example of something that may be as practical/more practical with a touchscreen. When your touchscreen looks like a keyboard with 8 knobs, it will have to compete with … a keyboard with 8 knobs.

  • Didn't read the part about knobs anyway? Well ok, knobs kinda rock 🙁

  • when will we be able to connect our usb-midi keyboards to our iphones/ipods?!?!?!?!

  • Randy

    So I'm not the sharpest key on the keyboard but, is it possible to play the sounds from the Touch or Phone using a MIDI-equipped real keyboard? Can I use the Touch or Phone as an external synth module?

  • jimmie

    What's the best choice if I want to use an iPad as MIDI sequencer controlling an external hardware synth? like, playing a MIDI file for Doepfer Dark Energy?

  • Gavin@FAW

    I'm not convinced that the way forward is to start requiring peripheral hardware to get the most from your application. Sometimes I think that the hardware manufacturers are developing applications with the sole purpose of creating a market for their existing hardware designs. Its more business model than any true innovation.

    The interesting developments over the coming years will be self contained new musical instrument apps like "Magic Piano". I have a suspicion that apps like this could end up out selling electric guitars pretty soon. This is where the true revolution in music technology will happen, bringing music making to the masses. It won't be expecting them to go to physical stores and buy 3rd party hardware to hook up to the device I'm sure of that.

  • Peter Kirn

    @swalker133: Not yet. For now, good old-fashioned MIDI cables are your best bet.

    @Randy: short answer, *yes* – provided the app you want to use supports it. Hopefully with the Core MIDI stuff, that'll be more the rule than the exception.

    @jimmie: Actually not sure yet, myself; need to research that – particularly following the 4.2 release.

    @Gavin: Well, I'm not going to comment directly on the business logic, as that isn't really my job. But as far as musicians are concerned, the ability to reliably connect different pieces of gear *is* something that still matters to a lot of people. I have lots of respect for Smule and what they've done, but consider – theoretically, that should appeal to a broader audience, but you still see lots of attention for stuff like this. Why? I think because using hardware is satisfying, because there is demand, because it's not only the stuff that has mass-market appeal that's interesting. Maybe it's even *because* it's a little oddball and niche that people find it intriguing.

    Independently, I'm not convinced that finger painting makes the best metaphor for all music creation, either, but I'm not even sure that's the whole point.

    No one is requiring external hardware here; the response suggests that people want it, as an option. And physical stores? Heard of eBay, Amazon, Musician's Friend, even?

  • @Peter Kirn but my keyboard doesnt support midi din, why the hell would line 6 make an interface that works for a cable invented in the 80's

  • Gavin@FAW

    I'm not convinced Peter!

    If you look at the evolution of the music technology market over the last 10 years or so, what we saw happen was simple easy to learn software becoming more and more complex with each update iteration and thus gaining a steeper learning curve for new adopters as time progressed. This meant that less people made the effort to learn the software and after first launch went back to playing video games or just listening to music. Which is not good. The root cause of this was that only a very narrow group of people with the time and determination to become domain experts were willing to pay for the software at its high price and it is this group that drove its development in terms of features etc.
    Also some of these companies came into existence at the tail end of the tech boom, when investment capital was slushing around, which they natural availed of, but of course investors want a return on their money and require the companies to grow. The way they grew was outlined above, they focused on high value software aimed at the domain expert, with the value justified by complex feature rich design.

    The plus side is that the software companies were able to stay in business, the minus, that a whole group of people were locked out due to the domain experts driving the design of the software.

    Now we have the iPad and the iPhone. Apps cost 99 cents. Anyone can download them and start to make music. Anyone with an idea and some programming chops can realize an app and make a living from it if the idea is popular. It is the ultimate disruptive technology for the music technology business. And thats a good thing!

    Interesting times for sure.

  • Peter Kirn

    Right — except the ultimate disruptors are the consumers. And musicians still like archaic things — not exclusively, and certainly not consistently (that's the whole point), but archaic nonetheless.

    Also, MIDI isn't complicated… even with one extra dongle in the chain. It *is* archaic, but not complicated. Simple, archaic, and worth some investment of love seems to be the formula that makes musical instruments work.

    I'm not saying that everyone needs a MIDI connector – I'm just saying that you can't just eliminate these things because it might seem convenient and assume everyone will go along. It's clear they'll do what they damned well please whatever the rest of us think. 😉

  • Peter Kirn

    @swalker133: You can use USB MIDI devices on iPad; you just can't on iPhone / iPod touch, and since this whole thing is a bit of a convenient hack, I would assume they don't count as Apple's #1 priority for hardware connections. I understand why you want it — it just may not happen any time in the near future.

  • Peter Kirn

    Oh yeah, want something really bloody complicated?

    And don't for a second assume this has anything to do with "openness" or "open source" or any existential idealogical battle of… blah, blah.

    Technology gets cheaper when things are actually complete. If Android had standard USB host mode, this would be a simple plug-and-play affair. Just keep in mind, other concerns — vendors running out of time, worries about hardware sapping battery life — may get in the way.

  • Gavin@FAW

    "except the ultimate disruptors are the consumers"

    Exactly, who were buying video games and watching DVDs while the music software industry disappeared up its own proverbial in a never ending stream of updates and feature enhancements!

    I do think that some truly creative people have been lost along the way and that by opening up music software to the masses and leaving the old model of high value feature rich domain expert focused software at the door, is the only way forward. Reason I launch XCode anyway.

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, wait a minute. You know, I think we probably agree to some of the remedy *and* the problem with overly complex UIs, but let's keep perspective. Considerable portions of the music software industry have grown. Ditto the instruments business. And it's not as though someone says … "Hmmm… let's see… Nuendo? Third season Weeds? Or Grand Theft Auto?"

    Anyway, you don't need to use Xcode to embrace simplicity. But yes, do embrace it once you're there. And maybe sometimes it's simpler or more satisfying to grab a knob or keyboard than touch a touchscreen – which would explain why someone would go to the trouble of some dongles.

  • Gavin@FAW

    I'm not so sure Peter.

    My feeling is that only around 5% ( maybe even less ) of the people who use music software are professional musicians and make music for a living. The rest I feel are people who come home from work and launch "Nuendo" as an escape, in the same way that some people watch Weeds or play Grand Theft Auto. Everyone who owns a guitar is not in rock band or everyone who owns 1210s in not DJing in a club.
    So maybe these people are in some way going “Hmmm… let’s see… Nuendo? Third season Weeds? Or Grand Theft Auto?” I know I did at one point.

    And I think it is a good goal to design software that brings more of these people into making music, purely for the well documented benefits that creation over passive consumption brings on a personal and even on a social level.

  • Gavin@FAW

    And just to tie everything up, the existing companies in order to be relevant over the next 10 years need to embrace the iPhone and the iPad for what it is, a blank sheet on which they can empower more people, through simplicity of design, to express themselves in artistically interesting ways, instead of trying to tie the device into their existing products for no other reason than a business model.

  • Peter Kirn

    Yes, absolutely — the iPad is a blank sheet of paper. There, I couldn't agree more. And it's terrifically exciting.

    That said, I still think musicians will want to plug keyboards into it, not just pros. So I'm taking that from musicians wanting to do that, not anyone "justifying their business model." For one thing, all of those people making USB class-compliant MIDI gadgets didn't even *expect* people to pick this up.

  • Devin

    This is big news, I'm very excited.

    I'm just trying to figure out the best way to record stereo audio on the iphone 4 from external sources. I thought the iPhone 4 would support the iPad camera connection kit for USB audio recording, but no dice (so far). Does anyone know what the options are??

  • kid versus chemical

    I,m a hardcore music app user (i bought my touch and iPad specifically for the mobile music aspect). I had held off on buying the MM until about a week ago, but now that I have it I really love it.

  • robman84

    Well I’m glad my comment on the initial post didn’t get completely overlooked! I’ve said the same thing in several places including Palm Sounds – you currently need an interface for the iPhone/iPod Touch.

    Of course CCK support for iPhone/iPod would be great (please Apple!) but I also have some old (but loved) MIDI only gear that I’d like to control from my iPad so that also needs an interface. ThumbJam controlling an external synth? Yes please!

    Most of all, I just want iOS4.2 as soon as possible. I’ve even started plugging in USB midi gear just to see if it gets recognized :o)

  • es, you could do this with any number of hardware of software synths and no iOS device – but that’s kind of the whole point"

    Sorry but that kite wont fly over here. Multi tocuh lacks tactile feedback. But has many other advantages. It does needs new UI's etc.

    What really nores me are these video's with people hotting a knob on a mt screen.

    The video really is a testament of the fact that some brands are trying to be an early adapter without knowing what the heel they actually want from a product. Utterly useless demonstration imho.

  • Wow that last comment was like one big typo, sorry for that peter.

  • entasmiquity

    I am an amateur with modest needs.

    All I want to do is use my Korg LPK35 with the iPad to enter MIDI into apps, e.g., NanoStudio.

    Will iOS 4.2 let me do that?

    I presume that this would have to be enabled by individual apps, of course..

  • Peter Kirn

    @entasmiquity: do you mean the Akai LPK 25?

    If so, then odds are, yes, you should be able to do that, provided the app developers have updated their app.

    And it's very likely some app developers (very possibly including NanoStudio) *have* added that functionality but don't want to talk about it because this stuff is under NDA.

    • Kendall Simpson

      Hi Peter,

      New iPhone user here…I am trying to see if I can find a decent piano app that will respond to all the controls from a midi keyboard (velocity, sustain, etc) via the MIDI Mobilizer II. For example, I have GarageBand on my iPhone. Will I be able to play the piano in Garageband just like I can on my laptop?
      Thanks! Kendall

  • entasmiquity

    Yes LPK 25. Thanks!

  • Peter Kirn

    @entasmiquity: With the iPad and an updated app, it should absolutely work. We just don't know yet which apps will be updated.

  • midihendrix

    This is cool –

    But am I the only one who is concerned that there is no way to charge the ipod/ipad while this is plugged in? Fine apple battery life is ____ long, but what if the user wanted to implement this in a fixed scenario where plugging in and out all the time was not an option?

  • midihendrix

    I'm looking forward to the day arduino and ios interact…

  • Brian

    Anyone know if you can send midi to and from through the proprietary usb connection? If so then I dont think a midi cable connection is really necessary. 

  • Kendall Simpson

    New iPhone user here…I am trying to see if I can find a decent piano app that will respond to all the controls from a midi keyboard (velocity, sustain, etc) via the MIDI Mobilizer II. For example, I have GarageBand on my iPhone. Will I be able to play the piano in Garageband just like I can on my laptop? Thanks! Kendall

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