Before the iPad, before the iPhone, and indeed before the masses understood touch interfaces would be a big deal, there was the Lemur. Dazzling people with high-contrast, colorful controls, this boutique hardware, priced well over €2000 and running embedded Linux and custom resistive touch technology, brought the future a bit early to a handful of musicians. Star Trek was what you heard most frequently – sweeping your fingers over black glass was nothing if not reminiscent of Geordi LaForge helming the Enterprise. (By the way, talk about prior art: those conceptual designers on The Next Generation, working initially with all-optical effects, were also well ahead of their time.)
Now, at last, Lemur arrives on the iPad, released by a leading iOS developer, Liine. Swept away by Apple’s more-affordable hardware, with the iPad offering a higher-resolution display, slimmer form factor, accurate touch sensing, and wireless capability, the Lemur hardware suddenly looked dated. With iPad software, it’s available to the masses.
The first question, of course: will anyone care – and will the Lemur software compete, with various other touch alternatives? At US$49.99 / €39.99 / £
29.99 34.99, the Lemur app is far cheaper than a Lemur, but spendier than a lot of other touch software. [Ed.: An early press release incorrectly listed the UK pricing as £29.99. It’s actually £34.99. Just don’t ask us for currency conversions. -PK]
I’ve gotten to see the Lemur in action, and actually was walked through some interactive template ideas. (Unfortunately, I was unable to talk about that, and could only tease what I knew – I got to see more than I could talk about via folks working with Liine and M-nus Records’ stable of artists – Richie Hawtin and Ambivalent, in particular – and was really impressed.)
Just like other apps, the Lemur app will let you control any MIDI or OSC application on your computer from your iPad. But the Lemur brings a few strengths that I think will make it a contender in the iPad age:
Innovative controls: The Lemur’s array of controls is, simply, the largest and most comprehensive anywhere. And for those who want to push beyond just fake faders and knobs, it has an array of more unusual controls, with features like:
Physics: Simulated physics and dynamic movement were, to me, one of those most interesting features of the original Lemur. Whereas I’d almost always choose a physical fader or encoder over a touch equivalent, adding physics to touch allows the controller to play to its strengths.
Scripting on Lemur means you get dynamic templates that actually take advantage of the touchscreen. (Think back to Star Trek: mimicking that would require scripts. They use pages and interactive feedback all over the place.)
A mature editor: Now, here, I’m of a mixed mind. I still want a touch app that lets you edit right on the device – guess I’d better go make the one I want. But if you’re going to be editing templates on your Mac or PC, then the Windows/Mac Lemur editor is now tough to beat in sheer power. I was critical of early versions when I first reviewed the Lemur hardware, but it has evolved and matured since.
An installed User Library: This could well be the thing that puts Lemur for iPad over the top – and make no mistake, it’s the biggest obstacle to any newcomer in touch. The Lemur simply has a whole bunch of templates, ready to go, many of them really sophisticated.
The competition: I imagine TouchOSC will continue to dominate the market for touch apps, though interestingly, for many of the same reasons. It has an installed user base and templates, it has a graphical editor that runs on Mac and Windows that people find reasonably easy to use, good documentation and community, and it covers a lot of needs. TouchOSC’s low price also ensures it has nothing to worry about from Lemur, but the Lemur app will appeal to people with more advanced needs, and I think it’ll be a big hit.
Also unique about the iPad: because US$50 is considered “expensive,” it’s really not a zero sum game. You could buy all of the major touch apps for your iPad, assuming you own one, and still be short of the cost of one plastic keyboard.
As for Android? Look, technically, I’m sure you could port Lemur to Android. The fact that they’re not launching with Android support is no surprise – but the problems with Google’s installed base and market and their inability to get OS updates out on devices is a subject for another post. (Preferably one that involves me writing surrounded by candles in a warm salt bath so my blood pressure doesn’t explode.)
Video: How use Lemur + WiFi
Video: How to use OSC and Lemur
Video: How to use Lemur with USB MIDI
– Connect the USB Cable to the iConnect MIDI or similar device.
– Open a factory template in the Lemur.
– Open the settings tab and assign the MIDI Ports
Postlude: What about Existing Lemur Users
Since it’s a matter of some confusion, I asked Liine to clarify their relationship with JazzMutant (now Stantum), the developer of Lemur, and why existing Lemur owners should spend some cash to upgrade. There’s a half-off deal through the beginning of January if you owned the Lemur hardware, but some Lemur owners understandably feel a bit left out, having invested massive amounts of time and money in the now-abandoned hardware platform. On the other hand, even $50 seems to me not unreasonable for updating to the new software, even if a free release for Lemur early adopters may have been nice. I have yet to test it myself, but I imagine I would have no problem recommending the Lemur app to anyone who owns a Lemur and an iPad, certainly if they’ve nailed the software release.
CDM: What is the relationship of Liine to JazzMutant/Stantum?
Liine: Members of Liine have a historic relationship with JazzMutant/Stantum. Richie Hawtin and Gareth Williams were very early adopters of the Lemur and have worked closely with them for years. Nick and Gareth also worked alongside Max guru Mathieu Chamagne on the Mu Ableton Live controller for the Lemur. Axel is the former lead developer at JazzMutant who were are very proud to have on board with us for this venture.
In short, Liine is a young independent company, not affiliated with JazzMutant/Stantum, but with a friendship and working relationship going back many years. We are very proud to be contributing to the future of such a revolutionary controller.
CDM: Why not give Lemur for iPad to existing owners for free?
Liine: It costs time, money and resources for Liine to move Lemur to a new platform and relaunch it. In addition, distributing any product always involves costs. Offering a full rebate of the app price is simply non-viable, we would lose money. The initial release of Lemur on iPad is only the first chapter in this second life of the Lemur. Liine is taking JazzMutant’s code and concept into the future, you are going to see a lot of exciting developments (in-app editing, new objects, streamlined workflows…). This will, of course, continue to cost Liine time and money – the small contribution from legacy owners will help ensure the future of their investment in the original machine. Their early support allowed for many updates of the original software. For this, Liine are hugely appreciative as it means that the product we’re able to bring you is the most mature and powerful solution out there. This is why we want to thank those owners by offering them a 50% rebate. We very much appreciate your support.