The iPad 2: Hardware = Evolutionary / Use cases = Revolutionary.

The iPad 2 was finally unveiled yesterday and journalists as well as Apple fans are already criticizing the evolutionary nature of the upgrade, the lack of a 5 megapixel camera, lack of an SD card slot and – last but not least – of an entirely redesigned device. All this forgetting that the revolutionary part of this product release happened a year ago when the device was actually launched. Much like the iPhone there is little that can be done now in the way of dramatically altering an already great device but rather each release is going to improve it a little.

Personally I think that the importance of yesterday’s announcement on the iPad 2 lies in the fact that it got a strong validation as a content-creation device.  In its first iteration the iPad was deemed more as a content consumption device useful to access a variety of media including books, browsing the net, checking emails and so forth.  The iPad 2 – maybe thanks to its newfound processing power – branches out to allow serious multi-track recording and video editing.  More than that, Apple made it clear in a long video on the use-cases that iPad has found in the real world, including schools and hospitals, that it is pushing a revolution  in 2011 where the tablet will go from being perceived as an unnecessary luxury item to it becoming – shockingly – useful.  

I would like to concentrate on the introduction of the Garageband app, I’m sure video-editing experts will be picking iMovie apart elsewhere on the net.

There are already a number of applications that have taken advantage of the iPad’s recording capabilities but none to my knowledge as extensively as Garageband’s iPad app that was demonstrated yesterday and that is probably due to the hardware limitations previously imposed by the A4 processor and the 256megs of RAM (addition: it was later announced that the Garageband App will work on the original iPad) 

The app lets you record up to 8 tracks as overdubs – that is not an amazing offering but it is more than enough to lay down the barebones of a complete song. It’s possible to import the iPad project into Garageband’s desktop big brother for tweaking and that can itself be integrated into Logic Pro, giving you a huge amount of scalability.

The virtual instruments that were introduced with Garageband certainly look pretty sweet and include some great technical sparks like using the accelerometer on the device to gauge the pressure applied on the screen and control the velocity of the keyboard.

But aside from the virtual instrument the iPad already had – and I assume retains – the ability to plug in via the Camera connection Kit USB high quality Microphones as well as USB to MIDI cables and USB-to-guitar leads. These really magnify the potential of what can be achieved on such a thin and light device giving you the opportunity to not only mess around with some virtual sounds in a gimmicky fashion but to actually record real-world  instruments where the only limit is your own ability.

 Now, we don’t know whether Apple decided to support external USB mics and Midi input on Garageband ‘s app itself but if not there will surely be a slew of other developers bringing DAWs apps to the market that will improve on their offering.

The export options seem OK and they do allow you to recording something impromptu and to share it with your friends & fans if you have any. Now if Apple conceded that Soundcloud has created THE platform for the social sharing of audio and added a direct-to-Soundcloud export function straight from Garageband that would make me even happier.

Let’s not forget that this is the first iteration of the app and that undoubtedly there will be many improvements coming in due course. But right now I’m happy to see that the idea of the iPad as a content creation device will take hold in the mainstream. Apple sets the bar and showcases functionality with its own apps but developers always find a way to top it and offer even more which makes me think that 2011 will be a very exciting time indeed for musicians and content-creators in general who like to travel light.  

One final point – I wrote this piece based on Apple’s demo: in the real world the Garageband app could actually suck. 

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