Which iPad?

A lot of folks have been asking me about which iPad they should get. The answer is that it depends. Only you can decide whether the extra expense of a data plan is worth it to you, so I can’t help much with that part.

As for whether to get the New iPad or the iPad 2, I have the original iPad and the New iPad. Everything they say about the new screen is true, but  in most real life situations I don’t find that it makes all that much difference unless you’re a major pixel peeper. (Yes, I know lots of people disagree–I guess it depends on how you use it.) For music reading in particular, the only major advantage to the newer model is that the angle of view is much better–you can see what’s the screen more easily when it’s not dead on straight to you than you can with the original iPad, and it does get brighter, too. But for reading PDF sheet music, I can’t really say I see a lot of difference in the way things look on the better screen. I’ve read several articles saying that text is amazingly, hugely better, but I just don’t see that, honestly. Yes, there’s a difference, but it’s not as enormous a difference as the hype machine would have you believe.

I do find the color rendering is sometimes a bit peculiar with the new super screen, which can be over saturated and unrealistic looking at times. Night scenes in video are particularly noticeable–the highest budget film can look like the lighting budget was in the hundreds of dollars sometimes. I guess you could argue that it’s actually more realistic, since it looks like people acting under artificial lighting, which is just what it is, but it’s not always exactly pleasing.

It’s true that it gets a bit warm, but if you have a case this is pretty much of a non-issue. It seems like the battery life is less than on the older model, but in real life it’s pretty close.

I ran a test, running movies continuously at maximum brightness with the sound, push notifications, and bluetooth all turned off. I started at 10:17 AM, and the New iPad went to sleep at 6:05 pm and the iPad 1 at 6:22–pretty close considering how much more screen the new one is driving. Of course, it takes a lot longer to fully recharge the New iPad, not surprising considering the size of the battery.

So if you’re a musician, which one do I recommend? I think your best bang for the buck right now is to get a new iPad 2. Apple cut the price on this model so it would be a real bargain anyway, and there are several reports that it has hugely improved battery life in the current iteration. With a starting price of $399, you really can’t go wrong.

AutoPainter Express

If you’re interested in making your photos look like paintings, of course the long-time standard for doing this is Corel Painter, and that’s still the best way to create something that really looks painted. However, it also requires some artistic ability and a high level of skill and has quite a learning curve.

For those who prefer to let the computer do the work, by far the best solution I’ve found is Dynamic Auto Painter from MediaChance. Unfortunately, it’s only available for Windows, which has been a big disappointment to lots of Mac folks.

However, there’s good news: They’ve just come out with a sort of a kind of a version for Mac, called AutoPainter Express, as well as a version of Express for iPhone/iPod. (There’s an iPad version on the way, but it’s not out yet.)

I’m so happy to finally see a Mac version of this program, but unfortunately this one has a long way to go to get to the level of the Windows version. In Windows you have many options for customizing and controlling the result, while the Mac version is limited to four presets. You choose one, and the only other choice you have is to stop it before it’s finished, if you like your painting where it’s at right now and don’t want more work done on it. It’s not a very Mac-like application, either. For example, closing the window closes the program, just like in Windows, and there’s no way to close an image without saving it except by quitting out of the whole thing.

Still, it’s a nice start. Here are examples of what each preset came up with for this photo from a previous entry:

original photo of happyowl clutch

Using the Aquarell preset, described as “Running colors, water droplets, traces and scratches, it’s all there”:

aquarell painting of clutch
Click for larger version.

With the Benson preset, described as “a sunny palette with Mediterranean tones”:

clutch painted with benson preset
Click for larger image.

With the Cezanne preset, described as “warm reds and yellows with quick brush layers and chalk”:

clutch painted with Cezanne preset
Click for larger image.

And finally with the Van Gogh preset, “inspired by the Starry Night painting”:

clutch painted with the Van Gogh preset
Click for larger image.

There’s really quite a lot of detail in the full resolution images afterwards (WordPress won’t accept files that large), and it runs pretty quickly, even on my old C2D iMac.

Are any of these going to deceive people into thinking that you’re a brilliant painter? No, of course not, but they’re handy for created a quick illustrated look. The results vary a lot, depending on the  source image, but with fussier, more detailed images you’ll often get better results if you run the photo through something like Topaz Simplify first.

While it’s a little disappointing that this app is so basic compared to the Windows version, hopefully this is just the beginning and it won’t be long before there’s parity between the two.

Available in the Mac App Store for $7.99.

Photoshop for iPad?

Well, well, who’d  have thunk it? If you’ve tried Adobe’s Photoshop Express for iPad, you know that it’s not bad, but also not a shining star among the many apps available for gussying up your photos, and not much like either Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.

But according to Photography Bay, Adobe just demoed a new app that’s a kind of Photoshop for iPad with layers and all. You can read more about it and watch a demo here.

Very interesting idea, but I have to wonder how they’ll work around two big problems with this kind of stuff: the white points for iPads are all over the place and there’s currently no way to calibrate one, and it’s hard to be ultra-precise for things like masking when using your finger (or a capacitive stylus). Still, I bet it would be really interesting for quickly editing an image to upload out in the field.

If you currently use PS or PSE and you find masking to be a difficult concept, it’s worth watching the video just to see their animated layers example. Very clear visual of how masking works. (Incidentally, the demo is Flash so you can’t watch it on your iPad.)

iOS 4.3 Update

Apple released the iOS 4.3 update today for iPads, iPods, iPhones, so what difference does it make?

On the plus side, web browsing with Safari is much faster. The YouTube app finally behaves correctly (all during 4.2 it was way slower  on the iPad than watching the same videos on my iMac). And for those who were annoyed by the change in the iPad side button from a rotation lock to a Mute button, now you can choose which you want.

On the minus side, still the “too much power” error when using the camera connection kit with peripherals like my Blue Yeti microphone.

(There are also beacoup new features for streaming and such, but these are the ones that affect me the most. There are several online lists of all the new stuff, like this one from Mashable.)

iPad 2–Wow!

Everyone has known for a while that a new iPad was due and that it would likely be announced today, but those who don’t follow tech may not now that recent rumors were promoting the idea that this would be a kind of stopgap release, with the “real” new iPad coming next fall.

ipad 2

Apple’s event today puts that to rest. While not totally revolutionary, this is a very solid update. The iPad 2 is 33% thinner than the previous one, lighter (a bit), has a much improved processor (Dual core A5), front and rear facing cameras (including video),  a gyro, choice of black or white, and some very interesting new apps, as well as a strangely fascinating cover (purchase separately).

For musicians, the most interesting thing is the new Garageband for iPad, which lets you create tracks with built-in electronic instruments or record your own instrument. This is major, because while recording with the iPad was great prior to the iOS 4 update last fall, apple evidently dropped the amount of power available to the dock connector (where you could use the camera kit to attach a USB microphone) and it got very complicated to do this. Now it looks like it’s going to be super easy.

Available March 11. More details here:


EDIT: Forgot to mention HDMI output so that you can mirror the iPad screen for presentations and such. Very big news for educators and presenters. (The old ipad could only output certain apps, never the whole ipad itself.)

Part 7: Hands-free Page Turns

Although the iPad is really, really handy to have, turning pages while you play can be seriously annoying. Since the iPad only shows one page at a time, you have twice as many turns as you do with printed music and it takes some heavy-duty practice to get good this, especially if you’re a harpist and so can only use your left hand for page turns.

The AirTurn BT-105

I was a bit ambivalent about the whole thing until AirTurn came out with their BT-105 unit, which provides a Bluetooth foot pedal for turning pages. The actual BT-105 is just a tad larger than your car remote, and you can hook up one pedal or two (one for forward, one for back).

airturn BT-105 with pedals
The AirTurn BT-105 with two pedals (image courtesy AirTurn)

This makes all the difference in the world, let me tell you. You just tap the pedal to turn the page–no need to take your hands off the strings at all. They sell their own pedals (foot switches), which are very low profile and available in either black or clear. I have one of each, since I thought the clear one might be less obvious on a job but was worried that it might scratch more. I have to say that the black pedal isn’t really any more obtrusive, and so far neither has scratched, even on my sandy beach house floor.

They also sell a much more bulky pedal made by BOSS, which they say is better for surfaces like spongy carpet and grass, but I can’t say I have any trouble with the slimmer pedal on either. The only downsides are that the pedal can be a tad clickety on uneven tile sometimes, and the iPad sees the AirTurn as an external Bluetooth keyboard, so you can’t use the onscreen keyboard till you turn off the AirTurn or disable Bluetooth. Also, it only works with apps whose developers have taken steps to ensure that it does. So while it’s dandy with forScore, the Musicnotes app doesn’t even know it’s there, and you can’t use it to avoid touching your iPad with messy fingers while using your cookbook app  either. There’s a list of compatible apps on the AirTurn website.

Although I have two pedals, I find that I mostly just use the one for forward turns and use in-score links for Da Capos and repeats rather than the back-turning pedal. If you’re a lever harpist the AirTurn is a complete no-brainer, but it’s considerably trickier if you play pedal harp. First of all, it’s hard to find a really good spot for it with all those pedals down there already, and it’s a good long reach to get to it, no matter where you put it. Personally, I find it extremely distracting when playing a complicated pedal piece I’ve known for years, but fine for things where my feet aren’t already completely set on what to do.

Battery life is excellent. You can forget and leave it on for a couple of days and it still works. Airturn says 100 hours of standby time, but I’ve never really  measured it. It’s a lot, anyway. The downside is that it only charges via USB. They suggest that a cellphone charger may fit the mini-USB port on the BT-105, but they must have different devices than I do. I couldn’t find a single mini-USB cable that fit exactly right. Still, the fact that the charge lasts so long means it’s not as much of an issue as it might otherwise be.

If you’re going to use an iPad for music, you want one of these, no question. And that’s the only other problem: they can’t make them fast enough to keep up with demand, so you may have to wait a while after placing your order before it arrives. The BT-105 by itself is $79. Pedals are $30 each, available from their website.

Previous posts in this series:

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6

Part 6: iPad Cases for the Gig

Now that you’ve got your iPad and your apps, you’ll definitely want a case to protect it while it’s on your stand. It’s a long way down if it should fall, and it’s a lot easier to handle the iPad when it’s in a case. There are literally thousands and thousands of cases/bags/skins/wraps, at just about any price point you want. A site like iLounge is a good place to get an idea of what all is out there. These are the two cases I have (a well-dressed iPad usually has a wardrobe, not just a single case), but you may well find something else that works better for you.

Previous posts in this series:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Apple iPad Case

Nobody loves this case ($39), but a whole lot of people use it. I’ve looked at lots of other cases, and while I totally understand and agree with the unenthusiasm it creates, I wound up going back to it for use in the house.

apple iPad Case
The Apple Case. Not a thing of beauty, but it works

Let’s start with the bad. The first thing that strikes most people about this case is that it feels pretty darned cheap for something from Apple. It’s true–it’s not at all the kind of quality I’d expect from them. The corners are sharp, which makes it kind of uncomfortable to hand hold until you figure out the technique. And the microfiberish surface attracts all sorts of gunk.

On the other hand, it’s definitely the slimmest case that includes a screen cover. It’s very lightweight and adds almost nothing to the thickness of the iPad (although it does make it taller and wider). It’s pretty easy to wipe the cover clean, too. So if you need to put the iPad on a stand along with printed music books or if you want to throw the iPad into your regular gig bag, this is a very decent, inexpensive way to do it. I use this cover all the time at home. (Yes, it’s extremely hard to get the iPad out of this case the first couple of times you try, but either the case gives a little or you get the technique down after you’ve done it a couple of times. It does get easier.)

In the first post in this series I mentioned how much I love just bringing one small clutch-sized bag on a job, so there’s no clutter to stow and no piles of stuff around the stand. In order to do that, there’s really only one case choice right now.

Happy Owl Studio Clutch

Shortly after the iPad was first announced Happy Owl Studio announced that they would be producing this case ($80), which is a combination of a case and a clutch purse. It looked like the dream gig case–just remove the shoulder strap, open up the clutch, put on the stand and away you go. Nothing  lurking around to stow, and no more having to worry about the security of a purse parked in a drawer miles away from where you are.

Lots of people, including me, ordered them and waited for them to get into production. And waited. And waited. Finally, they began to trickle in just in the nick of time for Christmas. Was it worth the wait? Almost.

It’s a cute little purse (I get a lot of compliments on it from people who have no idea there’s an iPad in there, and you can see the closed clutch here), and it holds a lot of stuff, considering:

inside the Happy Owl Clutch
You can see one all beautifully arranged on their website. Here's a candid of the inside of mine.

Here’s what’s in mine:

  1. Credit cards and drivers license.
  2. Cash for valet.
  3. Antique cell phone (no reception where I live so it’s not worth having a smart phone).
  4. Virgin Mobile Mifi (for internet connection, since I have the wifi-only iPad).
  5. iPod Touch (for the cameras).
  6. Cable for tuner pickup (the pickup itself could also go, but my gig harp has a built-in pickup).
  7. Glasses (to see iPad screen, sigh).
  8. Tuning key
  9. Nail clippers.
  10. Comb and  (some) makeup.
  11. Pen, pencil, stylus.
  12. Square credit card reader in Square Snare.
  13. Business cards.
  14. Copy of signed contract. (I could scan it in, but I never have time.)
  15. Microfiber lens cloth for cleaning iPad screen (these come in nice flat little cases).

That’s a lot of stuff in in a very slim little bag, but it takes careful arranging to get it all in there without stressing out the zipper (if you do overload it, it’s a self-healing zipper, so you can just run the pull back over the separated area and the teeth will get back together). The iPad lives in its own compartment, so you don’t have to worry about scratching the screen.

It’s almost the perfect case, but there are some flaws, some of them major. First of all, their quality control isn’t what it should be. I ordered two of these and the first one, a red limited edition with  looser pleats which I gave away, was flawless. The second one, the blue one,  has some issues. When I opened the box, instead of the nice new leather smell that accompanied the red one, there was an overpowering smell like auto paint. Fortunately this dissipated in a couple of days.

Also, the construction was shoddier. There was lots of extra glue everywhere, even on the cute little metal owl logo on the snap. And the corners of the purse section had been pulled too tight so they were already bending away from the iPad side, making it look kind of tired before it had ever been used. More importantly, this means that it’s easier for stuff to get into the iPad side and possibly scratch the screen.

The clips on the strap work very smoothly, so it’s not a chore to remove the strap when you put the iPad on your stand, but several people have reported having the D-rings on the case itself pull loose  from the weight of the iPad because they’re not attached to anything stronger than the case leather. I haven’t had this problem, but then if I’m not on a job I usually take the strap off and treat the clutch as a big wallet and carry it in a purse. And I still see some minor stressing on the connection points.

back of Happy Owl Clutch open on music stand
On the stand, from the audience perspective.
Happy Owl Clutch on music stand from front
And the performer's view. It fits perfectly.

The purse side of it is really tight on space. There’s really not room for anything wider than its own strap. Even the iPad wall charger is pushing it. I’d like it a lot more if there were even another half inch of selvage on the zipper so that there was a bit more slack so I wouldn’t have to be so meticulous about putting things into it. You won’t get a set of harp strings in this case, incidentally. For me, since I mostly gig on a lever harp with a case that has a string pocket, this isn’t a big deal, but for a pedal harpist, it’s a consideration. You also won’t get even the tiniest hairbrush into it, and if you’ve got a long day where your makeup requirements involve full field artillery, it’s not so hot there, either.

It comes in red, the blue that I have, and a nice musicianly black (which unfortunately is lined with a rather lurid purple, which is why I don’t have that one). During the long, long wait lots of us searched and searched for an alternative, but although there are thousands and thousands of different cases of all sizes and colors, this is the only one any of us could find that has a purse, a strap, and lets you leave the iPad in it while you use it. I’d love to see them refine the construction and get a better grip on their quality control for the iPad 2 version.

Although it’s not heavy, it does add quite a bit of bulk to the iPad, which is why I prefer the slimmer Apple case when I don’t need to have everything at right at hand.

If you’re a guy and you want something that won’t look like a murse, or if you just don’t like pleats, they also have a wallet which is the same thing  in plain leather without the strap, but you can find a lot of alternatives if you forgo the strap.

There are innumerable other case options if you don’t need the all-in-one business. You can even find a case that makes your iPad look like a nice antique book.

Next time: No-hands page turns.

Part 5: Tuning with the iPad

This is the fifth part in a look at what the iPad has to offer you if you’re a classical/acoustic musician. The earlier posts are here:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Today’s post is about how to use the iPad as your electronic tuner, but before I get into that, people have been asking me how much space sheet music files take up. Mostly, they’re very small, but things like colored cover art can bump a single piece from a few hundred K up into the megabytes. Here’s a look at the current state of my iPad, with about a hundred gig tunes (average about 4 pages) on it:

relative size of music files on iPad
The circled area includes all my apps and sheet music on a 16 GB iPad. For comparison purposes, there are three full length feature films in the Video section. (Click for larger image.)

So there’s plenty of room for a LOT of music.

One place the App Store really shines is in the number and variety of electronic tuners available there. There are dozens to choose from, including all sorts of specialized guitar tuners, cello tuners, violin tuners, etc. As a harpist, I need a full-range chromatic tuner, and these are my two favorites. They’re both really iPhone/iPod apps, but you can use pixel doubling to enlarge the display, if you want. Even at the 1x size they’re pretty easy to see.


If you like the microscopic accuracy of a strobe tuner, you’ll be in heaven with the iStrobosoft, which gives you a Peterson strobe for a measly ten dollars, and what’s more,  a strobe with the strobe pattern instead of those annoying chasing lights found on the lower end standalone strobes.  You can set your A from 340 Hz to 540 Hz, and you can calibrate to an external source–very handy if you want to set the A from, say, the piano in the hall.

the istrobosoft tuner display
The iStrobosoft. Click for larger image.

As you can see in the image, it tells you the note it hears and just how exactly how many cents flat or sharp you are. The Noise Filter button helps eliminate background noise from the equation (although I will say that since I’ve had the iStrobosoft I now know the exact frequency of the hum from every appliance in my house), and the Input Boost amplifies a soft sound source.

At $9.99, this is one of the most incredible deals in the whole App Store.


On the other hand, if you like a match needle type tuner, this is the one. Bitcount’s Cleartune includes both a rotating wheel display and a fine-tuning meter at the top. With this one, you can tune to 22 different temperaments in addition to the standard equal temperament, and you can even add your own if you need something that’s not already there.

cleartune interface
When the note is in tune, the pointer (yellowish here) turns bright green to let you know. (Click for larger image.)

In addition to all the visual clues, you can also set up Cleartune to act as a pitchpipe if you prefer an audible reference pitch. Cleartune is $3.99 at the app store.

Which of these is better? That depends on what you want. Both are very accurate, and I will say that both suffer from the same major flaw–they’re too darned sensitive when tuning a harp. They respond immediately to sound decay, so you have to be fast to catch the attack. I find them both useful in different situations, but I’m not sure either is  a good choice for a beginning student, who may find the higher tolerances of a dedicated tuner like a Korg easier to use.

The iPad has a built-in mic, and that’s fine for tuning in quiet conditions, but we all know that as soon as you get the cover off the harp, a brass player will appear from nowhere and start warming up. You can still use your old tuner pickup with the iPad. There are several different cables available  that let you connect anything with a quarter-inch plug to the iPad via the headphone jack. I use this one, from Peterson:

peterson connector cable
Just plug the mini-plug into the headphone jack and your tuning pickup into the other end.

It’s not the most deluxe by any means, but it does the job, and it only costs $12.99. (Incidentally, for those of you who’ve asked–the links on these pages aren’t sponsored. I don’t get anything if you click on them; they’re just for your convenience.)

Now that you’ve got the basic equipment, it’s time to consider how to carry it to the gig. Next time: The Happy Owl Clutch.

Part 4: Apps for Sheet Music, continued

This the fourth in a series on the iPad for classical/acoustic musicians.

Part 1, part 2, part 3

Musicnotes Sheet Music Viewer for iPad

If you ever buy sheet music via download, you know Musicnotes.com, which is pretty much the only authorized source for a lot of the more current tunes. They do provide a free app for use with your purchases, which is fairly handy for you as the musician (no need to waste time scanning and saving as PDF), and handier still for the publishers (no unauthorized copying going on, no sir).

I want to love the Musicnotes app. It has one completely killer feature (transposition), but on the whole, I just don’t like it except for the PDF-creation time it saves. It has a lot of features that seem to be nice but aren’t that well thought out. For instance, when you open the app, you get this nifty coverflow-style view:

musicnotes main page
Cover flow view. (Click for larger image.)

The problem is that every time you open the app, you get the nifty coverflow-style view. It can’t remember where you were last time, and there’s not even an option to open to a simple list view, so it’s scroll city every time.

Since Musicnotes wants  you to use a unique app for their tunes, it ought at a bare minimum to stay where you left it the last time you closed it, since they’re making you switch apps to use other scores. For example, if I have a wedding where the bridesmaids are coming in to the Vivaldi Largo from ‘Winter’, that’s in forScore. But then if the bride is coming in to ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ by the Verve, that’s in the Musicnotes app, or at least they’d like it to be.

Now that wouldn’t be a really big nuisance if I could get to it quickly enough (tap Home button, tap Musicnotes icon), but instead it’s tap Home button, tap Musicnotes app, scroll madly to find tune, tap tune. That’s a panic-inducing number of taps when you want a quick, smooth transition.

The Musicnotes app does include a set list feature, but I haven’t ever been able to get it to work without crashing and you can’t make the app open directly to a setlist, so I avoid it entirely. Also, once you’re in a tune, there’s no default magnification available for the scores. They come in small and you have to pinch each page to enlarge it to fill the whole screen, and do that again if you turn back while you’re playing. Page navigation is okay, but not great. You see the page numbers arrayed along the bottom of the page and you can jump to a page by tapping its number. (You can see this in the graphic below, if you look carefully.)

Despite all these drawbacks, there’s one feature that makes the Musicnotes app a must-have for anyone who buys sheet music from them. You can download your tune transposed to a number of different keys (but not print them–there’s no printing from this app, unlike forScore):

how to transpose music in musicnotes app
Just tap the Menu button for your choice of keys. (Click for larger version.)

You just tap the Menu button when you have an internet connection and you can choose to download any or all of the alternative key versions for a particular tune. Once they’re on the iPad you can still use them without a connection. If you play lever harp, as I mostly do, this is a wonderfully helpful feature, and it’s also great if you have to accompany soloists, no matter what instrument you play.

Another very nice feature is that the first time you fire up the app and tell it to sync your tunes, it will automatically find every song you’ve ever bought from them. And in my case, some tunes I never did buy. As a harpist I’m 99.995% sure I never had occasion to purchase “Big Rock Candy Mountain” from them (or anyone else) for any reason whatever, but there it is in my song list, along with a few others I know I never bought.

They also send out free tunes each month, a feature about which I’m kind of ambivalent. Mostly they’re not things I have much use for, at least not in their arrangements, but it’s a nice idea and once in a while there is something. Unfortunately, there’s no way to prune those from your main library. It’s show all or nothing for free tunes, which makes the main window even scrollier. And each time you purchase a new song and sync it to the iPad, the free ones all come back again.

When you have an active internet connection you can purchase tunes right from within the app, which is nice, too, but overall I’d prefer they either fixed the app to make it more usable on a gig or else offered the option of downloading a PDF in the first place.

Next time: Tuning with an iPad.