For years, in music technology and computing, we’ve relied on an idea so ubiquitous, we take it for granted. That notion is that you can use things together, and they work. At its soul, MIDI gives us the power to assemble different sounds, to record ideas. It means the investment you make in one device, whether a soundmaker or computer, can be expanded. Just brought a new gadget home? Plug it into the old gadget, and use them together.

There’s another notion, even more fundamental, underneath that idea: if you save up your pennies and buy gear, you get to choose what to do with it. This is neither a desire of “advanced” users – on the contrary, casual users of technology are often the first to assume that things will work the way they want.

What if that weren’t true?

I was intrigued, as were many on this site, by the announcement of a MIDI adapter for the iPhone. It’s something I expected from the moment Apple announced support for third-party hardware. It’s a little thing, and definitely a niche product, but that means the ability to turn your shiny, little mobile device into a portable recorder for musical ideas – even with, unmodified, a mid-80s keyboard. Score one for standards.

Line 6 MIDI Mobilizer (hardware) + MIDI Memo Recorder app (software)

But with countless apps for music making on the iPhone already – and many more coming to the iPad – you probably would want to use this MIDI support with more than one app. You might take for granted (there’s that phrase again) the power of connectivity. That’s how computing platforms work.

Not so with the iPhone, and by extension, the iPad.

Hardware must support Apple’s proprietary protocols and APIs, and it requires signing legal documents which, among other things, prevent developers from talking about the contents of the legal agreements and disclosing certain developer features. Partly because of the restrictiveness of these terms, there’s even a murky issue that raises questions about whether more than one application publisher can support a given accessory.

The result is anything but “friendly to beginners,” unless the iPad and iPhone are catering to lawyers.

MIDI, Minus the Compatibility

Line6 have built a really cool little gadget. It plugs into an iPhone, iPod, or soon an iPad, and via their software provides quick recording and playback of MIDI files. And to Line6′s credit, they’ve extended an open invitation to developers to support it. The problem is, supporting any accessory iPhone/iPad hardware is restricted by Apple not technically, but legally.

From Line6′s FAQ:

Can I use MIDI Mobilizer to control synthesizer applications or play other music apps on my iPhone?

This is technically possible, but would require software updates to each application in order to communicate with MIDI Mobilizer. Additionally, the developer of the application would need to become a Line 6 MIDI Mobilizer developer in order to be given the development tools, and allow Line 6 to publish their MIDI Mobilizer-enabled version (currently, all applications for a hardware accessory must come from the same publisher). If there’s an application you’d like to see work with MIDI Mobilizer, please have the developer contact MMdeveloper [at] line6.com for more information.

Line6 can’t talk to me about Apple developer agreements, because they are contractually bound to keep those details to themselves – details below. However, I was able to ask whether the restriction on publishing was one they had imposed.

Their answer: no, they didn’t come up with this restriction. Their understanding of the Apple accessory program is that only one publisher for an app that works with a specific accessory can provide compatibility for the accessory.

While the EFF has released the main developer agreement, I have not seen a public copy of the separate accessory program agreement. But I can confirm at least part of Apple’s requirements for proprietary accessory development below.

Because the accessory document is not available, I’m happy to be corrected. Please, if we’re wrong about this, if there’s a counter-example of an app, let us know, and I’ll investigate. I’d actually like to be wrong, as then we could open the floodgates on more compatible apps.

Assuming this is correct, however, we can assume that multiple applications from multiple developers can’t support a non-Apple accessory, unless they come from the same publisher. And that’s a pretty big issue, if the iPad is – as people claim – the future of computing.

Sure, this is just for hard-line gear you plug in via the connector. And yes, wireless communication still uses open standards for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi (TCP/IP and UDP), and zero-configuration networking or Zeroconf (what Apple calls Bonjour). But those are the exceptions that prove the rule: standards are good. Standards make things work.

And that’s what Apple has done: they haven’t simply simplified a design to make it friendlier to non-techies, or to make the iPad extra slim. You can make non-standard connectors that still work with USB, or use standard, slim-line USB connectors. The Apple Dock Connector is just the physical connection: inside are the actual signals that replace the video, device, and audio connections. What Apple has done is not simply change the technical and industrial design: they’ve added legal restrictions around that design.

Updated – Apple’s language seems to allow any third-party app to support any third-party hardware driver. That would conflict with Line6′s interpretation. (I get the impression that Line6 is interested in making this work with third-party apps, so it is possible that this will get sorted – one advantage of writing online and updating information is that we do get your feedback and, hopefully, we all know more after the article than we did before.) From Apple’s invitation:

Extend the capabilities of your application by monitoring and controlling external devices, or create entirely new integrated solutions that combine your iPhone app with dedicated hardware.

Your application can communicate with your own accessory using a custom protocol, or any accessory that uses a standard protocol provided by the manufacturer.

If you are developing an application that works with an accessory, use the new Accessory APIs in iPhone SDK 3.0 to identify and communicate with external hardware.

If Line6 did misinterpret the language here or not, however, it does illustrate the issue with having to reinvent mechanisms for hardware to talk to other hardware over physical connectors. The proprietary nature of the Dock Connector breaks the kinds of standards and interoperability that USB manufacturers have built over years – aided, ironically, by the efforts of one Apple Computer (back when they still had “Computer” in their name). And the lack of free communication and free development also remains a problem – it stops vendors like Line6 from feeling they can communicate freely, and it stops, say, tinkerers on CDM from building a little kit that would let you connect your own MIDI adapter and the like.

Further update – Bluetooth communication is also bound by Apple’s hardware developer agreements, as confirmed for us by an iPhone/iPad application developer:

Bluetooth on iPhone and iPad counts as an accessory just like USB not like TCP/IP over Wifi. Bluetooth devices must use same ID protocol and licensing as USB and serial accessories. There are a few classes of Bluetooth devices that are generically supported, but everything else is subject to Apple’s control.

There is some support for ad-hoc Bluetooth networking, independent of this issue, as used for games. But that means that even some Bluetooth solutions may be restricted. (That’s a whole independent topic, so I won’t attempt to cover it comprehensively here, other than to say, you may want to fully research these options before committing.)

No, You Can’t

Whatever the specific restriction around accessories, in general, the terms of the Apple developer agreements can be chilling.

Apple’s iPhone Developer Program License Agreement is a non-public document. The moment a developers signs it, they are contractually obligated not to speak “publicly” about the document. (Some iPad apologists might say, ah, but this is true of many game console developer programs, to which I ask, when did I say that was a good idea? And did that really help make Dragon Age more reliable?)

Thanks to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Freedom of Information Act, however, the non-Apple lawyers found a loophole: force NASA, a government agency, to release its document. You can read the results (including, in detail, section 10.4 which bans developers from discussion):

UPDATED: All Your Apps Are Belong to Apple: The iPhone Developer Program License Agreement

I can at least refer to this section:

3.3.20 Your Application may interface, communicate, or otherwise interoperate with or
control an iPhone Accessory (as defined above) through Bluetooth or Apple’s 30-pin dock connector only if You have obtained a license for such iPhone Accessory under Apple’s MFi Program.

The MFi Program refers to “Made for iPod.” There is at least one case of Apple suing a vendor who tried to make hardware without that license, so it’s clear Apple is serious about their intellectual property there.

I can’t refer to the specifics of that license, because they’re not published. In fact, you have to apply for the program before you know the details of the program, and once you do know those details and sign the agreement, you’re obligated not to share them.

Because you need an application to support any hardware, and Apple has complete control over what applications are available through the store, and because jailbreaking iPhones, barring an exemption ruling, theoretically violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and because you violate Apple’s developer agreement just by making your app available through jailbreak software sources, Apple is the true, final arbiter on any matter of hardware support, as they are all matters of developing for their device. (Clarification added: the EFF is awaiting a ruling on an exemption request for jailbreaking. In the meantime, that theoretically means the de facto state of jailbreaking is a violation of the DMCA, at least here in the US.)

Here’s Apple, again in the developer agreement, on the matter of hardware support:

You agree to inform Apple in writing through iTunes Connect if Your Application connects to a physical device, including an iPhone Accessory, and, if so, to disclose the means of such connection (whether iAP, the headphone jack, or any other communication protocol or standard) and identify at least one physical device with which Your Application is designed to communicate. If requested by Apple, You agree to provide access to or samples of any such devices at your expense (samples will not be returned).

That may be defensible when it comes to verifying quality or providing an official Apple certification. But it shuts down the possibility of DIY hardware, or, as in this scenario, even cases that would provide greater compatibility, interoperability, and usability. I will retract the assumption, for now, that one piece of hardware can’t be supported by multiple apps. It wouldn’t make a whole heck of a lot of sense.

But the other concerns remain. If Apple is going to add this additional burden, and if the iPad is going to become as successful as a general-purpose computing device as many think it is, it does become an issue to see if the kind of hardware connectivity that’s possible on other devices will be possible here.

Why this isn’t just for “techies”

A common characterization of iPad criticism is that it’s technological “elites” who care more about features than design.

David Pogue writes in The New York Times (a newspaper heavily invested in the success of the iPad, though that is not disclosed):

In any case, there’s a pattern to these assessments. The haters tend to be techies; the fans tend to be regular people.

Pogue provides no evidence for this description, which is odd, as my experience has been that non-techies generally don’t really understand why techies are so excitable either way. (As for whether “they” want an iPad, they seem as polarized as everyone else. Plenty of non-techies love their QWERTY and have other places to spend $500.)

But it’s a brilliant argument. The only people who would likely debate you – technical experts – are magically excluded from the discussion. “Ah,” says the technical expert. “But you’re a technical expert. It’s not for you. So you’ll have to accept my argument about what non-technical experts want at face value.”

Apple promotes this distortion of the reality of their device. When Stephen Fry asked Apple representatives about missing functionality on the iPad, Jonathan Ive responded with this quizzical answer:

I put to designer Ive the matter of all the features that are missing from the iPad. “In many ways, it’s the things that are not there that we are most proud of,” he tells me. “For us, it is all about refining and refining until it seems like there’s nothing between the user and the content they are interacting with.”

The thing is, those things are there – with an addition: restrictions, encoded in legal documents and developer agreements, about how what is there can be used. Apple’s intention may well be “quality.” But that’s the very essence of control: whatever the reason, one party has control, and the other doesn’t. Get it?

The assumption is that these kind of restrictions make devices more usable and more stable to end users. But how does gagging developers from talking about their legal agreement accomplish that goal? How does blocking application and hardware interoperability – the first thing those “casual” end users would take for granted – make the iPad easier to use?

Not Just an Apple Problem: Reinventing and Uninventing the Wheel

Apple I think deserves the brunt of this criticism at the moment, partly because they’ve made their restrictions legally explicit. But don’t think I’m about to let anyone else get off as easily – not with the entire Internet abuzz about how the “future of computing” is coming and it’ll transform everything we know about the universe.

Google’s Android and Chrome operating systems have none of these legal restrictions. (Android’s Market does require that, if you’re sold through the Market, you can’t be sold through another market, but that’s about it – and even that doesn’t stop you from posting an installer file on your site.)

Unfortunately, Android and Chrome also are lacking in actual hardware support. In reinventing the wheel of what operating systems done, Google hasn’t quite gotten to adding all the functionality we expect in operating systems. Sure, an OS built on the browser sounds fantastic – but what if you have a Chrome-based netbook and decide you want to connect a camera with your vacation photos? There’s tremendous confusion in the developer and device vendor communities about what Android and Chrome are for. Is Android a netbook OS, too? Will Google add hardware support? How? It’s even easier to be critical of Google, too: because their operating systems are based on the Linux kernel, support for a vast array of currently-shipping hardware is essentially ready to go, once they can make up their minds to support it. So, bonus points to Google on not being, to use a technical term, “legal bastards,” minus quite a few points for not shipping hardware support.

That also means a missed opportunity for Google, since restrictions like those above could easily drive vendors and developers into their arms. I’m hopeful that their rapidly-evolving platforms will resolve these issues, but I will hold them to the same standard. Ironically, Apple solved some of the technical problems, but imposed new, arbitrary legal obstacles that cripple their own solution.

There’s also the danger that other vendors will copy Apple’s legal restrictions, thinking that these are part of the appeal of the platform – when, for many of us, they’re quite the opposite. That happened most recently when Microsoft announced it was controlling app distribution and disallowing native development on the upcoming Windows Phone platform. Details of that platform are too early to judge, but it’s a discouraging sign.

If I had more time, this would have been shorter

I bring this up for a reason:

The future isn’t inevitable. This is a fixable problem. Apple could – as they did by loosening the NDA on developers – make this better, and they’d deserve credit if they did.

But we have a special obligation as musicians to cry foul. Musicians have taken a leadership role in defining what computing can be, in stretching the boundaries of digital interaction and expression, and in standardizing means of exchanging ideas, connecting equipment, and collaborating. Music was at the center of the creation of copyright law, musical notation was one of the early international standards, and music itself is one of the earliest forms of communication.

The ability to plug things in and connect them is apparently no longer something we can take for granted. But it is something we can protect and improve.

  • ericdano

    Why is this an issue? I mean, Line 6 says " If there’s an application you’d like to see work with MIDI Mobilizer, please have the developer contact MMdeveloper [at] line6.com for more information."

    So, there you go. If you have a midi application, and want to support the hardware box they have, then ask them and enroll in their development program. Line 6 developed the hardware, and the software to make it possible. Why do they or should they provide it for free to every App? What if there was an update to the iPhone software that required Line6 to redo some of the calls to the hardware, but some people using the calls don't update? What if it damages something? Then what happens? What if it messes up someone's phone? Who's at fault? Who's going to fix it? I mean, are you going to blame some App developer for screwing up your iPhone and missing that $100K contract call? Or what if there was a medical emergency and it can be shown that some developer was using this hardware and in a way that messed with the iPhone software and disabled 911 calls? I mean, we have had people SUE for Coffee being to hot, so none of this is out of the realms of reality.

    I mean, if I mess up my computer with something, that is one thing. But if my PHONE gets screwed up due to some App…..that is something completely different.

  • http://www.cassiel.com cassiel

    Bravo, Peter.

    Apple seem to have conveniently forgotten that what got their computers into the music market in the first place was MIDI interoperability, via their MIDI Management Tools (capable of driving third-party serial-port MIDI interfaces, not to mention their own), and later through Opcode's OMS which bridged to MIDI Manager. Interoperability all the way, and a thriving ecosystem of hardware and software vendors.

    What we're seeing with the iPad is everything that's bad in the term "appliance" – and it appears Apple have just killed it as any kind of music platform.

  • cebec

    so developing for an Apple appliance is basically like Fight Club?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Eric: Just to clarify, the issue is that there are many fantastic music app developers who won't necessarily want to *stop* being the publisher of their own app. Net result: less software supports this device, and it's less usable.

    The presence of a hardware certification program has no impact on liability for third-party devices. Those are covered by the warranty agreement, and likely the license agreement for each app and device. So I don't see that as relevant. Yes, liability is an issue. For that reason, the millions of products that can be damaged by abusing them all specifically limit liability. Separate issue.

  • http://vhaxrama.bandcamp.com/ angakkok

    Thanks very much man for this arguments, I really think that nowadays we´ve not only become comfortable with "the man" taking control, but if those who get it do nothing about it, that´s it, thats it, therell be nothing more to fight, this STAND that is taken here is the core about what a musician should be, the purpose that makes the engine moves, we have been given the duty to communicate what others cannot and help those who start getting it fly away in a universe of possibilities, music is the key that opens the door from our reality to the cosmical realms of what was, what is, and will be, we just cant stop doing what we should, freedom of ideas, freedom of the soul!

  • Oivind

    This is starting to become very, very paranoid.

    If Ubuntu was a superior platform, and if most people wanted Ubuntu, wouldn't it have become a super hit by now? I mean, it's even free.

    Where is the Ubuntu iPad? Where is the fantastic Google tablet? Why aren't the people who, apparently, defend freedom from any kind of restrictions (let's just conveniently forget that Google played to the tune of China for quite some time, a move, one could argue, of much greater implications than the Apple dev. agreement), out with a tablet of their own?

    And let's say it gets out there, completely open source and free, and people still don't choose it, what are one supposed to? Force people to use open source software?

    You are confusing your own needs with that of all others. It doesn't work that way. Apple won't be the end of computing, whatever that is, this is an appliance, like the TV, the toaster, the TIVO. You can do ALL the free computing you like on the OS X platform. Hate the iPad? Bring a MacBook to your gig, it doesn't cost that much more, and you even get a proper keyboard.

    And this is the most arrogant argument of them all: "There’s also the danger that other vendors will copy Apple’s legal restrictions, thinking that these are part of the appeal of the platform – when, for many of us, they’re quite the opposite. "

    You're the freedom fighters, right? And you are making the iPad into a moral argument. Buy the iPad, and you are supporting the dark side of computing. It's a fantastic argument.

    I bought a Blu-ray-player recently. It's a completely closed system, I can't play games on it, I can't surf the web on it. Have I been tricked?

  • http://www.youtube.com/db3ll dbell

    Playing devil's advocate: Is the issue of interoperability germane when the devices aren't designed for the same purpose? The iPad is basically a Kindle on steroids, at least to me. No one seems to be upset that the Kindle can't send MIDI, or when they can't read the morning paper on the display of their OP1.

    I'm not an app developer, nor a huge Apple fan (anymore). However, none of the advertising I've seen for the iPad proclaim it to be a great music making platform; it seems designed to read books, watch movies, and surf the net. Has Apple even mention "iPad" and "Logic Pro" in the same sentence?

    If apple says "no", you can say "no" right back by buying elsewhere. If the issue is that developers want the exposure that the app store provides them, then I guess they have to play by Apple's rules, draconian though they may be. Apple built their empire, & it's not a democracy. We'll see if that attitude ends up undoing them.

  • Joe McMahon

    I've dropped a question on the official Apple Developer forums and will let you know what I find out. I've asked if Line6 might be able to provide an API or framework (perhaps with a paid license). We'll see what develops … and if I can tell you.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @dbell: Sure, good points. I think the reason the question is germane does have to do with this larger picture. Microsoft, Google, Apple, and a horde of open source developers are descending on ARM-based platforms with capabilities very similar to laptops. So, I think, on some level it's about the particular application of the device, but on some level it's about the question of how device platforms support all the applications you *don't* expect.

    And if we indeed see all low-cost netbooks and tablets migrating to this new generation of OS, I think we'd better make sure we don't sacrifice stuff people do actually use along the way. Re-thinking how UIs work, how file systems work, how user interaction works? Great! Using it as an opportunity to drop your legal team on the device's ports, to prevent developers from doing things they want to do? (Or, as I said in the case of Google, simply leaving out the ability to talk to hardware?) Mmm… not exactly progress. And since these are all works *in progress*, there's still time to raise a red flag. Some of these players will address those concerns. Others won't. And then we'll see who wins.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Joe: That sounds great; like I said, maybe this particular case is one Apple can address — or maybe it's simply a case of miscommunicated policy.

  • Joe McMahon

    It's miscommunicated. A tiny bit of Googling brings this up on the Apple iPhone developer site: "Your application can communicate with your own accessory using a custom protocol, or any accessory that uses a standard protocol provided by the manufacturer." (Emphasis added.)

    This is from the iPhone OS Accessories page. Don't know if you have to be a developer to see that page or not.

  • Oivind

    Joe McMahon: I'm not a developer, and I can see the page just fine.

  • kev

    Peter,

    I love this site, but I think you may be overreaching with these concerns:

    Apple's developer page states the following:

    "Your application can communicate with your own accessory using a custom protocol, or any accessory that uses a standard protocol provided by the manufacturer."

    http://developer.apple.com/iphone/program/accesso

    Horses for courses. The iPhone and iPad are meant to do simpler things than audio as a primary function. The restrictions that Apple puts in place are there to enforce this intention, but if anything the Line6 midi hardware proves that there is room to grow, if not as swiftly as you would apparently like things to do so.

  • kev

    If anything your article raises the question of weather Line6 is looking to make a profit from letting other Apps access it's midi hardware on the iPhone/iPad… That, however would not be Apple's restriction. Hopefully you asked Line6 if this was there intention?

  • kev

    ***their*** (sorry)

  • Adrian Anders

    The free market is the only solution to this problem. If you don't like how Apple operates, then just don't buy their products. Go with an open system if you want like Android. Part of the reason I fell in love with VSTi plug-ins on Windows was the huge open community from SE & SM along with Open-source loving indie developers with kooky ideas.

    I personally have a touch and love the interface for what it is. It does so much better what the Palm first mass popularized. When something more open, cheaper, and “better” comes around I’ll jump on that instead.

    Until then, I’ll play in Job’s little play-pen. Ultimately Apple (with or without Jobs) will learn the same lesson they learned with their last foray into closed systems…

    The market (and end users) find a way around these barriers (unless government gets involved and enforces artificial barriers, but that’s another story).

  • mk

    Can't Line 6 just share their hardware communication protocol with other developers, who can then implement it in their own software and accessories?

    Also, I believe that there are several iPhone GPS Car Kits whose GPS receivers work with Navigon, TomTom and a couple other apps. I assume they all use a common protocol to communicate with the Car Kit GPS chip.

  • erf

    A cynic might say that It seems that Line 6 has made an interpretation that will allow them to make more money… A slice of a developer's profit on top of the slice Apple is already taking. Nevermind that obviously more apps supporting Line 6's device would mean more sales of the hardware.

    But perhaps Line 6 knows more than I do about these things and is doing the best they can. All I know is that this is a needless complication, one I will gladly stay out of by not buying an iPad. And I'm typing this on an iPhone!

    I'm hoping the HP Slate is done well. I'll gladly use the M-Audio USB midi box I already have, thanks.

  • Holotropik

    It's just an iPad…I wouldn't expect the world from such a simple device. Yes it will be fun and it is a fresh take on an old idea but that's all. There will be some apps on there to create sounds much like what the iPhone has = cool fun :)

    If you want more then maybe someone else will come up with that idea now that Apple have put the touch screen tablet form factor into the headlines. The attention the iPad is getting is already spawning a hole heap of other possible contenders…maybe one of them will satisfy your need to have an open system?

    After all, all we want is a cheaper Jazz Mutant Lemur do we not?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I agree with the assessment of other commenters: I'm not entirely sure Line6's interpretation is correct. I've added an annotation to the story. Part of the reason I don't hesitate to publish is, sometimes it takes putting a story out there to get the information. So stay tuned, I will follow up.

    iPad is still not a friendly platform for small device makers, however – something that any competing platform with a standard USB port might be. So needless to say, we'll watch those, too. (But Android/Chrome, whatever, yes, if Google wants an alternative that is demonstrably different, hardware support – as enabled by the Linux kernel they're already using – would be a great place to start. And Linux and Windows on these devices are going to have that support out of the box.)

  • salamanderanagram

    waiting for a real computer with a multitouch screen. supposedly the slate will be $550 in june. if they do it right the ipad will look sad by comparison.

  • A Different Jonathan

    I wouldn't be too quick to jump to the cynical conclusion about Line6. It's entirely possible that Apple's "invitation" – which is not legally binding – says one thing that is contradicted by the secret legal agreements hardware manufacturers are required to sign.

    As for the openness of the device in general, I do agree to some extent with @dbell's perspective. I would certainly love to see the device be more open, but viewed in the context of the Nook/eReader/Kindle, it's actually notably more open than its competition. An iPad owner can read the proprietary eBook formats of any of these competitors (as well as any open standard format) just by installing the appropriate app. All while enjoying the added bonus of a far more powerful and capable device. Just viewed as an ebook reader alone it out-opens all the other contenders. No, it's not everything to everyone – it may be less than our wildest dreams, but it's more capable and extensible than what came before.

    Overall, though, I do feel like Apple's policies toward iPhone/iPad development, and especially toward the hardware connections, is stifling the very sort of innovation that made Apple a company in the first place. The original Apple I was truly a tinkerer's garage project, manufactured in Jobs' own garage.

    As a corporation, I can understand that it's their responsibility to their shareholders to essentially be as anti-competitive as they can be without running afoul of the law. But that doesn't stop me from being a bit wistful and nostalgic, and wondering whether Steve Jobs ever stops and thinks that there might be a 21-year-old kid out there who might find the humble beginnings of his very own megacorporation by hacking his iPad to do things it was never intended to do.

  • keats' handwrit

    @ Adrian Anders

    "The free market is the only solution to this problem. If you don’t like how Apple operates, then just don’t buy their products."

    You're right when you say that the free market is a solution, but the free market consists of more than just purchasing–the distribution of information between consumers as well as between consumers and producers plays a large role in any healthy free market. And that's what Peter is doing here–informing other consumers as well as Apple about what he thinks is good policy. That's important information so that producers can make better products and so that consumers can make more informed and better purchasing decisions.

  • KimH

    You need to put your update into the main body of the post, where it's relevant. The main premise of your post is contradicted by the update about third parties vs. hardware. Appending it as a footnote seems misleading at best.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @KimH: It is in the main body of the post, as well — have a look (even boldfaced). If you don't see it there, it's possible you were looking in an RSS reader that cached it — or it's possible you weren't looking.

    It does not remotely contradict my post, however. I cite Line6, and explicitly said in the first version of the post I was happy to be proven wrong on the interoperability issue. And everything else I say remains true.

    For those of you keeping score at home:

    1. Developers are required to sign an agreement to develop applications

    2. Developers are required to maintain the confidentiality of the *agreement itself* once it's signed

    3. According to the terms of that agreement, no developer can write an app that communicates with an accessory — evidently whether or not that developer made that accessory — without separate approval of Apple for a Made for iPod license. See section 3.3.20, quoted from the contract obtained by the EFF, above in the body of the article.

    Indeed, I don't think it's far-fetched that Line6 would interpret section 3.3.20 as meaning that each developer that talks to an accessory needs a separate MFi license. Of course, Line6 can't tell me explicitly that that's the section they're reading because even describing it would violate the terms of the agreement. (See the "Fight Club" comment before – and yes, that image did occur to me.)

    And lastly:

    4. The connector itself, and the protocols for communicating with that connector, are all proprietary Apple protocols. Even if you extend with your own custom protocol, this does not allow, say, doing standard USB host mode in the traditional sense. (That's something Android *could* do – hackers have even hacked it in themselves – but Google hasn't provided official support, at least not yet.)

  • dent

    I'm totally fine with the discussion about the Apple model of doing things. I am not particularly happy with the restrictions and legal yadayada. Raising a red flag is nice. This is a dynamical system…

    But, when the only material in the discussion becomes "closed systems are bad no matter how successful the product is and how vibrant the community behind it is" it gets a bit boring and nonsensical.

    As I've said, this is a dynamical system. I've raised an eyebrow when I first heard about Apple's appstore model and their aggressive security model against homebrew. I kept watching…

    Now I see that however their model is completely broken by my standards (I'm an open source developer and I promote openness in computing wherever I can) I can't hide the fact that it is working pretty well. Apple had a vision for their product(s), they went with it and it worked even better than their expectations. There is a very vibrant community, everyday I stumble upon another great app and artists are doing fine with them.

    Of course it could have been A LOT better for us, if the device was open, if there weren't oppressive legal threats and such. But I just am not sure that if that was the case from the beginning, the iPod and iPhone line would be what it is today. This is not a linear system, you give up control and you give up other things at the same time. And this will have repercussions for the users and for the company. It's all about trade-offs again.

    If Apple wasn't this aggressive in sticking with their vision about their standards, most probably, we wouldn't be talking about these products as they would turn out to be failures. They know how to attract creative minds (build a stable, profitable, and "easy to use/simple" system/device that will attract huge numbers of crowds, and the creative minds will follow. Because they want to be heard and seen. This system works and an open system doing the same with a completely open philosophy is an utopian dream. It would be cool but the society isn't there yet. Apple knows it, and being the realistic people that we are, we don't need to cry over it. It's easy to see why and how it works, and it should be easy to see how the system would break if the "closed" attitude of Apple on those devices would cease to exist.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @dent: That's fair, but then my question would be, is that *because of* these restrictions, or in spite of them? (That's not a rhetorical question – I would think the answer isn't a simplistic one, but it's worth asking!)

    "the only material in the discussion becomes “closed systems are bad no matter how successful the product is and how vibrant the community behind it is”"

    That's not what I'm arguing. Of course, if you're the developer, and you don't like it, it says, go put that energy into making something else vibrant.

    And that's where my Google Android argument comes in — it is an "open system," but hardware support is missing, so on this front it isn't actually any better at the moment. That's why it makes sense to raise some specific issues, and not just the idealogical ones.

    I don't think the iPad – or the Android, for that matter – would break if you added USB host mode.

    Open systems are a utopian dream? Now that's an idealogical argument, one not rooted in reality. There are open systems all over the place. There aren't mature open touch-based slates, because there aren't mature touch-based slates.

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  • dent

    Hi Peter,

    Your rhetorical question is of course worth asking, and I've considered that many times myself. Since this is really non-linear business, it is impossible to view the details on a fixed zoom level from a single perspective. I am not capable of thinking about the every detail to reach a conclusion so my safest bet at this stage would be, yes, this works "because of" Apple's way of dealing with this. I have never seen an open and laid back system that accomplished this goal: attracting masses of consumers and at the same time attracting creative minds to bring unique software at the same time. As I've said, my initial guess about this model was something like "that will never work, people will scream and shout, then apple will come to terms with the userbase and will make sure not to repeat this mistake again", but time has proven me wrong. If an open model makes it through this far in the future, it will be the time for me to think about these again.

    And no, I didn't want to imply that "open systems are an utopian dream". My point was that Apple has something unique in their hands right now, and it became possible "because of" their attitude. That is a sad thing to say but the appstore thing for example, is still a goldrush and at the same time a nice stage for creative individuals to make their voices heard. It is centralized and the model just works.

    Android is a nice example, only the nerdy types desire it, no appeal for developers. Do your own thing, whatever you want model… What do you mean by the lack of hardware support? There are better devices than iPhone hardwarewise that are on the market right now, am I wrong? Most seem to do more out of factory, but has no software, because not many developers are interested and that is because not many people are interested.

    That said, of course I'm not saying "ok this worked well so far, so it must be the global optimum so we shouldn't criticize it in any way". I agree with you on this USB issue but maybe there is more to it and I don't know about it so that might also be possible. But there is a line there, promoting "not yet proven to be functioning properly" models (I'm not comparing these to our regular computers, I wouldn't want to run an antivirus software on my phone) against something that works great for most, isn't a wise move I should say.

  • Marc

    Apple's regulation is the reason they make great products that work (relatively) flawlessly. Sorry folks, Apple is not a fascist corporation, no matter how enticing that fantasy may be. It's alright not to hate successful companies.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @dent:

    All good points. I'm serious that it's NOT a rhetorical question. A platform is a complicated thing. So my inclination is to give credit where I think it's due (incredible multitouch frameworks and sensors), and criticize what seems to be worthy of criticism (less-than-incredible policies for developers).

    I'll put this briefly: I don't think that things like the Made for iPod licensing agreement, or a confidentiality clause in the developer agreement, have made the platform better.

    I certainly didn't mean to put words in your mouth. I do think (ahem) some folks are putting some words in mine, but maybe that's just the net effect of *so much* being written, in such a partisan fashion, about this launch.

    If I have overstated anything consistently, it's implying that Apple's vision won't have competition. Clearly, it will — just maybe not tomorrow morning.

    But the notion that it's not the brilliance of Apple's work on multitouch and multimedia that has built the success of the platform, that it's the fact that iTunes and the developer agreements are so exclusive, or that the two are somehow not completely different issues?

    That's something I don't accept.

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  • keats' handwrit

    Since I suck at music, I think I'll try my hand and legal analysis:

    Peter wrote: "jailbreaking iPhones violates US law according to established legal precedent"

    FYI, I followed the link and I didn't see any court cases establishing legal precedent that held that jailbreaking an iphone was a copyright violation. All I found was a statement by Apple that Apple says it is and by EFF saying they don't think it is and if it is illegal, there should be an exemption. The U.S. Copyright Office still hasn't decided on the legality of jailbreaking.
    http://www.eff.org/press/mentions/2010/3/1-0

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @keats': I added a clarification as per your comment. The ruling they're waiting on is the exemption, though, not an initial ruling, so in the opinion of the phone vendors (not the EFF), this does amount to a DMCA violation.

    While they haven't taken official legal action, Apple says in opinions they believe it's illegal:
    http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2009/02/apple-says-j

    And the one thing that is certain is that Apple's developer agreement – which is required just to download the SDK – disallows distribution via these methods. So, unless you've been very careful about your toolchain, if you're not violating the DMCA, you are violating the developer agreement.

  • dent

    "I’ll put this briefly: I don’t think that things like the Made for iPod licensing agreement, or a confidentiality clause in the developer agreement, have made the platform better."

    This, I agree. Assuming that these aren't there because of a possible clash that would interfere with seemingly irrelevant mechanics of the platform.

    But I wouldn't be that bold to say that the closed application distribution system, for example, is a bad thing. Well it is a bad thing for "me" and most other followers of CDM but Apple's position on this seems fair to me. But then there are some clauses in the developer agreement that needs to be talked about and you've spoken about those before too.

    I think it is a fair thing to say that "I'm building a platform and I'll base my security in a way that I will see and approve every bit of software that is going into this device. This is how I am going to engineer it and my vision is that people (developers and others) will like this platform and it will turn out to be profitable." So they didn't choose to design it as a desktop computer where the user is in control for the software. If that was a real bad move, it would blow up very badly but it didn't turn out to be true, it worked pretty well.

    As I've stated before, everyone can criticize from their own pov and that is a good thing. But when the critics keep telling "it should be all open why is Apple doing this, very evil of them, etc, etc…" without a second thought, the discussions become a bit annoying IMO. There are open platforms out there in the market and it isn't going very well for them right now. I might be wrong but I'm failing to see the momentum that gives a hint of a possible competition given the scale of Apple in this business right now. I'd love to be proven wrong in the future though. My fear is that it will turn into this decade old "Linux finally gonna be popular and vibrant on desktop" thing. Always next year but never quite happens.

    The problem is that appealing to mass audiences require a twist in the design thought process that many of the open developers don't seem to like. We develop software for people like us, rarely polish the stuff we do and trust the user that they are going to figure things up after the essentials are laid out. It is a different mindset, I'm perfectly content with this attitude but generating the mass momentum Apple created with their platform requires that twist and this probably needs a bit of dictated coordination (self organization typical of open source software teams leads to high-entropy results. mass audiences usually prefer software (and music for that matter) with lower entropy). I don't exactly know where the problem is precisely.

    Anyhow, that is another huge issue and I'm going a bit off the tangent here. Hope I've been able to clarify my point a little bit further. Cheers…

  • cobalt

    I don't think the issue is as complex as it appears to be. MIDI is, as we know, a really old standard. In truth, music hardware is far more specialized and insular than computer hardware and all of the electronics that interface with computers. As far as I can tell, the only reason Line6 is putting out this type of MIDI interface with certain conditions is that they can. There hasn't been anything stopping anyone from making a more open MIDI interface, nor is there anything stopping anyone from doing so in the future, except for low profitability and relative lack of interest. The best thing to do to interface music hardware with new technology would be to build a box that interfaces with things like the iPad and converts the signals to and from MIDI devices — and not making a hardware adapter for the iPad/iPhone that turns it into a MIDI device.

    Increasingly there are reasons why MIDI should be replaced. Even if all music hardware came out with both MIDI ports and USB-over-MIDI ports, that would be a step in a certain direction. I've been a fan of OSC, precisely because it's open and has potential. The problem with updating the interface is that all of the hardware manufacturers have to agree on one standard, and not try to pull off some kind of proprietary standard, because that's never going to fly. Whether it's wired, or wireless, or both, a standard has to be a real standard. If people are serious about updating music hardware instead of downgrading new electronics, they should be pushing towards a genuine new standard and not complaining about being left out of new technological and commercial trends.

  • cobalt

    Sorry if my comment came off the wrong way. The point is, until there are new standards that govern the interoperability of music hardware and therefore music software systems, we're going to see a bunch of innovative devices with limited interface capability and a bunch of nearly useless crap like the Line6 iPhone MIDI interface and BS conditional agreements attached to their use. That's my main point.

  • aaron

    I hate these discussions when they come up. I own a Touch and a Macbook and I can easily flat out say: Apple makes good products but outside of that they are pricks. I'm content with that, more people should be. If you're making arguments contrary, you should probably think over wether its due to brand-loyalty or not, which in Apple's case it usually is.. then pause for a moment and think over if thats really something you want as part of your personality/worth. If so to each their own. Me, I'll continue using products that are more open-ended and less hypocritical while at the same time I'll also continue to love my mac and touch for the niche products they are.

  • what would the capta

    Ok I love this blog, its changed the way I think about music ,community, and thetchnology i use to create them,

    BUT peter you seem to be focussing so heavily on open vs closed commercial vs freeware etc etc arguements that its taking over from the music,

    it seems lately that most of the talk is just about how open a new product is (see his piece and the avid piece above) rather than how well it enables us to be creative, which is kinda the point…….

  • griotspeak

    The industry is making the argument relevant.

    and, in many cases, how open a product is affects how creatively we can interpret a devices purpose. there are many musical applications i can think of for the iPad that simply cannot happen without breaking an agreement with apple. not by virtue of inherent shadiness, but because Apple has a specific vision for their products–which is their prerogative and understandable–and developing in a manner contrary to that vision means doing so illegally.

  • Downpressor/Israel_B

    "Will Mr Kirn please come to the white courtesy phone. Your call Mr Wolf has been connected"

    Seriously, this article just reeks of Corky Deveraux style paranoia and what-if-itis. You posted this without enough research and a headline that misleads.

    <cite>If I had more time, this would have been shorter</cite>

    Maybe instead of speculation and hand wringing you could have just told us that this thing is announced and you are not yet clear if there will be 3rd party app compatibility?

  • Damon

    Apparently apple has turned this legal agreement into the proverbial forbidden fruit.

    I am curious though, pardon the comparator, but where else in our high tech high spec culture does such a restriction exist? Do we use products on a daily basis that are micromanaged with the same sort of scary comic book new world order mind control implication? Is this restrictive and slightly creepy tech gag order (This Just In!) something we tend to defend in other systems and environments, only to get whiney when it begins to impinge upon our own personal, please make an exception for us alone, areas of interest?

    Before I can firmly agree that what apple is doing truly oppressive in some greater creative spirit and invention sense, I have to make sure it is not the best way to do something from another important context.

    And then should the apple agreement thing be a profound red flag that invites us to reassess the other context, or does the other context effectually demonstrate that apple is doing something that produces the most good for the most concerned?

    This would the – "where best should I be obligated to suffer a sacrifice?" – question.

  • http://www.noisepages.com/runagate runagate

    Peter, as you most likely recall I've been working every single day for the last 6 months to find a way around this impasse for everyone.

    Please contact me ASAP. The potential for the iPad to institute a whole new type of technological lock-in is simply terrifying. It didn't have to be this way.

  • genjutsushi

    @ Peter

    Excellent article.

    One comment to make. Once you have assembled all your information, possibly the best way to push the issue forward (if you want to that is!) is through the European Union, European Commission for Competition. If Apple is reaching a point where any market share in a technology is controlled by a single company restricting access parameters, within the European Union, then a case can be made by the Commission for breaking single european market rules on market access.

    Just look at the pressure they were able to exert on Microsoft over the inclusion of Internet Explorer, search engines, Media Players etc etc.

  • Dub

    Such a shame. Apple seem to have have forgotten what an OS does.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Okay, some commenters are mis-characterizing what I'm saying.

    There are two arguments I make in this article:

    1. Apple restricts the creation of hardware based on legal agreements signed by developers, in order to use proprietary protocols.

    2. As computing categories are redefined, basic standard protocols may become restricted or (as currently on Google's operating systems in the case of USB host mode support) missing altogether.

    Neither of these is a description of "open source" or "free software." I am an advocate of free and open source software – I'd be hypocritical if I weren't, as this site is dependent on it to even run – but that's not the point I'm making here.

    In fact, so far, I've talked with iPad developers working on music apps who share my concern.

    This stuff doesn't directly impact making music. It doesn't. But it does impact the people making the tools for making music, which for me is the other side of the readership, and an important side.

    Anyway, it's fixable. There are some important idealogical arguments to have here, but also some opportunities for simple, practical progress. Apple made hardware support a selling point for the 3.0 SDK, but it's telling that so far hardware has actually been pretty scarce (especially compared to software, for which they deserve the credit they're given).

  • http://www.block4.com Malte Steiner

    More capable and open than the Ipad, often cheaper, these devices have real USB ports, some even VGA or HDMI out:

    http://blogs.computerworld.com/15871/the_ipads_li

  • What would the capta

    Ok points well made peter there is a place for these discussions – (and I was terribly sloppy with my terminology).

    It seems now we have reached a point where music technology has been reasonably accessible for most for at least twenty years or so ( depending on your definition of most and accesible!). I wonder if we have thought about how the changes in attitudes to technology have impacted on our creativity – could we trace "historical" phases even?

    Posting this on my iPhone if that's of relevance lol!

  • lemmy

    This anti Apple crusade is getting really tiring and you are embarrassing yourself, undermining the relevance of this blog…unfortunately.

  • djdangledongle

    Honestly.. I'd buy this thing.. but it looks like it'd snap off my dock connector.. should have been some sort of cradle.. or just a simple dongle cable with the box in the middle instead of right at the connector.

    There's another app that does midi through the headphone jack.. seems like such a better (and easily made cross compatible) solution.. I dunno.. I just want to be able to load up custom kits via sysex and it not be expensive.

    these discussions are good because in the end, apple, unlike microsoft.. listens to their consumers. They won't rush to anything, but they always fix what's broke and work actively to make things better.. (imo the iphone has evolved quite a bit since 1.0)

    Example, the noise.io library was closed off recently.. but they made copy and paste between audio apps work as a compromise.. I feel this isn't enough and that music apps should have access to the dcim shared folder just like video and picture apps do. It's annoying to have the same 3GB of audio loaded 4 times in different apps.. (touch DJ, cue.play.dj, flare, etc..) and I'm going to keep emailing and griping until I find a sympathetic ear or there's a loud enough clamoring and apple makes it happen.

  • jon stern

    f**ck apple!

    keep the hardware and hack it. put some linux on it, it will work just fine and without restriction.

    you payed for the tool so you can modify it properly without concern.

  • Axel

    Thanks for the great post.

    Unfortunately, certain commenters are embarrassing themselves, but hey, it's the internet.

    So, what we really need are keyboards and footswitches (I'm a guitarist) that send OSC over Wlan. Can anyone please start producing such products? Thanks in advance.

  • http://www.noisepages.com/runagate runagate

    @Axel

    I can't say I know of an OSC foot controller, but here's the best one I've ever seen by far:

    http://www.keithmcmillen.com/products/softstep/

    It's what a MIDI foot controller would be if I could design every part by myself, except without a 3D expression pedal.

  • http://www.joelsampson.com Joel Sampson

    I have a rack 003 and PT 8 – but gave up on Digi/Avid/Whatever. It was never happy with something on my Windows system. It either didn't like the browser Bill Gates installed (IE 8), drive names or something else. Way to delicate.

    I switched to a more "open" system – MOTU audio and MIDI interfaces and Reaper. With a little Sonar, Acid, Audacity and a few others thrown in. Everything actually works. What a concept!

    If you are going to dedicate a Mac to PT HD it might be ok, but even then there are probably better options.

    I didn't leave Digi/Avid/Whatever – it left me.

  • Axel

    @runagate

    That's a very nice foot controller. In the video, he even mentions osc output. But it looks like you need a computer for it to function. So I'd have to bring my Macbook in order to connect it to my iPod which sort of defeats the purpose.

    What about a midi to osc wireless converter box that you can connected to any midi source? Would that be feasible?

  • HEXnibble

    All this constant anti-iPad paranoia seem unfounded and is a bit of a letdown especially as this blog seems to influence many people's perception negatively towards something they haven't even used yet. It all just appears as bitterness toward Apple. Perhaps you could do more research before posting something with such an accusatory tone, Peter. And at least change the title of this post since you've already updated with information that contradicts the insinuation in the title.

  • T

    @ADJ

    It's interesting that the iPad has been marketed as an ereader, considering that it has a backlit screen. It's simply painful to ACTUALLY read something on a screen like that. That's why, for all its shortcomings (and there are many) the nook is a superior ereader. Of course, there's no way to do anything musical with a nook (besides throw it on a drumhead or mic it while beating it), and the iPad is at least somewhat capable.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @HEXnibble: I appreciate your passion, but I think you're at the very least misreading my update/clarification. The question there is the specific restriction in regards to publishers vs. developers vs. particular accessories. That doesn't change the theme I set out in the headline. And I'm not contradicting what I said; I'm adding additional information. I just repeated what this specific device vendor told me, and in the original draft, I said I wanted more information, and even went so far as to say I was unsure of the details.

    I couldn't research it more because Apple specifically avoids publishing this information, refuses to answer press inquiries, and then forces developers to sign agreements saying they won't disclose details of these agreements to the press.

    That might be "paranoid" if I were making this up, but I'm not. Check the EFF site, or go try to find Apple's documentation in any public-facing site they run. I didn't avoid doing research; Apple avoided sharing the information!

    Anyway, that's a comparatively small point. The rest of the stuff is now out in the open, I did confirm it with developers, and it is pretty clear-cut.

    The rest of the issues aren't "insinuations"; they're right in the legal agreements developers have to sign. You can't support accessories without a separate hardware agreement. And Apple is replacing industry standards with proprietary, iPad-specific protocols, even overlaying them on top of devices that are suppose to "just work" (like many Bluetooth devices).

    Developers are restricted from supporting established standards, they're restricted in the ways they can integrate device support, and they're even restricted in their own ability to talk about Apple's legal restrictions. That's pretty… um… restrictive.

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  • http://www.DharmaLab.com Christian K.

    Is it wrong to ask for change?

    From some of the comments, it seems that it is. This common attitude I keep finding that 'if you don't like a particular thing about the iPad, then don't buy/use it' is what's getting tired to me. It's a false choice (e.g. if you're not for us, you're against us).

    Apple product, MS product, or whatever, I don't understand this extreme attitude.

  • http://www.sonicpal.com Ed Christensen

    I really can't tell you how stoked I am by this! Thanks Line 6!

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  • cobalt

    I honestly don't understand why some of you (including Peter) are so concerned that Apple's iPad should work as a tool for making music in general, when in particular I think that it's more important to readers of CDM/CDV as a platform for selling interactive music/video 'games' and products — interactive albums, or apps like RjDj, for instance.

    On the one hand, of course I would appreciate it if the iPad worked more easily with other pieces of hardware and so forth. But it's pretty obvious that the iPad isn't going to work well with anything except over wireless networking, through cloud services, or whatever. It's an inherent limitation of the device and the platform. Railing against that limitation is understandable but I think in the final analysis is rather distracting.

    On the other hand, the iPad is a perfect device for the distribution of all kinds of content, where no such market existed before. That opportunity — to use a semi-closed, protected system to sell stuff — is much bigger IMO than the opportunity to use the iPad as a tool for making things. It would be great if the iPad were the perfect content creation platform, but it's really more of a content consumption platform.

  • PBellinghausen

    It's very, very easy to circumvent the limitation.

    You build a legal entity which is in fact a coalition of different companies under a same brand, with little monetary restriction from independent developers who license a product to that entity. You sell all the apps and all the hardware to that name.

    The brand becomes a symbol of quality and of music-making for ipod-ipad, gets worldwide famous, and any independent developer would love to get their products into that brand, driving competition and innovation whilst keeping artistic and intellectual freedom where it belongs.

    You heard it here first, mate.

  • Nut

    Um… surely the Line6 device is an April Fools joke?

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