Image-Line are quick to attach lots of disclaimers about when the work will be ready, but a teaser video demonstrates they have builds of their FL Studio Mobile software running on Android devices. It looks like a particularly good match for tablets, and is the latest indication that their may finally be a horse race in tablets for music. (Insert more disclaimers here.)

The phrase “low latency” is likely to make prick up some ears. No computer is “zero latency”; digital systems introduce some delay from recording to playback. The quality of the user experience, therefore, is having things happen without too much latency, whether it’s when sounds from a microphone or line input are processed or when a touch event or MIDI input results in a sound. iOS at least puts that latency in the acceptable range. Android devices, meanwhile, have earned complaints. Some of these issues appear to have to do with the way the platform itself works, in scheduling and the hardware abstraction layer, whereas other challenges arise from the variety (and, let’s face it, inconsistent quality) of Android’s various devices.

However, there are signs that developers might make this situation more manageable. We hear there are changes in Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich release that could impact both the way native access to the audio system and scheduling work; it’s too soon to evaluate those changes, because the OS isn’t done yet. But that leads to the other important development: Android developers are beginning to test performance across devices for some harder numbers. Those kinds of tests could benefit from easy software distribution and the (relatively) open source nature of the operating system — or at least, to be fair, from freely distributing genuinely free-software apps for testing. It’s also worth saying that not all applications require low latency, or, indeed, concern themselves with input-to-output latency. (Not all apps use an audio input.)

It’s not yet clear what Image-Line’s own “low latency” engine is about, but it’ll be interesting to watch. First promised in June, at least, it seems Image-Line is making some headway. More details:

I’m still far, far from being able to recommend purchasing an Android device for use with music – iOS wins handily. But developers naturally want to look ahead, beyond the present situation to what might be possible in the near future, especially since they’re the ones making the apps. And there, the picture is worth examination.

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  • Scott

    I like FL Mobile HD for iPad a lot; it's loads of fun. At the top of my wish list would be Audio Paste functionality (both Sonoma and Intua formats). Since FL is the first of the commercial DAWs to appear on iPad, you would expect that this feature would be a natural fit, but at the moment it only supports copy.  Therefore, FL iPad at the moment is a source of sounds, rather than a mixing solution. Feels strange to make music in FL, and then to export to the "Multitrack DAW" app to mix with other freestanding apps.

  • jengel

    Is it just me or does the video still look like it has ~20-30ms latency? I wouldn't call that "low" per se 

  • roper

    As an audio DSP engineer with an iOS audio engine under my belt, I can confidently say that Android's support for native, low-latency audio code is still light-years behind iOS's Audio Unit framework. The Android Native Development Kit provides some native audio features through OpenSL, but the buffering system is clunky and debugging in the NDK is a nightmare. Google still has quite a way to go before we will start seeing high-quality music creation apps on Android.

  • Looking forward to more hope for an Android market of low-latency apps, specifically would love to see a real VST host solution work out. If I could manage to run even some of the VSTs I love fiddling about with on the desktops and laptops, I would be in heaven.

  • Your’s is the itniellgent approach to this issue.

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