Apple’s GarageBand music creation and amp simulation on iPad is now also on the company’s handhelds, with iPhone (3GS, 4, 4S) and iPod touch (3rd-generation and better) support. You only have to buy GarageBand once; the app runs on all those platforms, so if you had the iPad version and also own a compatible device, you can automagically add it.

The iPad is definitely the roomier device, so what can you do with the handheld?

  • Touch Instruments (pictured here) let you quickly tap out musical ideas.
  • Amp and stompbox models work. As I’ve said in the past, that makes the handhelds into usable practice amps or pocket-ready effects boxes.
  • Lay down multiple tracks (recording external audio one at a time), and edit in a simplified GarageBand track editor.
  • You can still exchange files – up to eight tracks of recorded or generated music – with GarageBand and Logic on your Mac. That makes this a usable pocket sketchpad.

In short, not only does your Mac have little to fear, the notion is that these handheld apps could actually give you added incentive to do production back on the desktop.

Also in this update are features that will be useful to the iPad version, too, but are clearly intended to make the palm-top edition more usable. “Smart Instruments” let you play along with chords – ideal if you can’t quite twist your fingers into strumming positions on your phone. And there’s a historical musical precedent for this, too: think autoharps and frets and capos, musical innovations intended to make playing an idea easier.

If you want a bit more sophistication, the instruments expand to provide features like glissando, Leslie simulation, tuners, and so on.

Our friend Jim Dalrymple of Apple-focused tech site The Loop spots other enhancements. If you discovered the previous version frustratingly didn’t let you change keys without transposing audio, or didn’t let you set 3/4 or 6/8 time signatures (“do I hear a waltz?”), those holes have been patched – useful in the iPad version, too. Also, you can export to AAC or uncompressed AIFF even without going via GarageBand or Logic, a helpful issue.

US$4.99 new, or free update for existing customers. (Fear not for starving programmers. It turns out that this “Apple” company also makes those “iPhone” and “Mac” things, too.)

But this is all feature talk. What’s impressive to me is the way Apple has boiled down the interface of GarageBand into a smaller space. What’s left is only what is strictly necessary – complete with some photo-realistic imagery, yes, true to Apple’s notion of polish and texture. It makes a stunningly clear and obvious interface design, and that to me is inspiring: not as something I hope other developers will copy, but the kind of clarity I hope they’ll find in their own voice. After all, GarageBand for iOS shares DNA with Logic, not just mobile apps, and therefore a far more complex heritage.

Playing the glass surface of your phone as a musical instrument is likely to be relatively limited – compare a tangible instrument, which feels fun to play. But as a sketchpad, and as a pocket reduction of other things, this has appeal.

Images courtesy Apple. (Check out high-resolution versions.)

Apple App Store Link

  • J

    Amazing news!

  • Downloading now!

  • A couple of things I was hoping to see was some basic midi note (piano roll) editing and some expansion to the built in instruments (as well as more robust editing for the synth voices). Still, I think the effort to bring this down to a playable interface on the iphone/ipod touch is well worth it. And free is good!

  • digid

    Can you use your own samples (i.e. import samples)?

  • JAM is a guitar input designed specifically for GarageBand on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.  With JAM and Garageband, it's easy to sound amazing!  For more info, check out

  • . . . and, to chime in on the notion of playing on a glass surface . . . I've been playing for the past couple of years on the humble, yet flexible BeBot (The Singing Robot): what a wonderful, non-Western tuning-based, monophonic/polyphonic performance surface! (yes, I have difficulty playing "Amazing Grace" on it, but nobody wants to hear that on a mobile device anyway!)

  • Radiophobic

    Yes. What Graham said. +1 for step editing. The lack of piano roll makes it practically useless to me as it is.

  • Peter Kirn

    Yes, step editing seems an ideal companion to these sorts of devices! Hmmm… there's a window for developers: clever new ways of step editing. Consider.

    I didn't say this was impossible to play, only limited – but limited in a way that may be appropriate to something you can put in your pocket. So the same would go for step editing.

    Here's the thing: I regularly see interviews that ask a question like "so, this obviously replaces other instruments, right?" I don't mean to point out the obvious criticism so much as say, if this isn't a Bechstein grand, then what is it? A handheld sketchpad that you use to jot down ideas to develop on your desktop – with other controllers at the ready – seems a reasonable answer.

  • I really liked this update (especially 3/4. Almost half the songs I write are in 3/4). Still missing piano roll, though. Especially for the drums. In my experience they don't always track velocity that well, so I often have to do numerous takes to get them to sound usable. (ipad 1)

    Also, this app desperately cries out for icloud support. Sketch your ideas on your phone while commuting. Fire up your ipad at home and BOOM! – your new sketch is there. Add an "import from iCloud" option in garageband for mac (or maybe an "ios compatability mode" with full icloud support within garageband for mac) for completeness. 🙂

  • also, how come the comments still say "nov 1 2011"?

  • J

    No idea. You get that even if you post a year later.

    It would be nice to see the date of posts, so you know if a conversation is still going.

  • i'd like to see a guitar/fretboard app that does one finger chords but still has a proper strum ie when you pass a string it makes a sound… with midi out natch.

  • Peter Kirn

    It's a template bug. We've got some fixin' to do. 😉

  • downloaded! works great with my Apogee Jam guitar interface. sounds amazing and i highly recommend it! 

  • digid

    So, that's two posts mentioning Jam.

    I'd be inclined to call it spam.

  • While I do miss the step, piano roll, and deeper editing functions of other apps, I really have enjoyed this $5 investment. I have for some time made really uninspired-at-times and bland tracker files, an array of MIDI files, misc NDS/PSP things, and now I am fast upon the iOS composing trail. I bought a $50 iPhone from a friend and the iOS apps I expected to like, I loved, and thus the iPad purchase in short order.

    The strengths for me of Garage Band are focused on the ability of sketching an emotional idea quickly, in an improvisational way. I do my tracking like this much of the time, refining the sound as desired, tapering it to something I can deal with. Garage Band on the iPad had a good price first off. $5. I spent more on a dirt cheap meal for lunch than the app ran. I love the range of sounds you can get from the guitars available, once you start going into the different scales. The bass works. The drums can be great either in Smart mode or regular. The ability to just tweak a semi-automatic drum back beat as desired is pretty useful. I never mess with automatic guitar riffs, just percussion, and sometimes organ, but usually not.

    What has it done for me? Well, I am a n00b musician happy enough to not be overly infused with the theory as much yet, having unlearned and forgotten a LOT since I was younger. Something like this gives me a quick turnaround outlet to have ideas that work or don't, and know without spending days, how it might sound, including the vocals. The ease of use has inspired me to start a soundtrack project, and a music video for a title track that will be realized in time I hope through a no-budget film shot on a cheap HD Aiptek, Samsung Impression, iPhone, and iPad. I have shot three nights so far last week, recovering from my first "stunts" gone awry, and generally feel really good. How can you now drop $5 for that? Fruity Loops and NanoStudio would be next, but to be honest, I want to limit myself to figuring out the sound I am going for with this project and not influence it. I also, as it turns out, cannot easily make due with a mere 16gb iPad.

    So, yeah, I do want those more deluxe features, more instruments in time as in-app purchases, more amp packs and filters, but for now, I am pretty darn stoked to have the hardware and the software working out the way I need it to at the moment. I had more than 30 solid FREE music apps on the iPhone within two days after I got it, and I imagine they will be used for sampling eventually, but for now, I am stuck on Garage Band, for good or bad. Even getting a buddy's MacBook fixed so we can work with these files on a bigger level later, as he wants an iPad and Garage Band now as well.

  • This shows real expertise. Thanks for the anwser.

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