The graphics package I once used to create diagrams for my books and occasional articles now only runs on a creaky old Power PC Mac I keep in the basement, so I took a leap of faith this month and bought a new drawing package from the Apple App store. After reading through all the user reviews, I settled on iDraw, which cost less than £18, yet does pretty much everything my old program used to do, even though it cost several hundred pounds.
That's progress, you may say, and I have to admit that in this instance I was well pleased to be able to create simple diagrams again, but there's an underlying worry here, in that the whole affordable App thing must surely be distorting the end-user's perspective of what software is actually worth. I've seen reviews in the App store where users have quibbled about having to pay £2.99 for an App that they thought should be only £1.99.
Of course, the real reason the developers can keep prices so low is that they can sell to a much wider 'consumer' market base, but the needs of a very specialised market area, such as high-end music recording, and the consumer marketplace are two very different things. A consumer user may be happy with a stripped down, easy-to-use music package, but we have got used to a whole other level of sophistication.
So far, we've been relatively unaffected, with all the serious DAW and plug-in packages looking pretty stable, but even some of these have made forays into 'AppLand', and if they find that 'lite' versions of their products bring in more money than their high-end software, can you really blame them if they divert their efforts into creating consumer products?
For the past two decades, audio recording has been hanging on to the shirt-tails of the computer hardware industry, disrupted on a regular basis by new connection protocols, changes to card slots, changes to operating systems and so on, but at least we've had serious software to run on them.
Taking the longer-term view, though, it seems that both software and hardware will continue to lean more in the 'consumer', direction, both in pricing and facilities. And while I applaud the fact that you can run a multitrack sequencer on an iPad, I'm also concerned that the day may soon come when all those companies previously putting their efforts into serious music software will, if the balance sheet dictates, switch their focus to low-cost, simplified Apps aimed at the mass market.
The same concerns apply to hardware: already Apple pay infinitely more attention to slimline laptops, music players and phones than they do to desktop computers, so it wouldn't surprise me if their accountants decided one day to pull the plug on their more 'serious' computers. We're always told that progress is a good thing, but at the rate it occurs in the consumer market, I can't help but feel a little nervous about the future prospects for the serious studio operator. After all, putting a multitrack recorder on an iPhone is one thing, but, as I'm sure I've pointed out before, when the recording system gets smaller than the XLR mic lead you need to plug into it, isn't it all getting just a bit silly?
Paul White Editor In Chief