Propellerhead Reason, imagining a virtual rack of gear inside the computer, wouldn’t be successful if the instruments it contained were lacking in personality. Producers like this package partly because of the feeling of using something distinctive. Thor is one of the favorite instruments from that package. Now, it’s more mobile and a lot more touchable.

Thor already shows signs the Swedish developer has been learning from its past iOS outings. ReBirth, the techno studio-in-a-box that made the company famous, initially had a shaky launch on the iPhone. The tool, ported almost directly from desktop PCs, was cramped and uncomfortable to use with touch. That roundly-criticized iPhone version was recently discontinued. An iPad version, by contrast, was engineered around the touch interface. (It’s still available, and a lot of fun.) And Figure built a new UI entirely around touch and mobile use, with bright, simplified flat graphics.

Thor takes a page from each of these. It has the sound engine you know from desktop, and some familiar UI elements. But turning knobs and playing notes is now accomplished via all-new touch interfaces, providing extra visual feedback and greater accessibility (and less accidental use of your fingers).

So, you get Thor on the go, re-conceived around using fingers instead of mice. And whereas Figure frustrated some advanced users with its more basic, anyone-can-make-music approach, Thor is a serious tool. And it’s not just a port from the PC. (I recall that 1980s Apple developer evangelist Guy Kawasaki once declared a “port” was a “cheap wine,” referring to the practice of dumping software on a different OS without taking care with its unique design.)

You get features like:

  • MIDI input from apps and hardware.
  • Collapsible keyboard that snaps to a scale and key – a feature borrowed from Figure, and essential for using fingers on a touchpad.
  • Aftertouch and strumming. (Hmmm… I’m curious how they implement “aftertouch,” especially after the issues yesterday with touch APIs; I’ll find out.)
  • Desktop-to-mobile workflows, so you can make a patch in Reason and move it to your iPad, or the other way around. Preset programming on the bus!
  • Audiobus support.

There’s a lovely video, at top, that sees Propellerhead’s Stockholm home transformed into a synthesizer odyssey. Just hope your local barista doesn’t decide to institute a no synth policy. (Hey! Stop playing airy trance pads when you’re ordering your espresso!)

I hope this is a new direction for Propellerhead videos. It feels stylish and understated; the humor is nice, but I think customers now respond well to getting right at information and not feeling like there’s someone selling at them. Now, if you really do make synth sounds over coffee, seriously, I’d love to hear about it. (I’ve certainly seen it going on.)

Focusing on playability to me is a key. (Erm, so to speak.) So, too, is round-trip workflow with desktop – which gives Thor, for now, an edge on some other iPad synths. (I’m behind on mentioning one of the most innovative synths I’ve seen lately, Waldorf’s Nave. Blame traveling between Barcelona and Berlin and a sudden, surprise German heat wave. But we’ll be looking at that, and critically, they’re promising a plug-in version.)

All this emphasis on touch to me is also interesting. I’d love to see these same knob widgets and touch controls in Reason for desktop, where they’d be usable on the growing army of Windows ultrabooks with touch.

Look at it this way: it’s clear Propellerhead is not going to move every single instrument from Reason to the iPad. But a soft studio like this would be a natural when it comes to embracing desktop touch, too, and not only mobile. You could still do the fine-tune edit work with a mouse and keyboard, as you would normally, perhaps hooked up to studio monitors and the like. But if you wanted to simply focus on some sound design, or take a set on the go, or have a playable touch interface alongside a MIDI keyboard live onstage, converting a laptop to a tablet as models from Acer, Asus, Lenovo, and others now let you do could be fantastic. Propellerhead helped advocate the computer as this sort of platform; it’d be terrific to see them apply these lessons from iPad to the next generation of desktop software, too.

Thor is US$15.99 in the App Store, available now.