Apple's new GarageBand iOS update will turn you into a DJ in 3... 2... 1!
Apple's mobile operating system has been the leader in supporting apps and hardware for musicians for quite a while now. Cupertinians have been taking great care to reduce the audio latency of iPhones and iPads, so that 3rd party software and interface creators could come up with a plethora of various solutions for music-makers on the go. Nowadays, you can use your iPhone or iPad to play guitar in real time, throw in a large MIDI controller to play some piano, compose and record music, or even mix and master with a few pieces of awesome software. And this all started with GarageBand for iOS – the small version of the OS X app was launched back in 2011 and showcased iOS' capabilities in audio processing.
Nowadays, with so many awesome 3rd party apps out there, you may think that Apple would choose to leave the mobile Garage Band as it is – a fairly useful DAW that many beginner mobile musicians use as a stepping stone before they dive in the more serious stuff. Well, surprise, surprise – a major new update has just rolled out a few hours ago, adding some pretty cool features straight from the OS X version of Garage Band!
The big new addition, which will jump out at you as soon as you launch the app is that right next to the standard selection of instruments and Smart instruments, we now have a Loops tab, which will bring us to an entirely different menu. Here, we now get to choose from a selection of pre-set soundboards, each catered to a different musical style – RnB, Hip Hop, Rock, EDM, Dubstep, House, Chill, Electro Funk, and — of course — there's the choice to create your custom soundboard. Once you make your choice, you are taken to the actual sampler, which is pre-loaded with the loops for your style of choice – each instrument's loops are sorted in a horizontal line dedicated to that instrument only, and you can choose which sound will start looping next by just tapping on it. The app will automatically start and stop loops in sync with the beat – you needn't worry about that.
The stock selection of sounds is pretty nice-sounding, but you can also import your own sounds, or even grab whole songs from your iTunes Music library to chop up and turn into loop samples. But for the most part, the stock soundboards are so good that you can literally press random buttons and end up with a quality beat. Apple has pretty much made DJ-ing accessible to anyone with an iPad.
OK, enough jokes about DJs and musical talent, let's move on to the next addition to iOS GarageBand, which really makes this update shine. Apple has added the Live Drummer feature from the OS X version of the app, which is fantastic news for those that use GarageBand for music composition.
Basically, the new Drummer generates a beat automatically, but the user is given great control over how the pattern is created. First, you get to pick “who” your drummer will be – there are a bunch of profiles you pick from, each with a human name and “bio”, which will tell you how that exact algorithm will approach the drum beats – whether it will be heavy on the kicks or cymbals, whether it will do a simpler, groovier approach, or if it will try to cram complex blast beats in there, so on and so forth. Then, you can fine-tune the aggression and complexity of the generated beat in real time, as well as add or take away the use of specific drums. It's a great tool either to use as a drum machine to jam along to, or to lay out a beat for that song that you are trying to compose, before you forget the melody.
So, about the big update – we can't help but feel that this is one among the many moves intended to increase the perceived value of the new iPad Pro. The 12.9” tablet baffles many, as techies are wondering why anyone would buy such a huge iOS device, for the price of an OS X-loaded MacBook Air (though, in all honesty, Apple fans were already depleting the iPad Pro stocks on launch day). So, expanding some of the iOS apps' features to a point where they touch the capabilities of their OS X counterparts could score the iPad Pro some more points with potential buyers who are still on the edge. In all fairness, the large 12.9” screen would most certainly lend itself well to music apps and DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation – a.k.a. the place where you see all the recorded instruments / tracks, mix them together, apply effects, etc.). That said, a 128 GB iPad Pro is $949 (without the keyboard or Apple Pen), and a 13-inch, 128 GB MacBook Air is $999 — we are still not sure why mobile musicians / producers would choose the former.