2010, meet 1984. For all the wonderfully-futuristic qualities of the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, electronic musicians have reason to scoff now and then: sometimes you want to be able to plug into good, old-fashioned, physical MIDI hardware.

Line 6′s MIDI Mobilizer is a nifty little gadget that provides MIDI input and output via the Apple Dock Connector, on iPhone, iPod touch, and (while it’s not listed on their site at the moment) iPad. As-is, it’s a decent purchase, but as was the case with MIDI on the computer back in the 80s, software is really the key. Line 6′s bundled MIDI Memo Recorder app does basic recording and playback, but that’s it. It’s very cool to be able to use your iPhone or iPod touch as a pocketable MIDI recorder, but with all the unusual software designed for the platform, why not grant MIDI to everything?

Since the announcement of MIDI Mobilizer earlier this year, we’ve seen a couple of apps that have expanded what it can do. But open development is clearly what we’d need to make this hardware truly useful. And this week, it appears, we’re getting just that: Line 6 has announced they’ve decided to make its SDK open to all interested developers, not just a handful of selected partners. (You still have to send them an email, but they otherwise say it’s free.) MusicRadar catches the story, and asks, iPhone and iPad to get more MIDI-capable apps?. I don’t want to go out on a limb before I know all the details, but I’d reply, “iPhone and iPad to get more MIDI-capable apps!”

Here’s a look at what MIDI Mobilizer can do currently, and the new developer announcement. (For an overview, see SonicState’s review on the iPad, top. And yes, I’m jealous of your Jupiter.)

MIDI Mobilizer Features and Reviews

Basic MIDI backup and playback, what Line 6 describes as “MIDI memos,” is already pretty useful, especially on the pocket-sized iPhone and iPod touch. That’s the reason that back in the MIDI hardware heyday, MIDI recorders were readily available.

A number of the existing reviews focus on this feature. Line 6, for their part, sums it up:

And here’s a test by our friend, PalmSounds:

Line 6 also demonstrates how to use the MIDI Memo App for backing up MIDI settings.

Matrixsynth has an excellent, extended written review from back in May:
Direct MIDI for the iPad is Here

Additional Apps

Line 6 worked with developer Audiofile Engineering to develop MIDI Surface, a US$5.99 app that makes iOS devices into a MIDI controller device, with keyboards and pads, via the MIDI Mobilizer hardware. That’s handy, though still not quite in the territory of killer app, just because a velocity-sensitive keyboard or set of pads is still going to be more playable. (There’s also not yet a native iPad version.)
MIDI Surface – iTunes link
MIDI Surface on Palm Sounds

MIDI Live, by Garren Langford, went further, with an app that allows realtime modification, though the interface is more than a little primitive and the app costs GBP23.99.
iTunes link

An Open SDK

I raised concerns and had some harsh words for the iOS platform earlier this year when Line 6 first announced the restrictions on developing for the device. It may have seemed I was simply savaging Apple’s platform, but I at least got feedback from iOS developers that my criticism wasn’t far off the mark. It was unclear at the time – partly because of vague wording on the part of Apple – how much fault could rest with Line 6 and how much with Apple’s hardware platform in general, though at least some blame fell in the latter category.
Of MIDI, iPhones and iPads, and a Restrictive Future for Hardware?

As I concluded at the time, though, I wasn’t going on a rant just because I like the sound of my fingers against my QWERTY keyboard – I hoped the situation would change. Whether via technical changes in Apple’s SDK, changes in the legal agreement Apple makes with developers (a Byzantine document for us non-lawyers to navigate), or some combination, Line 6 has had a change of heart.

MusicRadar’s Ben Rogerson reports:

“With Apple’s new iOS 4 it is now possible for any developer to create MIDI-enabled applications that work with MIDI Mobilizer,” explains Marcus Ryle, SVP of New Business Development at Line 6.

“As an open invitation to developers, we are now providing the SDK at no charge, and are not charging any license fee or royalty.”

Hopefully, this should kickstart the development of MIDI-capable iOS apps – requests for the SDK should be sent to MMdeveloper@line6.com.

I think the potential here is terrific. Sure, not everyone wants to use mobile platforms. Not everyone owns an iOS device. But in the long run, I’d hope that across mobile and desktop platforms, hardware and software, we retain the kind of standards that have made the desktop electronic music revolution possible. That means interconnected software and hardware and steps forward, not backward.

In fact, I imagine high on the priority list could be things like MIDI compatibility with cross-platform versions of Pure Data (Pd) running across desktop and mobile — something that’s very doable, by the way.

Important caveat – “open” probably doesn’t mean free. I expect the SDK itself would not be open source, so it would mean for a project like Pd, having to rely on a non-free license for a dependency. That’s something that, should Android finally get support for this, should be made entirely free on Android. Nor does that preclude commercial projects built on such a library – most Android projects use non-GPL-style licenses.

It seems like it’s also time for the Android community to ask how, with a Linux kernel, the absence of restrictive legal documents like Apple’s developer agreement, and a more open ethos, the Android platform has been beaten to this kind of hardware compatibility by iOS. (After all, that’s what competition is for — not flame-baiting in comment threads, but actually making things better.)

So, if you’re interested in getting something accomplished with this new tool, I invite you to let us know what you’re doing, and to join our Noisepages mobile hack group:
http://noisepages.com/groups/next-gen-mobile-music-visual-dev-hack-group/
(If you need an invite to Noisepages, you can request one from an existing user, and we plan to provide more robust tools on that platform for September.)

And iOS, welcome to the 80s.

MIDI Mobilizer

  • http://truechip.org peter

    I am eagerly watching this, cause id love an one shot looping sampler with real midi i/o i can stick in my pocket. Good work Line6!

  • http://soundcloud.com/usrsbin Dennis Moser

    Gonna be watching this very vlosely…I'm pretty much of a MIDI newb, but I broke down and got an iPod Touch to be able to start using some of the cool "interfaceable" tools that are being developed on the iOS platform.

    I have to wonder, tho', if part of the problem with Android (NOTA BENE: I OWN an Android phone- a Google G1) is that Apple has a huge installed user base that has been creating music for some time…the switch to using Linux, in general, is daunting for many (Yes, it's getting beter, thanks to things like Ubuntu – I use Peppermint Linux myself). Let's face it: a lot of the tools for use on Apple really are pretty much "plug it in and play."

    I think the trend we're seeing here is an important one and one hopes that greed doesn't get in the way and choke of the avenues of development.

  • http://soundcloud.com/mattnida Matt Nida

    Absolutely no idea if this is the sort of thing you could do with the mobilizer, but a dream app would be an iOS editor for Yamaha FM synths (e.g. my lovely but impenetrable TQ5). You'd effectively be adding a touch screen to the synth, which would make editing and creating patches a much more intuitive affair…

  • http://hatred.net/ nate

    This seems very interesting. I'd really love to have some sort of "hub" device so you can plug in multiple devices into an iPad. With the ability to back ground in iOS4 once it hits the iPad it'd be great for stuff like the korg electribe to have the ability to send audio out to a small multi channel sound card, all the while you can control a few midi devices. If something like this happened I could cut my entire musical set up to fit into a very small timbuk2 messenger bag with no worries.

    I could probably run everything off a battery too!

  • http://www.jorgebarrientos.com Jorge from Madrid

    Is the iPad attached to one single hardware MIDI vendor (Line6) because of the software license or some kind of hardware obscurity? Is it possible (under Apple terms) to use Line6's interface via independent drivers? (I guess not… sounds too much like reverse engineering)

    Any chances of new MIDI interfaces in the future (from other manufacturer than Line6)?

  • Radiophobic

    I can't wait to see if nanostudio (my current go to ipod application for quick musicmaking) will support this. Having that program run in sync with my machinedrum would be absolutely incredible.

  • HEXnibble

    Very exciting news!

    All we need now is for CoreMIDI to be implemented in iOS. It wasn't last I checked for iOS3 and haven't heard otherwise for iOS4 but my understanding is that is the reason why iOS apps don't support things like MIDI clock yet.

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

    Um, it should be possible on any mobile platform to homebrew a MIDI clock implementation without a specific API. What a Core MIDI API might provide is, say, things like MIDI input via USB over the camera adapter kit, if Apple bundled USB class drivers for MIDI — unless I'm missing something else, and there's some other reason devs would rely on the API.

    It seemed from a previous discussion on the Core Audio list of USB audio class that MIDI class was more or less out of the question, so I'm not hopeful on hardware. But doing MIDI clock isn't rocket science.

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

    Anyone know if there are soft-synths for iPod/iPad/iPhone that take MIDI? I want to use my Sonic Palette MIDI controller with these.

  • Nick Dima

    An MPD with the brain and screen “borrowed” from an iPhone would be a killer combo for me! I would be surprised if AKAI is not already working on that.

  • HEXnibble

    @Peter Kirn: Thanks for the clarification on MIDI clock. I must have misread something somewhere. I'm wondering why no iOS apps have yet to implemented sync via MIDI clock.

    Btw, speaking of CoreMIDI, here's what Audio Damage says:

    "I've plugged in a class compliant 1×1 MIDI interface, and the lights came on and the iPad didn't throw an error. This leads me to believe that CoreMIDI can be accessed in the iPad."

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

    @HEXnibble: Most interfaces I've seen will power on with just electricity from the USB port. I'm not sure that means that there's a) a class driver on the iPad, *and* b) a Core MIDI API that would identify that device and make it accessible to hardware.

    Of course, if this were the case, that'd be the ideal way to do this. It's a little clunky with the USB camera connection adapter, but there are some very compact USB MIDI cables out there… or as compact as 5-pin MIDI DIN can be.

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

    <- note, it's possible I'm wrong. It would depend on the behavior of the MIDI interface when connected.

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

    @Dennis: It’s nothing that complicated. Apple certainly didn’t intend to have MIDI support, which is why there’s no API in the OS (not for MIDI I/O, I mean). This is just a side effect of having access to the Dock Connector.

    The G1 you can hack for serial support; I’ve actually tested it with that. What we’re waiting on is official hardware support so that you don’t have to install a hack. My guess is that we’ll get that when Android starts running on tablets, but it’d be nice to have it, you know, earlier.

    Once it’s there, the actual work you do on the software side likely won’t be all that different on the two platforms.

  • http://www.patternmusic.com RichardL@PatternMusic.com

    This is an encouraging development.

  • Mike

    I recently picked up the MIDI mobilizer and I am happy with my purchase although I very quickly saw a need for a looper and BPM information in the MIDI memo app. Hopefully these will come later or from other apps.

    In addition to the MIDI memo app Line 6 also released the MIDI surface app which gives you a keyboard, pads, faders, and also a nice multitouch (up to four touches at once) X-Y controller with options for MIDI channel and controller number for each individual touch. Pretty cool.

    I recorded some long midi sequences into the MIDI memo app for use with my modular synth or other sound modules without that don’t have a quick MIDI control of their own. It’s nice to be able to just use my phone as a quick and dirty sequencer so I can spend more time modifying sounds.

  • Brian

    the software is shit, the hardware is wonderful. Im glad its open to devs i just wish it was MIDI over usb.

  • http://ezmyrelda.com Ezmyrelda

    Looks very nice for back up and note taking purposes but I am pretty wary of using 1/8th" cables in a performance environment for anything but the absolute essentials. Depending on the build quality 1/8th" has a nasty habit of being loose and introducing noise or just getting unplugged. Noise I suppose wouldn't be an issue here but it doesn't look like something you could pick up and jam with. Either on the dock connector side or the 1/8th" side. Looks interesting though..

  • Jason

    Holy cow! Is he like, recording MIDI!!!? On a computer!? Amazing stuff. I never thought I would see this happen this year–1985. Crazy. Who knows that they'll have in 2010!

  • veta

    this is great news! making the SDK free is the smartest move that Line 6 could make (they actually should have done that from the start).

    i'm just sitting back now and waiting for the apps to start showing up. i'm looking for an app like TouchOSC but outputting MIDI instead of OSC messages. i really hope developers get on board with this. however many OSC apps they have sold… the potential market for MIDI is exponentially greater. there is a whole world of gear out there that speaks MIDI, and that goes for software as well as hardware. the first developer to release a solid MIDI app for the iPad is going to make a lot of money.

    the price point of the iPad and its apps means that a lot more people will have the means to afford an advanced controller like this: not just professional studios and major live acts, but bedroom musicians and everyone who has been drooling over a Lemur but has been unable to afford one…

    control all your hardware with an interface that you design, straight over a cable. no laptop required, no wi-fi headaches. you can even control all the DAWs & plug-ins that don't support OSC yet, and all the old school apps that never will. i can't wait.

  • Damon

    Wow! Blessings to Line 6. Smart move on all counts. They are gonna get to keep a major slice of the iPie for this one.

  • Axel

    Line 6 could use this to make their own amp simulation software for the iOS infinitely more usable by giving guitar players the possibility to use midi foot controllers to control the sounds and fx. But there is only one connector on the iDevices and the audio and midi interfaces are two seperate pieces of hardware. Why didn't they develop a combined interface? Haven't they thought about that?

  • lalaland

    If there were an app to be able to do physical stuff a la lemur to modulate, but streaming midi to the desktop (usb or wifi) The app should then also support this interface and I wouldn't leave my home for months… I would pay 50 bucks or more for such an app (and acually an ipad)

  • HEXnibble

    @Brian: "Im glad its open to devs i just wish it was MIDI over usb."

    You can already do MIDI over usb for jailbroken iOS devices using the MyWi app.

    @Axel: "But there is only one connector on the iDevices and the audio and midi interfaces are two seperate pieces of hardware. Why didn’t they develop a combined interface? Haven’t they thought about that?"

    The only one I know of that comes closest so far is iConnectMIDI which was supposed to be released around May of this year but they've been quiet as of late.

  • ImSpartacus

    Looks like NanoStudio is getting support for this

    http://forums.blipinteractive.co.uk/node/282

  • http://Leisuresonic.com Christopher Penrose

    Honestly, and I hope it doesn't come back to haunt me for being honest, but I literally laughed aloud for a while when I first saw a photo of a MIDImobilizer connected to an iPhone. It totally exemplified the intractable, there-will-never-be-anything-better-than-MIDI-this-century mentality of the music tech industry. These iDevices have multi-band wireless; it saddens me that line6 chose to promote a 30 year old legacy standard (for me at least, since I no longer use MIDI in my workflow at all now that I have an iPad) instead. It's adoption will weaken the ability of idevices to help leverage the adoption of Open Sound Control (OSC) or a bonafide MIDI 2.0 specification with modern network transport support. If my users demand it, I will consider supporting line6 but I really think it is a huge step backwards.

  • gusDW

    Well, MIDI may be 30 years old, but there are still a hell of a lot of people using it. As has been pointed out on previous posts, the benefit will be to users of hardware who would find touchscreen control (pattern, parameter editors etc.) a welcome addition – be it MPC's, Yamaha FM synths, Elektribes, what have you…

    Or maybe even just to have the iPhone as an external sound module?

    Bring on the apps…

  • http://leisuresonic.com/ Christopher Penrose

    The problem with MIDI is not its age per se. Its problems are many and many have been documented for decades. Further, the specification has not been extended to address its glaring issues: miserly resolution, intonation bias, low-bandwidth architecture, poor control data support, ad nauseam. This classic paper on the subject was published 22 years ago:

    http://www.jstor.org/pss/3679834

    It is important to consider the benefits of Open Sound Control and other alternative communication protocols. I don't believe the future of music entirely belongs to people who have an interest in protecting and extending their hardware investment. But I will say I would consider supporting the MIDImobilizer in some/all of our iOS products if the demand was significant, the API is well designed enough, and the licensing terms are acceptable. But I think developers should be putting their limited energies into viable communication protocols that extend and enrich the music we can make, rather than being bogged down by outdated, replacement-ripe legacy standards.

  • veta

    yes, the MIDI spec is old and has it's limitations… and yet millions of people have made and continue to make really amazing stuff using it. it's kind of like Unix now: very old and very stable.

    think of powerful new hardware such as the Elektron Machinedrum/Monomachine. those have very extensive MIDI support where just about every parameter can be tweaked on the fly. imagine mutating/evolving/randomizing new patterns and sounds live using a nice big iPad touchscreen. same goes for those amazing old (and new) analog synths that have a sound you just can't get from software.

    MIDI 2.0/OSC is coming and plenty of people are working on it. having some additional choices for using the old spec isn't going to change that.

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

    "MIDI 2.0" … well, I'd prefer supporting specs that actually exist.

    You know I'm a huge advocate of looking at alternatives to MIDI, but I don't think it has to be an either/or matter. Line 6 are pretty clear in making the application here a way of backing up and connecting to gear – some of it rather old gear. (Note the Jupiter in Sonic State's vid.) I think the ideal is to aggressively pursue both wireless and wired solutions, the MIDI "1" spec and current networking standards.

  • veta

    Peter: MIDI 2.0/HD-MIDI/etc., while still being vaporware at the moment, is something that is being seriously pursued by a number of organizations, so i wouldn't count it out just yet. indeed OSC itself is still being developed, so we are currently in the early days of a post-MIDI ecosphere.

    i agree with your assertion that this is not an either/or proposition, and i am more than happy to let the Ableton kids have their goodies. the problem is that as all of the OSC/wireless stuff has been being announced (2 major Ableton controllers this past week alone) i have been seeing nothing for the iPad on the wired MIDI/hardware compatible front. hopefully these recent Line 6 sdk developments will kick start some movement in this area.

  • http://www.sonicstate.com Nick @ Sonic

    Thanks for the embed Peter, this is an interesting development, Incidentally, AkaiPro have also released and SDK for their SynthStation25

    hope this link is okay to post:

    http://www.sonicstate.com/news/2010/08/13/akai-re

  • http://little-scale.blogspot.com little-scale

    Excellent news, thanks for posting. I would love to get one and connect it to chipmusic gear directly.

  • http://leisuresonic.com/ Christopher Penrose

    For independent developers, it may very well be an either/or situation. Time is finite. I have Open Sound Control support well under way and it works without an additional hardware investment. Open Sound Control can also be used to communicate to legacy MIDI devices using the nifty app, OSCulator (http://www.osculator.net/).

    Since there is communication support in place, it makes more sense to prioritize supporting audio interfaces through the dock connector rather than midi; you can't use the midimobilizer while simultaneously using an audio interface on an iPad. That limitation pushes Line6 support to the backburner. While some folks would prefer midi to audio, they can always use OSCulator, without purchasing additional hardware, to have both.

  • Keith

    Recent touchpad music apps only seem to be good…because nothing else is better. Don't go broke chasing down this avenue before something truly worthy catches hold.

  • bsantoro

    Pianist Pro app for the iPad recently did an update that supports Line6 MIDI Mobilizer for both input and output (the only device so far that allows for MIDI input). It states in its MIDI setup that OSC does not support MIDI Receive. If this is true, then the MIDI Mobilizer could be used to connect a hardware MIDI controller to the iPad for very portable MIDI performance, albiet, using the sounds built into Pianist Pro so far. Advantage: MIDI velocity applied to sounds built into an iPad app; something not possible on the iPad's touch screen.

    I would like the idea of dragging my Edirol PCR-M1 mini keyboard MIDI controller, along with my iPad to sketch compositional ideas, for the ultimate in portability. That is, if it would work without PCR-M1 drivers installed. The M1 has standard MIDI in/out port; like many MIDI keyboard controllers.

    Does anyone else think that hardware MIDI input for controlling iPhone, iPod and iPad synthesizers and samples would be a good thing? Has anyone tried it with the MIDI Mobilizer yet?

  • Danierl Benoit

    I have purchased the first Midimobilizer that arrived in montreal this summer, used it a bit with the included Application, It feels like a protype… crashes and doses't have essential features, more app will have to come out soon…

    But… Midimobilizer as some competition coming in

    http://www.iconnectivity.com/
    from the feature list I-connectMidi looks better and was way more flexibility then Midimobilizer…

    dbm

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