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This article was published on March 19, 2011

What’s the hold up, robot? Music-making on Android (or rather, not…)

What’s the hold up, robot? Music-making on Android (or rather, not…)
Edward James Bass
Story by

Edward James Bass

Edward James Bass is Social Media Manager at Amaze PLC, and editor of Sound : Vision : Data Edward James Bass is Social Media Manager at Amaze PLC, and editor of Sound : Vision : Data

First of all, before I start what I’m afraid is going to be a bit of a whinge, let me tell you that I am a huge advocate of Android as a platform and have used it now for over a year and a half, starting with my then beloved HTC Magic. And what’s not to love? It’s great to use, generally non-restrictive and ties in beautifully with all those other Google products that I essentially run my life with.

When I started getting interested in mobile music production around a year ago I had some hopes that the platform, although lacking much in the way of decent music creation apps when compared to iOS, would quickly evolve in that direction due to user demand. A year on however and little has changed except user demand is now at fever pitch due to Android’s burgeoning popularity with exactly then kind of people who want the same kind of cool music apps their pals who own iPhones are showing off about.

So what’s the problem? Well, first of all the platform itself really isn’t up to scratch – developers have cited huge issues with audio latency and a lack of MIDI as serious blocks to creating anything that would be usable – although it’s worth pointing out that one Android app, Uloops, cleverly bypasses some of these issues by running on a what is essentially a cloud-based architecture.

I guess this isn’t a surprise since unlike Apple, which knew damn well that its music tech loving fanbase would be delighted by audio optimised devices, it seems Google initially had no real idea about the kind of specialist features its users and developers might eventually want and opted to create a platform that was more suitable for a “general” audience. I’ve heard rumours that since the announcement of Garageband for the iPad, Google has started to take notice but even if it started right now it could be a while before we see any real benefit from this.

The second problem is due to that word that seemingly dogs Android’s every step these days – fragmentation. This was really brought home to me during a conversation with a iOS music app developer in London recently whom I’d quizzed about porting their app to Android. Essentially, I was told, it would be nigh-on impossible to create a stable app that could run on the every single one of the growing number of Android devices, each with specific hardware and often with a custom “layer” created by the manufacturer (such as HTC Sense or MotoBlur) which would likely confuse things further.

In the end I opted for an iPod Touch and, when I was satisfied that it would be a worthy investment for making music on the move, an iPad. I don’t regret these purchases though I do find iOS incredibly limiting at times and am regularly driven to fits of frustration by iTunes. Whilst I’m uncertain whether the emerging generation of (rather awesome looking) Android 3.0 devices will soon offer some pleasant surprises when it comes to music making app,s I do know one thing for sure – Android’s got a lot of catching up to do – and fast – if it wants to make sure its music geek users stay loyal.