Smartphones and tablets were supposed to be different from what we think of as "computers." They were supposed to turn us into mindless consumers, concerned only with ingesting the output of "professional" creators rather than empowered to make things ourselves, the way we did with computers.
Apple iOS as a music platform took a big leap forward when non-Apple developers cobbled together Audio Copy/Paste for Apple iOS devices, sop that people could move a sound from one app to another, the same way you would on a normal computer. Now we've caught a glimpse of the next step in the evolution of smartphones and tablets as musical tools: Audiobus.
This technology, from some of the same people who brought us Loopy, could quickly become an industry standard. Not only will it function like an invisible audio cable, allowing music in one app to stream to another app running on the same device in real time, but it will also let people "jam" together on different iOS devices, while recording the whole jam session - you know, just like "real" musicians do.
Audiobus will let you play the drum sounds you like in one app and record them in another app, all while keeping the drums in time. Or it could let you play your actual guitar through one app to apply an effect and output it in the sampler of another app.
But really, we're most excited about the real-time group music playing feature. This is basically the same thing Apple recently announced for its own Garageband apps - however, that only lets people play music together inside Garageband. Audiobus could potentially work with any music app on iOS, not just the ones created by Apple. We know which one we'd rather use.
Michael ("don't call him ‘Mike'") Tyson of A Tasty Pixel, who's working on the Audiobus project, told Evolver.fm that it's ready for alpha. The company plans to send an SDK to certain app developers within the week, so they can start building it into their apps (interested developers can register here).
"Audiobus is analogous to audio cables," said Tyson. "It lets you stream audio between two apps, on the same device or between multiple devices over WiFi. Users will be able to stream the output of audio apps straight into other apps, e.g. live-loopers or DAWs [digital audio workstations], playing along in sync with tracks."
According to Audiobus developer Sebastian Dittmann, his creation will offer much more (i.e. anything at all) to developers, as compared to Apple's real-time Garageband jamming feature.
"Apple has done something similar to Audiobus with the latest version of Garageband," he told Evolver.fm, "but it only works for Garageband, isn't documented at all and not open to iOS developers. Also there's copperLan but that's not really adjusted to the needs of developers of iOS music apps."
To fill this gap by encouraging developers to use Audiobus to create an open ecosystem of apps that can play music together, the Audiobus team will not charge developers a cent to use it. However, users who wish to take full advantage of the system will have to buy an app from Audiobus to handle routing between apps.
"This is our way of solving that [routing] problem, since we know that musicians on iOS are willing to pay for good music apps," said Dittmann. "Many of them have spent hundreds of dollars for different controllers, synths, DAWs, etc. We think it will be an easy decision for them to pay for one more app that will - eventually - improve all of their previously purchased music apps."
"It's the best solution we were able to come up with, not just from a financial standpoint but also from from a UI [user interface] perspective," he added. "The current problem with music apps is that each one of them has their own implementation of a preferences pane. This is not optimal, since users have to figure out how to do things like adjusting volume, MIDI channels, enabling background audio and such things for every app they own. Audiobus will be the place to set up connections between apps. Developers will not have to change the menus inside of their own apps for Audiobus, [and] users won't have to search for the ‘connect to Audiobus' button. It's going to be a clean and simple to use design."
And just like that, the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch will have evolved two more important features for musicians who want to create music with the devices, in addition to everything it already does for those who want to hear it.