The iPhone and iPod touch are getting more in the way of playable software instruments that could ease its transformation into a handheld idea-capturing gadget. lays claim to being the first full-featured soft synth on the platform, with unusual FM synthesis control – and I still like the fact that it isn’t anything like most soft synths on your PC. And of course there have been beat machines like the surprisingly capable Intua BeatMaker drum machine/suite. On mobile platforms, though, the more the merrier – especially given the bargain-basement prices. So I’m pleased to see the likes of and Beatmaker joined by two recent apps.

Released today, iSyn is a mini-suite of music apps released by online retailer and a known quantity in soft synth design — VirSyn, makers of Tera and Cube. I’m giving this a try now, but the feature list looks impressive:

  • Touchable drum pads, keyboard
  • Three-track sequencer: two virtual analog synth tracks, one drum track
  • Programmable virtual analog synths with tilt, X/Y pad for modulation control
  • Sample playback drum machines pre-loaded with 808, 909, synth drums, other retro kits

It’s a little vanilla compared to – though the more conventional UI may be welcome to some for the same reason. It’s apparently missing the ability to use your own drum sets as on the iDrum app (with the desktop app) and Beatmaker. But it nonetheless looks promising, even a little reminiscent of the Korg DS-10 for Nintendo DS in presenting a simple combination of 2 synths and 1 kit.

Oh, yeah — and it’s a quite-reasonable $4.99.

Full information, videos, forum and such at the app site:

A Strummable Virtual Guitarist

(Ocarina killer? Hmmm… Amidio / Smule smackdown, perhaps?)

In a different vein, Star Guitar, from the makers of, simulates a guitar in software, down to passable imitation of the sound and strumming patterns. Tap the chords you want, choose a style and timbre, and Star Guitar produces accompaniment that’s more than good enough to noodle with song ideas. It could be a huge boon to songwriters, especially with mic input for iPhone and second-gen iPod touch.

The sounds are similar to Steinberg’s Virtual Guitarist, but the developers at Amidio get the idea right: a virtual guitarist makes a lot more sense when it fits in your pocket and costs $3.99. Star Guitar is ideal for quickly sketching out an idea while laying on a hotel bed or working out a new chord progression on the bus. The strums are mechanical, to be sure, but realistic enough to get an idea flowing. A metronome means it can even become a practice tool. Not being a guitarist, I was surprised to find myself trying new ideas I might not have sitting at a piano. (But where’s the flat-13 button?)

Details on this and other apps:
Amidio [makers of Star Guitar,]

And that to me is ultimately the way in which these apps start to make sense. Transposed to a mobile device, the instruments take on a different meaning, and you use them in different ways.

The challenge is also on to me to provide these kinds of capabilities on other mobiles. The Google Android currently lacks real-time synthesis capabilities – something that otherwise should be perfectly workable, even without a floating-point unit onboard (as on the G1). As far as I know, the Palm Pre SDK lacks these capabilities, too. Windows Mobile has long been capable of such things, but the instability of that platform, middling handset quality, and other problems have prevented breakout synth hits. So while I really like the idea of something like Android, it’ll be interesting to see if it can deliver these kinds of features. (In fairness, the iPhone didn’t even have an SDK in its early months, so we’ll see.) I raise the point only because I think there is great potential to making music way, way out of the studio.

We’ll have some hands-on tests of these apps and a guide to actual music workflows on the iPod touch and iPhone. So here’s a question: how would you like us to cover these apps? (I’m thinking hands-on tips for actual production, rather than just some dry reviews or round-ups.) And if you could wish for any mobile music app, what would it be?