The iPad: Will we Want it?

Apple iPad
Someone tries out the 'massive iPhone'

So, it’s called the iPad. After what was essentially months of mindless, pointless speculation, Steve Jobs this week unveiled Apple’s latest product: an iPhone OS-based tablet device.

We all knew it was going to be a tablet and we all knew it was intended to prove that netbooks, essentially, are crap. And that’s pretty much how Jobs started his presentation, proclaiming that the mini laptops which have taken the mobile computing market by storm are slow, uninventive and run useless operating systems (‘Windows’ to you and me). As dismissive and arrogant as always. Don’t you just love him.

During the run up to this week’s event, I commented on Apple’s mastery of marketing and their unique ability to leave the job of whipping up a storm of interest to their loyal – and not so loyal – following. Once again, with the announcement of the iPad, it worked brilliantly. We were all waiting with baited breath as Steve Jobs trudged onto the stage in his trademark black turtle neck and Primark stone-washed jeans.

I think they may have screwed up with this one, I’m afraid. Apple’s product line, almost without exception, is successful because of one common element – desire. We want everything they make. I have an iPhone. I don’t need it. Any phone will allow me to send texts and ring people. I use a Mac in my music studio. I don’t need it; a decently specced PC running Cubase would do the job just as well and at half the cost. However, I parted with hard earned for both of these things simply because they were desirable.

Look at the entire Apple range – iPods, laptops, all-in-one computers… even their keyboards are sights to behold and use. Expensive they may be, but for a company that can claim a worth of around $50bn, it doesn’t seem to matter.

The problem with the iPad is that I just don’t think the desire will be there. It is a very odd product which simply doesn’t seem to fit any gap anywhere. ‘Pick up the iPad laying in the kitchen’ said Jobs as he idly flicked through the NY Times website during the demonstration. Indeed, at times, he seemed to be nodding off; hardly a ringing endorsement for a product he has labelled ‘one of the most important things we’ve done’.

It remains to be seen how it will fare once it’s thrown out into the wild. One thing it has on its side is price. It is, like few Apple products, genuinely affordable. That might just be enough to carry it through, but one question remains: are we going to want this enough for it to be a success? I’m not convinced.

Apple – Masters of Marketing

Apple event
...cue raucous laughter, applause and lots of whooping

It goes without saying that, as something of an Apple nut, I look forward to their ‘events’. These are essentially conferences held at key times during their financial calendar at which new products are announced, impressive figures are embelished upon and much back slapping is dealt.

On 27th January, Apple will be holding their latest event in San Francisco, unveiling their ‘latest creation’.

The rumour mill has been spinning for longer than usual on this one with many people citing the long-awaited tablet as the main focus of the conference, with further suggestions that iPhone OS 4.0 will be unveiled, along with the next version of  iLife. Apple Insider’s take on the latest rumours can be read here.

So, what’s Apple’s secret? How do they market these events so well and generate such a furore of interest? Its pretty easy, as far as I can tell. They do one thing, and that’s… nothing.

Granted, few companies are at the level of social revere as Apple, but their mastery of suspicion, rumour and the sheer weight of expectation is a sight to behold.

We’re told that they purposefully release incorrect information or ambiguous titbits for us all to apply our own theories to, but the truth is they really do very little. They don’t need to – we do the marketing for them.

None of us know what next Wednesday holds and you can guarantee 99% of the reported content will be wholely incorrect. That is irrelevent, though; interest is drummed up at such a rate of knots that by the time the event comes around, everyone is eagerly tuned to social media waiting for the spotlight to fall on Steve Jobs (or whichever minion he has summoned to do the job for him).

I don’t mind admitting I’m excited about this one. I’ll report back with my thoughts after the event…

Production Tip – Walk Away

FaderAnother quick, non-technical production tip, for anyone that cares to take notice of this section of my blog.

Anyone who makes music will know the eternal frustration that comes from listening to the same eight bars of a melody or bass line 300 times in a row. Those poor people living with bedroom producers will also be keenly aware of how hugely irritating this practice can be.

It’s easy to loose sight of what you’re doing or trying to achieve if you over-listen. Whilst it might seem necessary to loop those eight bars and jam over the top in an effort to inject a new lease of life into your first verse, it can also be very counterproductive.

Like many people, I’m always working on two or three tracks at any one time. As soon as I start to get frustrated with something, I’ll save it, bring up another project and move on. Leaving it to settle, even if only for a couple of hours, can work wonders. When you come back to it, it’ll sound fresh and you’ll instantly be inspired to add to it*.

Quite often, I’ll bounce a rough mix, or even just the basic outline of a track to MP3 and stick it on my iPod. Then, using the ‘I’m just going out to walk the dog’ excuse, I’ll get some fresh air and have a listen. It’s incredible how different a track can sound when you take it out of the studio. Just remember to make a mental note (particularly if you are dog walking) of any changes you need to make on your return.

Try it. Walk away from what you’re doing. Like a good bolognese, music needs some time to settle. Daft analogy, but true. Sort of.

*Very occasionally, it’ll sound like dog shit. In this case, consign it to your trash can – you were right in the first place.

Momento: Brings out the Adrian Mole in you

Momento iPhone App
Momento iPhone App

As a new decade chimes in, the unstoppable leviathan that is social networking continues to provide a vehicle for the millions of people who feel it necessary to inform us all of what they’re up to. Whether it be on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, an incomprehensible number of people are more than happy to provide an intimate (and nearly always hugely dull) account of their daily lives. This always makes me smile, bearing in mind the aforementioned sites’ roots as domains for the terminally geeky.

While I use both Facebook and Twitter regularly, I’m of the opinion that people don’t really give two hoots what I’m having for dinner or where I’m going at the weekend. I struggle to care myself, sometimes.

It was therefore with some delight that I discovered Momento, developed by d3i. This beautifully designed App allows you to create what it refers to as ‘moments’. Daily thoughts, an account of what you’ve been up to… whatever you like, basically.

Where it gets clever is with the way in which Moments are organised. They can be categorised via tags, places, people, events and even a star rating for you to hunt out and reminisce on those good days past.

Key to Momento’s inevitable popularity and the reason it takes pride of place on the first screen of my iPhone is its ability to make diary writing addictive. The simple process of being able to tag entries with the information described above makes it a joy to use and something that you’ll keep coming back to.

Integration with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Last.fm helps ensure that you have a complete, searchable record of your digital account of life.

I’ve never kept a diary, but being fond of writing and somewhat cautious over the publication of my private life on social media networks, Momento has got me right into it. I can jot down whatever I like without the fear of boring people and the handy password entry means no one can read my incompressible ramblings and thoughts.

Furthermore, photos taken are stored against their respective dates, undoubtedly making this App a very handy tool for Photographers.

So, here’s one of the few iPhone Apps that has a genuine longevity factor – Momento. In fact, it’ll probably hold that crown for life, as I suspect it is something that will accompany people for the majority of theirs.

10/10. Go check it out.

YouTube: An Aspiring Musician’s Dream

YouTube LogoA post I wrote a little while ago on YouTube and its benefits when it comes to learning the piano has sparked a lot of interest. I’m not surprised; there is so much content on there for the beginner and pro alike – I can’t recommend it highly enough.

I recently purchased a Fender Squire Strat for my studio. This was partly to add a bit more flair and scope to my productions but, at the back of my mind, I’ve always harboured an ambition I’ve had since a kid to learn the thing for real.

Being an essentially lazy person, the Yamaha electric I received for Christmas when I was around 12-years-old very quickly found its place in the corner of my bedroom where it quietly gathered dust for about ten years before I eventually sold it to a builder. Poor thing. Not much of a life.

However, things are different now. Aside from being older and realising that, with the gradual ebbing away of time, I had better get on and do things sooner rather than later, YouTube, the internet and my iPhone are already making the learning process far more appealing.

Last night, having not had my guitar more than a couple of hours, I was delicately picking away at some BB King blues riffs, thanks to YouTube. At the same time, I downloaded a chord finder App for my iPhone and used it to suss out some of the chords referred to in the video.

This simply wasn’t possible when I was a lad. You had two choices: buy some books and teach yourself (unappealing, too much effort) or book lessons (cost-implications, far too school-like, too much effort). I now have pretty much everything I need to grasp a basic, playable understanding of both the guitar and piano.

I’m sure (and hope) this doesn’t spell the end for music teachers, as nothing can replace one-to-one tuition, but for someone who simply wants to feel more comfortable picking up a guitar or sitting at a piano, you can’t beat it.

Avatar: Genuinely Immersive 3D

Avatar
Avatar

During this review of James Cameron’s long-awaited film, Avatar, respected film critic Mark Kermode dismisses the much talked about 3D version as ‘flim flam’. After taking his glasses off to view the un-rectified, blurred 2D image, it looked just as impressive, he says.

I’m a big fan of Kermode and love his reviews. In general, he seems to get it spot on (even if he is a bit of a humourless old bore when it comes to comedy films) but I wholeheartedly disagree with this element of his Avatar review.

Aside from spears flying at you and people falling into ravines, Kermode goes on, you simply don’t notice the 3D anywhere else.

I’ve heard several people mention something along these lines after seeing the film and I honestly wonder if they’ve walked into the 2D version by mistake.

The 3D is present in every frame and adds depth to the various lush environments Cameron has created. Those who play first person computer games will know how important it is for the world you are thrust into to feel real and there is only so much depth that can be offered in a 2D image. In Avatar, trees, people and items which are in the foreground are in the foreground and items in the distance are in the distance. It takes a while for your eyes to adjust at first, but once they do, it is magic.

It’s hard to explain without seeing it, therefore I urge you to head to your local multiplex if you haven’t already done so. It’s the first 3D film I’ve seen and it looks like I’ve picked the best one. Hugely impressive, even if the film was a little flimsy on the whole.

As the 3D debate rages on, I simply can’t agree with the notion – as suggested by Kermode and various other critics – that it is simply a mechanism to stop piracy. This is clearly nonsense, as all 3D films so far have been released in parallel with a 2D counterpart. Therefore, there will always be a version for someone to steal and put on the internet.

Here’s to more genuinely immersive 3D films and, something which excites me even more, 3D computer games. It’s like the 80s all over again, only better.

Production tip – don’t forget to include the mistakes

It’s crossed my mind recently that, whilst I’m not exactly Quincy Jones, I have spent a large amount of my free time making music. Along the way I’ve developed some good and (more commonly) some bad habits.

Anyone that makes music will be aware of the little idiosyncratic techniques picked up through trial and error and how much they come to be relied upon for every track produced.

I’ve got plenty. Most will be very specific to the way I work, some you may find useful. So, I’ll try and keep these tips semi regular.

I’ll start with mistakes. Without fail, every track I’ve written has at least one mistake in it somewhere (some may argue it lasts the duration of the song). Whether it be a reverb tail that never quite goes away, a midi note out of place or some screwed up automation, it’ll more likely make than break the production, in my opinion.

So, the first tip is a simple one. Leave those mistakes in. If, like me, you’re not a fan of razor-precision computer music and like a bit of feel and humanity, you can do a lot worse than leave those errors in.

And don’t worry, they’ll happen naturally, so it’s the one thing you won’t have to put any effort in to!