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A Touching Display

I wrote the last leader column just before setting off for the Winter NAMM show in California, and now find myself writing this one just a few days after having returned. I had thought that there would be a rise in the number of iPad applications shown, but I hadn't really expected the things to have infiltrated the music industry to the extent that they clearly have done. Despite the fact that Apple no longer consider music shows to be worthwhile showcases for their products, iPads seemed to be everywhere. Of course, I expected to see new music‑related Apps, and these deserve to be popular because they invariably cost a fraction of the price you'd expect to pay for a similar product running on a laptop or desktop computer system. What I didn't expect was the sheer number of hardware products on show that are designed to take advantage of the iPad. There were serious audio interfaces designed as iPad docks; an iPad‑docking keyboard that turns it into a customisable musical instrument; numerous DJ devices; and I even heard of an iPad with a neck attached that could be played like a guitar by strumming the screen! You can read about some of these developments in our show news or check out our show videos, but the real question is, 'How might this development change the way we make music in the future?'

It's easy to dismiss iPhone and iPad Apps as somehow being second class, but then I recall that we thought much the same when people started to run music software on laptop computers. The reality is that even with their more modest processing capability and limited‑capacity solid‑state drives, the iPad rivals the desktop and laptop computers of just a few years ago in terms of capability and it also has the advantage of a touchscreen, which in turn makes it possible to create some very intuitive user interfaces. Nobody can be in any doubt that iPads will become more powerful and their solid‑state drives will become larger, in accordance with Moore's law, so even if they look a touch restricted now, I'm sure that situation won't prevail for long.

Personally, I still like working with large screens and a physical QWERTY keyboard, but maybe tomorrow's musicians, brought up on touchscreen devices, will view today's mouse users in much the same way as the current generation views those old‑school engineers who keep banging on about knobs and faders and not being able to deal with mixing with a mouse.

However, I think there's something more important emerging from the success of the iPad and iPhone, and that is that software developers are having to hone their skills to squeeze the maximum performance from programs designed to run on these less‑powerful platforms. Maybe if they applied their new‑found skills to developing mainstream computer software, we'd have leaner, meaner software rather than the all‑too‑common bloatware, which always seems to gobble up any increase in computer performance almost as soon as we buy a new machine.

Paul White Editor In Chief