Smule, the folks who brought simulated Ocarina to the iPhone, are now thinking multiplayer. Instead of just playing a machine or a few of your friends as in Guitar Hero or Rock Band, Smule’s latest app turns your creations into a reality show with online judging. And the killer app itself? It’s a simulated, touch trombone.

It’s pretty wacky stuff, but Smule’s had some hits on their hands already, so I think the wackiness may be part of their secret. And it comes from a heavy hitter: Dr. Ge Wang, the founder, is also a professor at Stanford’s CCARMA research center, director of the Stanford Laptop Orchestra (SLORK to the East Coast’s PLORK), and creator of the ChucK Programming Language.

New in this version:

  • Teaching tools: Floating leaves guide first-time musicians to learn songs in “self tutorial” mode, and a browser-based composition tool helps teach you to compose.
  • Global judging: Online audiences can judge songs with emoticons and text and a 1-10 scale. Everything is integrated with the app itself (see image). Tromboning with the Stars, anyone?
  • The Power of Silliness: The most important feature, though, may be that everyone sounds a little goofy playing it, which can actually be liberating. As Dr. Ge Wang puts it, “It’s like singing in the shower.” Well, except with judges.

The app is simple, but the concept I think is pretty remarkable. We’ve seen interactive instruments, and we’ve seen music games. By adding the judging element, though, this is a free-form instrument that can also be a game. Now, without getting too ahead of ourselves, you could do the same thing with a Worldwide Online Kazoo Contest. In fact, maybe that’s a great idea. I suppose you could say music itself can be a kind of social game, played out on a stage. But nonetheless, making it an iPhone app can help free people up to get that message.

Oh, yeah, and got any doubts about the business model for open source? ChucK is a completely free, ridiculously powerful programming language for synthesis. It’s infinitely deeper than Leaf Trombone. But that power, packaged for a broad audience, can become a hit business – and likely to be popular well beyond musicians. If that’s possible, I imagine more could be soon. Remember, too, that whatever the Apple fanboys tell you, the iPhone is not a dominant mobile platform – nowhere close. Apple’s proprietary hardware means it isn’t really intended to be.

I hope someone working on platforms like Symbian and Google Android takes note: pack in geeky, nuclear-powered synthesis features, and people will find ways to put them to use in consumer apps that appeal to everyone. Leave them out, and you miss the boat. Or the trombone, anyway.

Direct iTunes App Link [99 cents]


Now, some very amusing videos of this thing in action: