Reinventing music software for a handheld is no minor challenge. Make it too much like desktop software, and you wind up with something crammed with features that feels awkward and overly heavy in a mobile context. Pare down too much, and you’ve got something that behaves more like a toy and can’t hold up to extended usage.

Under the hood, Propellerhead’s Figure is actually Reason. But that’s just the sound engine underneath. And while the Swedish development house was adventurous and creative in imagining an interface for handheld use, the first version wasn’t exactly greeted with thrilled reviews. Users found an app that made it easy to sketch an idea, but hard to share that idea with other apps or desktops. And that created an experience that felt closed off from the outside world – precisely the opposite of the way a music tool should feel.

Two updates, one in July and one this week, have gradually added in some of the features users would want. I’d still like to see Propellerhead deepen integration with their desktop Reason software – particularly since the two tools share an engine. And perhaps more broadly, I’d like to see more of a sense that you can make this app your own, musically speaking. But this quickly moves the needle from an app you might just dismiss – even at a bargain-basement price – to one that merits real consideration.

New in version 1.2:

  • AudioCopy support, so you can start something in Figure and finish it elsewhere.
  • WIST (Wireless Sync-Start Technology), developed by Korg, lets you sync playback of two iOS gadgets, so you can, say, add your Figure groove to someone’s iMS-20 pattern and play together.
  • New atonal / chromatic scale mode.
  • Performance pads now have a grid.

From version 1.1, some serious no-brainer features (save? export?):

  • Save, browse and load song files.
  • Set length of loop (1,2,4,8 bars).
  • Export audio to iTunes File Sharing.
  • Improved audio recording, performance, bug fixes.
  • You can add imagined exclamation points to those features. But that’s why it’s nice to now give a nod to 1.2, which falls more into the “icing” category and less into the “what do you mean, you can’t export?” category. It jumps from “there’s a funny-looking, colorful app I don’t particularly need” straight to “oh, now this is a pretty ridiculously-powerful tool for a dollar, something I can seriously use.”

    In fact, there’s probably a lesson here for developers. I would normally not second-guess development decisions, but I think in this case, given the maturity of iOS at this point, it’s better to delay shipping an app rather than ship without some of these 1.1 features. Of course, you can’t complain about a dollar app – but you’re up against other dollar apps with these features, and ultimately, time is the valuable commodity musicians have more than money. That said, I’m giving Figure a second try as I add an iOS handheld to my life later this month, and hope to compare it with some of the other options. I do like the idea of having inspiration from brief moments of experimentation.

    99 cents at iTunes:
    Figure

    The video hasn’t been updated, but it’s still relevant:

    And the slate is still wide-open as far as how mobile apps might interact with their desktop counterparts. We saw a little bit of this from FL Studio and Maschine and GarageBand, but it seems the other shoe is waiting to drop from the likes of Steinberg, Apple, Ableton, and the rest.

    • gLOW-x

      The usual PH way : they create something closed and limited (and know ppl will not like this point), they get back ppl reports saying they don’t like those limitations…and wait a good amount of time to implement what they SHOULD have done way before.

      Like when Reason users asked for audio recording, waiting for years, Record was created, and now integrated in Reason because it SHOULD have been done way before.
      And now they create RE, after years and years of users complaining about being forced to use Rewire in another DAW to finish a project with their fav VSTs.
      They thought Record was enough…but not.Because it was not expandable.

      Now, ppl realize those RE eat their resources like VSTs…because included code is coming from VSTs, not PH coding (compromising sound most of the time).
      What’s next ? A Reason RE with VST wrapper ?

      I can’t stand PH attitude, they (don’t) do things they know will irritate ppl and only move when they are kicked in the back.
      This is not a visionary attitude.
      It is boring at best, totally unacceptable at worst.

      That’s why i dropped Reason years ago and will NEVER touch it again.And probably never buy another PH product.
      Totally bored by their attitude.And i’m not alone…

      • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

        They’re definitely open to criticism, just like anyone else. But surely you can’t compare audio and plug-ins, representing a gap of over a decade, with these minor features, representing a gap of a few months.

        And none of this is related to what appears to be a performance bug with Rack Extensions. I’ll cover that thread separately once we know something material about what’s going on.

        All of these issues are worth discussing. I just wouldn’t conflate unrelated issues.

      • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

        Heh, you know, voting down the person who edits and admins the site isn’t going to have a lot of an impact. ;)

        I mean, you could complain about the color of the box for Reason and the way Thor sounds in the same article. Each might be fair; neither would be related to the other.

      • KNS

        Really? I take it because of the title you assume this app was originally intended to be closed off from the rest of the world. Ever thought maybe they just didn’t have to time or resources to implement these features. I also didnt see where they are asking to pay for these features added to Figure. Arent there a bunch of audio related apps that don’t support these added features? Why so negative? Why so bitter? I find it strange that people who used Reason dropped it still complain to this day every chance they get. How do you know the code in RE is coming from VST. Are you a developer?

      • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

        Well, look … let them vent. But yes, if they’re surprised that version 1.0 doesn’t have every feature that might be on the roadmap, then you can definitely say they’re not a developer.

        I guess the reaction I’m surprised we *haven’t* heard is this. So, people for a long time complained that Reason didn’t support plug-ins. Propellerhead’s answer was that plug-ins could cause variability in performance. With Rack Extensions, people are experiencing variable performance. You think someone would go back and wonder if the Props weren’t right in the first place.

        Anyway, I think you always expect users and customers to complain when they don’t get what they wanted. You need them to complain, in fact, if you want to address that unhappiness.

        I don’t have a solid answer as far as what the cause of symptoms some people are experiencing with RE may be. I’ll of course share anything I learn, though. So it goes…

      • KNS

        I agree that you have all the right in the world to complain as a customer. However I see a lot of them jump into discussions about PH products and go nuts with complain. Only to top it off with. “I don’t use it anymore. I moved on. Sold my copy ages ago”. You are no longer a customer. I hated certain aspects Live and Ableton as a company. I simply moved on, gave away my license. I don’t waste time bashing them every chance I get.

        As for RE performance lets hope it gets sorted out for those who purchased them. I sure to hell will never stop using Reason tho. I have a bunch of REs and barely used them. I am more at home with the native devices.

        PH evokes so much hate its becoming quite funny. I love their products tho.

      • eXode

        The compromising sound issue has been dealt with time and again and you know what? The addition of RE has rather proved that Reason can indeed hold it’s own. What you are talking about is “character”. One might argue that props devices add character to the sound, as taste is different you might or might not like that character. You could make a similar comparison with hardware synths. Some people love the sound of Waldorf synths, other thinks that they sound cold and harsh, other people swears by the Access Virus, claiming it to sound warm and a bit dark. It’s no different with Reason vs other hosts (and their accompanying devices).

        Fact of the matter is that Reason’s so called “sound” has been tested (quite scientifically at that) numerous times and with pure audio running through the mixer, and everything else disabled (i.e. no EQ’s, compressors or what have you) Reason is completely transparent, there is no debate about that.

        I don’t think Reason is perfect, if it was they wouldn’t need more updates, but it is tiresome with burned ex-users that will say pretty much any fabricated BS just to try to stomp at it any chance they get.

        Propellerheads must have really burnt you if you left the program years ago but still feel the need to vent about how crap they are. Just go make music in the DAW of your choice and be happy instead. Life is too short and all that jazz. :)

    • Noiserots Conscience

      these companies make the payed user jump through hoops for severely under-developed apps when they know the apps are lacking c’mon we’re not talking about stupid people here, we’re talking about very knowledgeable people… when it comes to what musicians need this is no brainer stuff that they are deliberately not including…..case in point Native Instruments should have been tarred and feathered for the lack of features that was in Maschines 1.0 release and tarred and feathered again for what the software is still not capable of today !

    • 303

      I have tried many different music apps for iOS.
      This is the only really usefull app.
      I have already made a few tracks, based on this app and worked out finally in Ableton Live.
      GOOD JOB.

    • http://twitter.com/joshgiesbrecht josh giesbrecht

      It’s nice to have export built-in now, although to be honest it’s still a bit annoying as the exported audio has extra fade-out at the end like a song ending, when really I’d much rather use this as a tool for making loops.

      On the other hand, complaining that it didn’t have “what musicians want” is weird. The marketing on release made it clear they were making this as something to doodle on, not a fully featured tool to add to a studio workflow.

    • Vitor Jesus

      I’m waiting for MIDI out. That will surely cause some strong reactions lol

    • King Britt

      Would love if it recorded key changes…..

    • Some Guy

      The interface is beautiful and fun, but it’s still pretty much just a toy really…

    • Ignacio

      So, is there a way to sync Figure to any DAW via Midi at this point? using an usb cable, wi fi, bluetooth, wist, whatever.

    • Ricardo Reis

      Midi sync with other devices such as all my other synths would be great!!!