Just wait a while, okay? Photo courtesy Apple.

Just wait a while, okay? Photo courtesy Apple.

We’ve been waiting for the moment at which a post-PC, mobile operating system has equaled a desktop OS for serious music making. Well, that moment has arrived —

— in that we get to release a dire warning about an OS update breaking music-making apps. Yes, now iOS 7 shares that dubious distinction of countless OS X and Windows upgrades over the years. (Sniff. They grow up so fast.)

It’s not a coincidence. Once you do start using a variety of music apps on a platform, you need to be more careful about OS updates – any OS updates. Music apps make use of a variety of low-level audio performance and networking functions that makes them unusually vulnerable to OS changes.

And with iOS 7, that means some apps will encounter problems with audio and functionality. (“Some” is a key word. You might find your apps are just fine. Then again, if 100% of your apps are working on iOS 6… you see why you might use caution.)

For many users, this may also simply mean updating the phone to iOS 7 and keeping the critical iPad on iOS 6. That also means the iPhone or iPod touch can be used to verify compatibility.

Issues we’ve been able to verify at least in some cases include:

  • Audio performance issues and glitches. (These are hard to track down, but it’s safe to say that for now it may be worth delaying, pending app updates or even a point-release OS update from Apple.)
  • Issues with inter-app audio, maybe. At the moment, Audiobus’ developers suggest users stick with iOS 6 (this even as they’ve worked on a number of iOS 7-specific resolutions). Details below. Note that Audiobus is considered itself compatible with iOS 7, and many apps may work just fine. But because of the number of apps out there, and some isolated but significant issues, you may find your selection of apps works better on iOS 6 than iOS 7. JACK for iOS also has not yet verified support.
  • Other specific bugs. Some apps that haven’t yet supported the latest AudioCopy SDK may need to be updated, and there may be other app-specific bugs as developers test the new OS. That means you may want to double-check that your favorite apps explicitly say “iOS 7 compatible.”

Cause for delay, not cause for alarm. Oh, we’ve been here before, you know, every year since operating system time immemorial. (Guess that’s some time in 1969, technically?) Here’s how it works: these are subtle issues that are likely to be resolved, if you wait. But waiting is smart, because it’s better to hold out on new OS features but keep audio applications running smoothly.

As a side note, it’s also worth considering the inter-app audio story on iOS 7:

You’ll recall that at WWDC 2012, we saw a slide that mentioned “inter-app audio.” That feature didn’t ship in iOS 6, and instead the powerful Audiobus took its place. (Later, so did the broader-reaching, if less widely-adopted, JACK.) These tools allow you to, for instance, process a synthesizer app with an effect app or record them into a DAW app. Even Apple’s own GarageBand supports Audiobus.

Then, in WWDC this year, inter-app audio reappeared. It’s shipping in iOS 7, and because iOS 7 is out today, there’s no longer an NDA. What I can tell you is that Apple’s inter-app audio implementation hasn’t been adopted by many major music making apps yet. Edit: again, “yet” is a key word. Someone in comments points to Yamaha’s TNR-i app, for starters. And it does less than what Audiobus and JACK do, meaning it isn’t yet a replacement for those tools.

Clarification: I should specify exactly what I mean by that, as I do think having built-in inter-app audio is a really good thing. Audiobus’ client app adds functionality that goes beyond just having a framework. It allows users to find other apps that support Audiobus, it provides a graphical interface for simple routing, and facilities for quick-and-easy recording and so on. JACK goes beyond either of these tools by providing sophisticated, modular-style point-to-point routings and network and MIDI synchronization features. Hopefully, in the long run, all three standards will interoperate. For now, because apps need to support the new iOS 7 stuff, it’s just too early for musicians to take advantage of inter-app audio – it’s more of interest to developers than end users. And it remains unproven in real-world performance, which leads to the same conclusion.

I can’t yet report whether the audio glitches app creators are encountering are related to inter-app audio or something else altogether, so it’s too soon to associate these two developments. However, in addition to recommending users stick with iOS 6 for now, it’s also worth saying that for the foreseeable future, JACK and Audiobus will continue to be the preferred inter-app audio solutions on the platform.

And Audiobus have gone as far as to encourage users to stick with iOS 6 to avoid compatibility issues with apps – even beyond Audiobus itself:

We’re on the cusp of iOS 7, and we’re here to urge caution: If you rely on music apps, please don’t update yet.

iOS 7 audio is not ready. There are a wide variety of bugs that are causing performance problems, crashes and other problems in a large number of music apps.

This may change in the future, but until we see a few point releases for the OS, we strongly urge you to stick with iOS 6.

That sounds like good advice to us. Those new icons can wait.

Better news for late adopters. In better news for end users, I think, you can now download older versions of an app when a new version requires an OS later than the one you have. So if an app requires iOS 6 but your device is on iOS 5 (or stuck there), you can still use it. For musicians trying to make use of stable handhelds and tablets, this seems positive.

As reported on Synthtopia:
Apple’s App Store Now Lets You Download ‘Last Compatible Version’ Of Apps For Older Devices

Not all developers are happy, though. Here’s a blog entry from one who is disturbed Apple didn’t include devs in the discussion:

Ghost from the Past [Kyle Richter]