Well, if you’ve been waiting to dive into the world of the iPad – or you’re stuck with a machine that’s too old and slow to run the latest software – Apple pretty much has your answer.
At US$329 and with 32GB of storage, the new 9.7″ iPad is a nice sweet spot. The A9 processor is more than capable enough for most audio production tasks. It’s got a big-enough Retina display. And that storage will be enough for running synths and other apps. And the pricing is aggressive enough that you might as well go ahead and buy new.
Who would want to upgrade? For sure, anyone with an iPad, iPad 2, or really anything before the iPad Air 2 might want to consider this.
These days, I find the iPad is a fairly indispensable tool around the studio. It’s about the most versatile imaginable controller – I routinely use it to control custom synth and visual creations (with Lemur) and to manipulate Ableton Live and Traktor (with touchAble and LK. It’s also a go-to MIDI controller and sequencer (Modstep), and drum machine (Elastic Drums). And then I use it for a handful of favorite soft synths – though amidst many synths, two instruments I can’t be without are the lovely Samplr and Borderlands Granular.
I call these out because, literally, if I lost my iPad today, I’d go out and buy the $329 model just to be able to run them. So, whatever the discussions of platforms or whether tablets will replace laptops, it turns out to be an affordable device from which to run some essential tools. Now, I guess one of these days, I might even try to use this thing as a DAW or something, but … for now, it’s really about those tools, which you treat almost as dedicated hardware when they’re running. (I even sometimes reach for the iPad instead of something like Push, depending on what I’m doing in Live and the like.)
So, who isn’t the $329 model for?
If you are DJing or VJing, you’ll want more storage. The new $399 iPad mini 4 is the cheapest way to get that, with 128GB. So if I were DJing, for instance, I might opt for that and external hardware – and that’s still easier to fit into a booth than a laptop.
The iPad mini display I think is just slightly too small, though, and the 9.7″ is still light and portable – roughly the same as an iPad Air 2. So for $429, you can get a 128GB model.
Apple has mercifully eliminated the useless 16GB options.
The 9.7″ iPad Pro remains appealing if you absolutely want to max out processing power and you make use of the stylus. Apple Pencil is a gorgeous piece of hardware, and it works with your Mac or PC as an accessory, too. I’m a terrible illustrator, and even I appreciate it.
Plus if you’re really serious about using the iPad onstage, or doing production work on it, the full-size 12.9″ iPad Pro truly does make a difference. I’ve had some chance to compare, as working alongside iOS developers means we always have the apps side by side.
Those models are expensive, though, and represent niche markets. The new 9.7″ iPad equalizes the market.
Whatever complaints musicians may have about Apple’s desktop offerings, the iPad still dominates. Microsoft and partners are coming up with some compelling tablet/PC hybrids, but without the apps, it’s still about the iPad. And at $329, I imagine this machine can complement pretty much any other rig you own, from Eurorack to tower PC.
Apple is so dominant, in fact, that it’s cause for worry – this market could use competition, it makes developers dependent on OS updates, and it’s still tough for developers to make money on the platform given low app costs. But for now, for users, you just can’t argue with the value proposition.
We’ll keep looking at what mobile means for music, and how to make the most of the apps that are there. Now… I suddenly have an itch to go make some groove with Elastic Drums for a while.