IK Multimedia this week is shipping both their SampleTank virtual instrument and iRig hardware MIDI interface for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. It’s not the first software instrument for iThings, but it is arguably the first appearance of a major, conventional computer soft synth in mobile form. MIDI interfaces, likewise, would require a comparison of some competing gear, but it’s the combination of the two in IK’s demo video that I think might give someone pause.

Music making tech has since the 1980s often involved some kind of computer. You might buy that computer in a piece of hardware that looks like a keyboard, or you might run software on a general-purpose computer. What has happened with Apple’s mobile devices is a third category. Observations:

1. Here’s a computer that’s a lot easier to fit on your music stand than a laptop is.
2. Here’s a demo that’s stunningly unchanged from what you might have done 20 years ago. (You’re even using the same hard-wired interface you were using 20+ years ago.)
3. This same instrument is more flexible and more powerful – though more challenging and time-consuming in setup – on a conventional computer. Of course, you may own both.

IK’s offerings:
SampleTank for iPhone / iPod touch
iRig MIDI interface, with Core MIDI compatibility for maximal application compatibility (including, incidentally, a recent update to Bjørk’s apps – more on that soon)

Side notes:

As for point 3, yes, a number of iOS developers are working now on routing MIDI between applications. It’s an interesting idea, but you have greater horsepower to run multiple applications simultaneously on, say, a MacBook Air than on an iPad 2, and I’m concerned that the mechanism for inter-app communication on iOS is not officially sanctioned by Apple. (I think those developers may be hoping that a critical mass of applications will protect them in the future, and there, they may be right.)

Another reality: all the fundamental technologies on which Apple are building, particularly the embedded platforms, are readily available. Challenging Apple in the consumer space is a massive challenge, as illustrated by the spectacular failure of some very awful – and some fairly nice – tablet entries in the last year or so. But building upon the same low-heat, low-power, low-cost, small-size boards could be something we see others do. (That’s a topic for another post, but worth considering while marveling at how much more convenient the form factor here is relative to a big, hinged laptop.)

It’s an interesting time – perhaps. The software isn’t really anything new. But convenience an make a small thing a big deal.