By Clive Young.
This month’s debut of the iPad 2 and the resulting media frenzy have served to underline the impact tablet computers have made in the last year. Now, aiming to harness that computing power (and maybe garner a little industry buzz along the way), numerous live sound manufacturers have recently debuted applications for the popular platform.
Since the iPad’s debut last spring, Apple has sold nearly 15 million of the tablets, and research firm Creative Strategies expects the company to sell 36 million more in 2011. That has sparked a surging tablet market that research outfit Gartner predicts will see sales hit 208 million units a year by 2014. With success like that, it’s not surprising that the pro audio world is taking note, particularly in the live sound realm.
“The iPad was a game changer; tablet computers have been around for some time, but few people paid much attention to them until it was released,” said Steve Oppenheimer, marketing communications manager for PreSonus. The company’s SL Remote app provides wireless control of its Virtual StudioLive Mac and PC software, which in turn controls PreSonus StudioLive mixers.
“Most members of our staff are performing musicians and many of us mix live shows,” said Oppenheimer. “If you work a lot of shows, the potential advantages of controlling a console from a wireless mobile device are fairly obvious. The popularity and features of the iPhone and consumer excitement about the iPad made them obvious controller candidates, but the iPhone, while fine for some types of control, lacked the screen real estate to be a full-featured controller for a mixer. The iPad solved that problem.”
PreSonus wasn’t alone in identifying the possibilities inherent in tablet-based control; Yamaha and Allen & Heath have also released mixing apps; Yamaha’s StageMix rides herd over its M7CL desk, while A&H’s MixPad offers control over the iLive digital mixing system range.
Dave Lewty, Allen & Heath’s national sales manager for the iLive Series, remarked, “It is a comprehensive mixing application that provides access to the input channel processing, mix master, FX send/return, DCAs and lots more. Users can work with fader levels, mutes, panning and image controls, aux and matrix sends and other features; extremely fine adjustments are possible with the MixPad’s Control Sensitivity and Ballistics, too.”
Yamaha’s StageMix, introduced last September at PLASA, focuses in on monitor engineering, allowing users to walk the stage while tuning the system from a musician’s point-of-view. Developing such an app wasn’t as simple as might be expected, however. Kevin Kimmel, mixer product manager at Yamaha, explained, “Actual coding of the release version only took a couple of months, but there are factors that make a true development process longer. We spent several months investigating and prototyping the feature set and user interface; our goals were to minimize any potential disasters based on accidental touches, but still allow quick and easy access to common mixing functions.”
Remote controlling gear isn’t limited to consoles, however. Crown’s Brian Pickowitz, market manager for tour sound, noted that his company’s Powered By Crown app, usable across all iOS devices (iPad, iPhone and iTouch), allows users to control and configure numerous products, including I-Tech, I-Tech HD, CTs and Macro Tech I series amps.
“Our software/firmware program manager thought it would be cool to control our amps wirelessly with his iPhone, so he started playing with the concept,” recalled Pickowitz. “After he got far enough along with it in his spare time, he started to show some people around Crown. Once the right people saw it, we decided the project was viable and was a great idea for our products; it took about 4 months to develop.”
A fellow Harman company has jumped in even further into the iPad waters, releasing AKG Wireless, a mobile wireless system monitoring app; and AKG Perception, an interactive product guide for end users. The wireless application was built in under 10 weeks, and were specifically created in response to customer requests, according to Philipp Sonnleitner, product marketing manager: “Customers were asking for the ability to monitor our wireless systems with Apple products; previously, we offered just PC-based monitoring software. When we started to think about an app, Apple iPad was the only Touchdevice which was available with a working and proven software framework. Also, the huge success of the iPad was a key indicator to use iPad/iOS instead of Android.”
Google’s Android mobile platform is growing, however, and can’t be counted out, having recently passed Research in Motion’s Blackberry to become the largest mobile platform in the U.S with a 31.2 percent share versus Apple’s 24.7 percent. Now a number of companies are exploring the possibility of expanding their app offerings to Google’s platform, and Lewty noted that at Allen & Heath, “Android apps are being worked on for future release.”
Nonetheless, all these companies plan to continue upgrading their iPad offerings, buoyed by customer responses. Across the board, each company noted surprise at the download numbers its apps had received, and the ensuing channels of communications that had opened up. Yamaha’s Kimmel found it was “much better than could have been expected. While we knew it would be well-received, we have been surprised by the incredibly positive feedback from users.”
For now, live sound mobile apps remain on the upswing, as more manufacturers inevitably scramble to tie their gear to the tablet computing train. “It’s a competitive market,” surmised Crown’s Pickowitz, “and any time you can make your product stand out with features your competition doesn’t have or doesn’t have the ability to implement, you add value.” Expect to see a lot of value in the coming years.
Allen & Heath