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Future Gazing

Published January 2011
By Paul White

We recently celebrated 25 years of Sound On Sound, so when I visited the recent Audio Engineering Show show afterwards, I looked around for clues as to what might happen over the next quarter of a century. One thing that's certain is that iPhone Apps, which were once viewed as little more than toys, are being taken much more seriously by the professional industry now that the iPad (and its Android counterpart) has become available. The iPad was initially regarded by many of us as having limited promise for music and audio, but has been seized upon by audio software designers to fill a variety of roles, some of them quite unexpected. Already we're seeing touch‑sensitive DAW controller Apps, wireless second screens for laptops, and basic multitrack recorders, as well as remote mixer control for some high‑end, digital live-sound consoles, but I think we can expect to see a lot more soon.

Bespoke technology is always expensive, so whenever a professional tool can be created by writing software to run on what is essentially a consumer device, there are huge financial savings to be made. We saw this first when the humble audio cassette was used as the basis of the first four‑track Portastudios, and again when the home computer gained MIDI sequencing software. And who could forget the ADAT eight‑track digital recorder, which was based on a domestic VHS transport? We use our computers to record music, to create and shape sounds and to burn CDs and DVDs, rather than relying on expensive stand‑alone disc writers, so the rapid integration of the iPad into mainstream audio shouldn't come as a surprise. What is surprising is that Apple weren't first out of the starting gate with a Logic Control App, as that would have been a guaranteed way to sell more iPads.

Naturally, there are always casualties of technical progress; you only have to see the effect software plug‑ins had on the hardware outboard market. The hardware sampler market was virtually wiped out in a very short space of time and the iPad could have a similar impact on people who thought they were safe making control peripherals for DAW systems. However, such devices enable the more adventurous software designers to experiment with new methods of control, as they no longer need expensive custom hardware platforms to test their ideas.

If we try to look further ahead, some pundits have floated the idea of all computers being located in some remote area of hyperspace with the home user having only a terminal, but I'm not sure that the latency issues of such a system can be resolved. That's why we'll never have true 'real‑time' collaborative recording where a band can play live with all the players located on different continents, because even if we do invent zero‑latency computing, we still have the speed of light to consider, and that imposes a 1ms delay for every 186 miles of cable or optical fibre between nodes. Personally, I'd settle for an iPad that I can read in daylight or an 'App plus hardware' setup that lets me mix pub gigs from the bar without running a multicore. The rest of the future can wait its turn!

Paul White

Editor In Chief  

Published January 2011