With their iPad version of Logic Pro, have Apple succeeded in implementing a touch‑first user interface without sacrificing pro features?
Large parts of Logic’s underlying audio engine have been running on iPads since 2011, when an iOS version of GarageBand was introduced. And what Apple so deftly demonstrated with GarageBand was how to create a user interface tailored to the delicate, yet imprecise, caresses of our fingers. Rather than simply port the Mac version of GarageBand, Apple reimagined it, creating an app that was both recognisably GarageBand yet clearly defined for the iPad.
Now Logic Pro itself has made the move; and to succeed, it too needs to have a reason to exist on the iPad, embracing the interaction models unique to this device, such as touch‑first and Pencil‑based input. Logic Pro For iPad can’t simply be an imitation. It must be a reinvention that retains the essence of what makes the application attractive for musicians. Is it?
The Logic Pro experience on the iPad starts with the Project Browser, which is based on the standard iPadOS Document Browser and allows you to create new Projects and manage existing ones. These can be stored on your iPad, iCloud (or other cloud‑based storage), or a server, making it possible to access any Macs that might be attached to your local network. A collection of interactive lessons explains topics such as recording vocals or software instruments, the Step Sequencer, and so on, complementing the well‑written and usefully organised online help that runs to 959 pages in PDF form.
New Projects can be based around the typical Tracks area or a Live Loops grid, and the New Project Setting allows you to define an initial tempo, time signature, key signature and sample rate. The iPad’s internal clock supports 44.1, 48, 88.2 and 96 kHz, with 48kHz being the sensible default.
Track types have been tidied into four categories: MIDI, Audio, Pattern and Drummer. Support for hardware MIDI instruments is included courtesy of the External Instrument plug‑in, and MIDI tracks can trigger either this plug‑in or a software instrument.
If you’d prefer a new track to be based on a pre‑existing sound, you can tap the Browser button. This opens a new view consolidating the traditional Library and Loop Browser views from the Mac version into a single catalogue of instrument and audio patches, Apple Loops, samples, presets, and patterns, with handy shortcuts for accessing recently used items or downloading additional Sound Library content. With so much content on offer — around 15GB — a new filter view offers advanced options making it easy to find exactly what you’re looking for, and the way in which Presets are managed alongside Audio and Instrument Patches is also rather helpful. Presets store the state of the controls within a single plug‑in, whereas Instrument and Audio Patches encapsulate the configuration of plug‑ins and routing within an Instrument or Audio track.
Usable in either landscape or portrait orientations, Logic Pro For iPad’s interface is divided into several distinct areas, beginning with the Control Bar running along the top of the interface. This can be customised to show various transport‑related controls, displays and modes, whilst also providing access to settings or the Project Browser.
The main part of the interface shows either the Tracks area or the Live Loops grid, and along the bottom is the View Control Bar, enabling you to toggle the appearance of other views within the interface. These include the Browser or the Inspector, which can be displayed on the left, alongside a tall, thin Fader view, giving you a channel strip‑like control for the currently selected track, as on the Mac version of Logic Pro.
Three buttons in the centre of the View Control Bar set what interface categories to show in the lower part of the display: the Plug‑ins area, Mixer, or the Editor, which shows either the Audio, Piano Roll, Drummer Editors, or the Step Sequencer, depending on the type of Region selected in the Tracks area. These views can be stacked simultaneously if your iPad’s display has sufficient pixel coverage.
A final button to the right of the View Control Bar affords access to the many Play Surfaces. These are on‑screen control surfaces that appear below the View Control Bar, making it possible to play and record parts just like you might with a hardware MIDI controller. As well as a piano‑style keyboard with optional modulation and pitch‑bend wheels, there are also Drum Pad, Fretboard, Chord Strips and Guitar Strips Play Surfaces, all of which are easily configurable, with some being reminiscent of GarageBand’s Smart Instruments. A nice touch with the Keyboard and Drum Pad surfaces is their ability to dynamically reveal additional rows of keys or pads as you increase the vertical allowance.
Play Surfaces won’t replace the need for hardware controllers — and it perhaps goes without saying that any USB class‑compliant MIDI device can be used with Logic Pro — but they can be useful in situations where convenience might not permit the presence of a separate physical device.
The idea of tools has been carried over from the Mac version of Logic Pro to the iPad in the guise of so‑called functions. Where tools dictate the role of the mouse click, functions inform the purpose of a finger tap.
The Tracks area’s menu bar contains several function buttons, specifying what happens when the handles of one or more selected Regions are adjusted. With the default Trim function, you can adjust the start and end points of Regions; but if you want to loop a Region or stretch its contents, the Loop or Stretch functions can be used instead. And if you’d rather make some of these adjustments numerically without using the different functions, you can always access a Region’s parameters in the Inspector.
If you select a Region with the Split function, a pair of scissors appears in the upper part of the Region that can be dragged horizontally to set the split point, or vertically downwards to perform the division. If you tap and hold the scissors on a Region, the Tracks area will zoom in horizontally (springing back again when you release your finger), which seems like a great way to perform finer edits. However, if the Snap value is set to, say, a quarter‑note resolution, this setting persists even during the brief moment of zoom.
In addition to using the Split function on individual Regions, it’s also possible to split many selected Regions simultaneously based on the location of the playhead. Simply select the desired Regions and then tap one of them to bring up the shortcut menu, which offers easy access to several context‑specific commands. In this case, tap Split, followed by Split by Playhead. Again, this is pretty much identical in concept to how you might work in Logic Pro on the Mac, except that you’d right‑click to open the shortcut menu instead.
Complementing the function buttons are two modifier buttons to assist with selecting multiple objects...