Trinity Audio Group and creative director Ronald Stewart have pushed the idea of a mobile music tablet since around 2005. I first saw what they were working on in the summer of 2006, as they readied a dedicated mobile DAW. But, at least from my vantage point, it’s really taken until now for some of the available hardware and software to evolve to the point that it could deliver on what they wanted to do. Products based first on Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC) platforms and netbooks, while usable and more mobile than a laptop, required various tradeoffs. Linux software provided some significant power, but wasn’t yet an optimized experience for mobile use. I noted some of the promise, and shortcomings, in a review in late 2008 for Keyboard of Indamixx’s original Samsung hardware. (Keep in mind, this is all before anyone had heard of the iPad.)

Now, as they gear up for a 2011 release, Trinity have a new play to make a dedicated mobile music computer work. They’re offering a beta, starting now, for early adopters. I haven’t yet used the beta tablet, so I can only offer my personal perspective from my conversations with Indamixx.

There seems to be some confusion about what you get for the $699 price tag from an Indamixx 2 beta tablet. Engadget wonders why it tacks $200 on the price of the M1 Touch tablet on which it’s based. In fact, there’s more than $200 in bundled proprietary software, as well as customization of the free software. That makes Indamixx effectively a system integrator and the tablet a hardware/software bundle, rather than stock software. Synthtopia asks “does it matter,” as James Lewin argues for the greater “developer attention that the iPad has received.” That ignores the fact that what Indamixx represents – with one vendor’s customization work – is at its heart a Linux system. With compatibility with Windows VSTs, deep tools like energyXT, Ardour, Renoise, and LinuxDSP, and a host of free software like Pd and Csound, I’d say any Linux machine has an order of magnitude more music software developer hours behind it than iOS. That’s not to say it’s better or worse, but it is different: if you are musically productive in these more conventional tools, you may already have passed on the iPad.

The software bundle is the main source of value here, since the tablet you could buy separately. The beta includes various commercial, proprietary software, including file exchange support for Ardour, full copies of Renoise, energyXT, and superb plug-ins from LinuxDSP. There’s also software that, while free, could take a significant investment of time to set up, even for someone with some familiarity with Linux. That includes customization, tweaking, and configuration of the MeeGo Linux operating system, and packages for things like JACK setup. The beta also includes extras like access to a streaming server, accessories, and pre-installation of a multi-boot configuration. As Trinity has pushed before, one audio output option is HDMI, which provides multichannel outs without the need for a dedicated card (provided you have something to which you can connect HDMI on the other end).

I’m going to ignore the iPad versus Indamixx argument for now, tantilizing flame war bait as it may be. I think the software offerings are significantly different that people will have an easy time choosing. If you like the iOS apps, you’ll get an iPad. If you’re more productive in something like Ardour or Renoise, you won’t. If you want single-app experiences, you’ll go iPad. If you like interconnecting apps or using plug-ins, you won’t.

Instead, I think the question for the Indamixx 2 is how competitive other tablets may be. The “not-iPad” category now is small, but it may not remain so. Indamixx is betting big on MeeGo, but that Linux distro is relatively new and untested. The M1 Touch hardware features a capacitive touch input like the iPad, but I haven’t yet been able to use it myself, so I’m not sure how it stacks up in terms of display quality, touch quality, and overall reliability and performance. Many tech pundits, myself included, incorrectly predicted a slew of new tablets in 2010 to rival Apple’s, at least in hardware quality. But 2011 does seem a likely timeframe for new hardware. That means the question is whether you want to bet on Indamixx to customize your experience, or assume that you’ll set up your own Windows or Linux tablet.

Diving in on a beta now isn’t for the feint of heart. Trinity offers only 6 months free support for the system, and warns against “airing out” criticism publicly, instead asking for bug reports. (Support after six months is available for a fee.) I don’t see an indication of NDA, but I would like to see indications of how responsive Trinity is to criticism – and this is a significant investment of cash for something that lacks long-term support.

To me, the big competition for Indamixx 2 is likely to be, ironically, Linux and Windows themselves. Will Trinity’s solution rival your own Linux or Windows install in May 2011? And is the better solution for tweaking Linux – which, even with the addition of these proprietary apps, still depends mainly on free and open source packages like JACK and MeeGo itself – be Indamixx as a private vendor, or the free software community? The latter is a relatively open forum for participation, whereas Indamixx, in its beta, warns “no crybabies” in its invitation to beta testers.

What we need to see is whether Trinity can build on its work in this field to deliver a truly finished, polished product, and whether it can build the kind of support relationship with users, developers, and the press to make its solution viable. Laptops have that ecosystem, and Apple – love them or hate them – does with iOS. Now, we’ll see how Indamixx stacks up to what’s likely to become a more crowded mobile space in 2011. In 2005, Trinity was relatively alone in calling for mobile music systems based on Linux. By the spring, when it comes to the tablet space, we may be off to the races. We’ll be able to judge the finished product, and its rivals, then.

Beta site:

  • Leslie

    Little bit too little too late, I'm afraid – there are dozens of iOS Apps that do this already and by the time of it's release iPad MK II will be upon  us 😉

  • Jeff Brown

    160 GB hard drive?  That makes me happy.  My iPad only has 32 GB — and I paid $100 extra for the second 16.

    OTOH, 3 hours battery life, relative to the iPad's 10.  Tradeoffs, tradeoffs …

  • Peter Kirn

    Actually, I think it does a disservice to both sides to directly compare iPad software to desktop-style apps like Ardour and Renoise. Part of the beauty of those iPad apps is that they *aren't* like traditional desktop tools; there is a simpler approach to how they work. And likewise, part of the beauty of the desktop tools is that they're not like iPad apps – they've evolved a certain degree of complexity and sameness, yes, but in response to things people actually want and need to do.

    Obviously, we'll see some of these ideas filter to other platforms, but that's even more reason to expect the iPad isn't now, and won't be in the future, the only game in town. 

  • I agree you can't compare this to an iPad, instead we should compare it to a laptop, since indamixx offers the same applications as you would use on a netbook or notebook computer. It remains to be tested I guess to see if touch input and small form factor will make up for a probably less powerful hardware. Sill it seems pretty interesting, might even consider investing in something like that for live stuff. As usual these offerings rise or fall depending on the software they run. So for instance if Renoise will be able to capture my interest enough I might as well think about getting on the linux boat for good (at least for part of my work).
    My only concern, and I'm saying this as a free software advocate, is about the real usefulness of free software for stuff where you actually want and need to be productive. Too often I have wasted a lot of time tinkering with free software that just wasn't up to the task. Actually I think it's a bit sad to have to admit it, but the best tools on linux for me right now are the proprietary ones like Renoise… at least they have all the features and work.
    On the other hand I guess the biggest achievement of free software was to show the computing world that you could rethink the whole system, open up for everybody's gain. Proprietary products like Renoise or Reaper despite being closed source show great "openness" regarding community and update cycle. These people actually learned a lot from the free software movement and instead of dictating commandments from atop of the holy mountain as some of the big companies do, they actually talk and listen to the people that use their software.
    Probably free software has still a lot to show us about how we can create software in a more sustainable and intelligent way.

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, of course, regardless of what software you use on Linux, you're taking advantage of free software infrastructure – the kernel, the audio and MIDI APIs, UI, graphics, and so on – and the astounding hardware compatibility that go with it (particularly on the kernel side). And I appreciate the effort of developers like Renoise to support that ecosystem. 

    Free software I've found useful on its own: Pd, Csound, Lilypond, OpenFrameworks, Processing,… and, while it's not music-specific, Firefox,  Google Chrome/Chromium and WebKit.

  • Jamsire

    I love it! AND I still love my Lemur! So there.

  • @Leslie
    The iPad does NOT have comparable software. Unless I'm wrong, there's nothing on iOS that is similar in capability to Ardour, or the patching ability of JACK. While it looks similar to the iPad and costs approximately the same, the two devices just aren't made for the same market.

    I'm interested to see how working in something like Renoise, which was designed for a keyboard, works with touch. Or even using the more traditional Ardour that was designed for a mouse. If the software is developed with touch input in mind, it might be a mind-blowing experience. Who knows? (yet)

  • i can never get Mixxx to work as rock solid as Serato SL1 or Traktor with an m-audio profire 610 or on board laptop sound card on my gateway running XP sp2. i plan on running Ubuntu and MIxx but my question in regards to all the Indamixxx bundles is what audio cards are compatible? i can't seem to find out the info on the website (i haven't gone through it with a fine comb but you'd think they would recommend compatible hardware.)

  • Flame all you like, but I'm still just waiting for a nice little multitouch pad that I can just use as a remote for my recording pc. So I can arm channels, or sequence from in front of my instruments instead of going back to the pc.

    Actually, I know there is some remote desktop type stuff on the ipad. Does anyone use it thusly? How well does it work?

  • Leslie
  • @Polite, get yourself an Android tablet and install FingerPlay on it 😉

    Multi-touch tablet example:

  • Leslie

    Rubbish and rubbish – and it proves my point…
    iPad rules at this stage… 🙂

  • Regend. So many audio cards work its crazy.
    Class compliant is a good way to go.
    RMX is fully supported. See video here.

    Polite we also have the ability to control your DAW now. See video here .

  • Everyone who is serious about audio should be well aware at some point ARM based machines like ipad and android will fail you.
    Just FYI

  • Loren

    As long as iPad segregates its apps, prevents files from freely being transferred (without going through iTunes, the Cloud, and/or jailbreaking), and provides such little ram/disk space, there will be interest in other pads.

    A 1TB, 2GB ram tablet running Reaper with VSTs, etc. and plenty of input and output options?
    Yes please.
    Holy Grail!  

  • Leslie

    The way I see/use it is that any portable device such as iPad is used as a sketchpad for capturing ideas on the go and to be easily integrated with the desktop computer based DAW. iPad delivers just that especially with the releases of Crystal, iMS-20 and others…
    I don't need a tablet device with 1TB of storage space – I have my Mac for that.

  • yo, give an indamixx 2 to tinchy and see what happens 😛 

  • Leslie

    This is what iPad does – entire album created with iPad 🙂

  • Jake Gilla

    Very cool idea, but I just don't get who it's for.  I cannot quite understand the point of using a tablet for a dedicated workstation.  Hell, its only over the last few years that notebook computers have come up to standard, and they have the benefit of the keyboard and mouse.

    Touch and serious audio editing, or programming a tracker like Renoise really just don't blend, in my opinion.

  • I wonder how awkward it is to use. Can a device like the Indamixx cross the chasm to the new world of thin, light music apps such as we are seeing become so popular with the iPad?

    I used a Windows Toshiba Tablet-PC with various audio programs for several years, and it was very usable and very portable, but it was often a fractured and disjointed experience, and you would often run into software problems that were completely awkward to accomplish without a keyboard and mouse and instead you only had a pen or touch surface and maybe an on-screen keyboard. I suspect this Indamixx lies somewhere closer to that Tablet-PC experience.

    On the other hand, iPad (and maybe eventually Android) seem to lie on the other side of a chasm offering up a very different set of utility with seemingly very strict limits on their capabilities. Those limits are somewhat driven by the hardware capabilities and somewhat driven by the device OS ecosystem and capabilities. At the same time everything on the iPad side of chasm presents very consistent interface tools and never has that awkwardness of trying to use software that was designed for WIMP with a touch surface. And then there is the fact that there is no application or suite of applications on the iPad that comes close to the depth of the desktop-class audio and music software available on a device like this (or, for that matter, a netbook or a Windows-based Tablet-PC). That's not necessarily a bad thing. But there's orders of magnitude difference for better or worse.

  • Leslie

    Net books are out of equation I'm afraid…
    Why? A little test – install Reason and try to play any of the demo tracks included – "processor to slow" message appears immediately.
    So, while you can install most of the apps on net books, you can not run them.

  • The processor in a netbook is almost an order of magnitude faster than the ARM CPU in an iPad. 

  • The iPad is an entirely more focused and efficient paradigm based on the physical multitouch surface and the portable form factor at the core of software design. Netbooks are just underpowered laptops, and adding a touchscreen only makes the mouse and keyboard oriented nature of desktop software more apparent. 

    For a portable Renoise setup, I would much rather use a 11" or 13" MacBook Air with Core 2 Duo processors and solid state flash storage.  Plus, trackers have always been about transforming the computer keyboard into a dedicated hardware controller. I'm interested to know how operating a qwerty keyboard based tracker likr Renoise is on the Indamixx but I think a touchscreen interface calls for a different, more suitable approach to tracker style programming. 

  • wentbackward

    I don't think the iPad pretends to be a full on music production tool or a full on anything, yet I use mine daily to run my business. It has save my spine!

    Music production however is so obviously well suited to a multitouch environment. I think this device looks cool but perhaps I'm more convinced that Apples focus on Mac OS will yield something more suitable.

    I wish them every success, we (musicians) need this to be a success and for the open source world to improve in many areas.

    Thanks for the article, straightforward, informative.

  • wentbackward

    Also, I don't get the odd negative comments about ARM processors. RISC processors are very capable (perhaps more capable) of mission critical, real time processing. ARMs major strategic market is low power, mobile units. The ipad and other ARM based devices have appropriate power, not max power as in PCs! Why would an ARM processor fail, just because you are into music.

    Also any PC I've used in the past 7 years or so is crippled by slow hard drives, that they hardly run anything properly. People foolishly devote $$ to more clock cycles yet ignore the internal machine architecture and even the benefits of having two cheapo drives instead of one. I'd much rather have my music production on Sun Solaris than Windows OR OSX, but for now OSX is what does it best for me.

    Please keep comments factual or try to understand what you are commenting about first.

  • anechoic

    having a company like Indamixx developing a Linux audio tablet is good for Linux musicians in the short term — but until the clusterf*ck of problems with Linux audio are resolved this sort of development only serves to compartmentalize the Linux audio market. It would be much more beneficial to everyone if somebody would put the effort needed into simplifying and streamlining the competing audio layers in Linux, i.e. making it more usable for professional audio tasks. — just my 0.02 cents. 🙂

  • poopoo

    Looks fantastic. The kind of integration between apps and customization potential makes this a very different proposition to an iPad.

    Targeting a specific piece of hardware is a great idea. It means the usual headaches of setting up Linux disappear. Paying $200 for that privilege is a good deal IMHO.

    I can't see any issue with processing power either. I've done live shows using a netbook and ableton live after my main laptop died. If you render the heavier synth and fx parts it works fine. Then again, I did live shows 15 years ago using a 486, a sound blaster and poly800. Limitations are a good thing.

  • I agree with most of the comments on tablets here. The fact is, in the moment you change the input interface and the form factor you have to rethink the software as well.
    I don't believe iOS is the perfect solution to the problem, but at least it has been developed specifically for a certain type of device with the input interface and the typical use in mind. While linux has made some good work on creating usable solutions for netbooks it still has to start working seriously on (multi)touch-screen based devices. The software you can find for linux right now is really not made for tablets and trying to adapt it to it willl probably not make it any better. So while being still interesting I guess it's probably not quite the solution people are looking for.
    On the other hand, small companies like the one behind indamixx also don't have the financial and logistic power of multinational corporations like Apple…

    Oh and btw. while a netbook really is an underpowered laptop if you run windows on it, it completely changes once you install ubuntu. It still does not make a good audio machine, but that's not what it's supposed to do. So I can see how even linux might develop some interesting solutions for tablets in the future.

  • The Hercules RMX, metal-reinforced construction could never cease the apocalypse again still keep the party sufficient. All that metal adds up to 11 pounds, however, so prepare to dispel the myth of digital DJ rigs preventing back strain.

  • The perfect workflow for me? Create your tracks anyware (mostly lying relaxed in bed) by using a tablet and then export to your pc to mix & master. After working all day in front of a pc, I find refreshind to create on a portable device. I’ve done this for some years now with Palm/Bhaji’s Loops (stil haven’t found nothing like it for the iPod touch).

    There’s nothing like a desktop environment for powerful polishing and nothing like portable devices to a more relaxed way of creating. 

    On that end, I’d rather use apps that were designed for tablet use from the ground up than using adapted desktop versions. The interaction models are simply too different.

  • @Midipixel: "I’ve done this for some years now with Palm/Bhaji’s Loops (stil haven’t found nothing like it for the iPod touch)."

    Have you tried NanoStudio?

  • Trying to work a full DAW (even something like Audacity) with a touchpad interface sounds terrible. Was someone seriously talking about using renoise?!
    I'm not at all amused that this will not use JACK and (best case) use pulseaudio or (worst case) make up something else.