Audiobus has been one of the most talked about new music technologies since it was announced earlier in this year.
One of the key limitations for music apps on iOS has been the challenges of working with audio from multiple music apps ‘in the box’. Audiobus – a new option for routing live audio on iOS – promises to change that.
Since the initial Audiobus announcement, there’s been debate over whether iOS 6 would derail the project, skepticism that it would get approved by Apple and confusion about what it is. Even now that Audiobus has been approved by Apple, there’s still confusion over how it will work and what it means for iOS music making.
To address this, we talked with developer Sebastian Dittmann and beta user Tim Webb.
Audiobus: The Developer’s View
Sebastian Dittmann is one of the founders of Audanika, the creator of SoundPrism Pro. Audiobus is a joint venture between Dittmann and Michael Tyson of A Tasty Pixel, creator of the iOS looping app Loopy.
We asked Dittmann about Audiobus, how it came about and how he sees it fitting into the future of mobile music making.
Synthtopia: To start off, Sebastian, what is Audiobus? What is your vision for Audiobus and how it will be used?
Sebastian Dittmann: Audiobus is a standalone app and an API for other developers to include in their own apps. Audiobus allows live audio streaming between apps, providing for the ability to use apps together like modules in a studio.
It’s the virtual ‘cabling’ that ties everything together.
We envision a whole new way of making music, bringing together the work of many different developers. We also envision a whole new class of music apps that provide audio processing capabilities to other apps.
Synthtopia: You mentioned that Audiobus is both an application and a standard for routing audio. What does each part do?
Sebastian Dittmann: Audiobus consists of a library (the Audiobus SDK) that developers can integrate into their apps – a piece of code we provide, which performs Audiobus communication and audio management – and an app that is used to configure routing between compatible apps.
Synthtopia: How did this project come about?
Sebastian Dittmann: While working on Virtual MIDI support for Loopy, Michael (Tyson) had the idea of using Virtual MIDI to carry not just MIDI data, but actual audio. He thought it would be cool if apps could stream audio into Loopy.
That’s pretty much the beginning of Audiobus – a concrete problem that he solved. He spent a number of weeks prototyping the concept before we met and began conversing about it and eventually joined forces, then began developing the system in earnest.
Synthtopia: Since your initial announcement about Audiobus, there’s been an amazing amount of buzz for this project. It’s been covered at Synthtopia and other music technology sites, but also at general technology sites like Gizmodo. Why do you think there’s so much interest in it?
Sebastian Dittmann: It’s the amount of opportunities that arise from the ability to use multiple music apps in tandem.
There are many use-cases: using an app to manipulate the output of another app, and recording the result in a third app; combining audio output of two apps to be recorded and processed in another; adding microphone input to an app that doesn’t support it by itself.
What it means is that people will be able to use their existing hardware and apps in entirely new ways, instead of using each app in isolation or having to buy multiple iPad/iPhones and join them together with audio cables. Audio Copy/Paste helped lower the boundaries between apps. Audiobus is going to remove those boundaries completely.
It also solves many design problems for developers: they don’t have to think about input, output, file management etc. if they don’t want to. Instead they can just support Audiobus and focus on the core functionality while relying on other apps to provide the rest.
Synthtopia: Your latest milestone was announcing, Sept 13, that Apple has approved Audiobus. In your announcement, though, you also said that there is additional testing to do with the initial round of apps supporting Audiobus. Can you tell us what this Apple approval means in the larger process of taking Audiobus from an idea to technology musicians can use?
Sebastian Dittmann: The approval from Apple represents the largest hurdle we have had to pass. As Audiobus is such a new concept and is more “system component”-like than any other third party iOS product has been (on the App Store, anyway), it was not clear whether it would be something that Apple would back.
Now that Apple has given its approval, the final impediment has been passed.
Synthtopia: Before your announcement this week, there was speculation about whether Apple would approve Audiobus or whether features of iOS 6 might replace the need for Audiobus. How big of a concern have these been to you?
Sebastian Dittmann: Whether or not Apple would approve has indeed been a concern all along; this has represented the biggest risk for the project.
Aside from the possible implications for Apple’s approval, the possibility of a similar feature appearing in iOS 6 wasn’t of enormous concern for us: We knew that it was unlikely that Apple would be in a position to build a product with the feature set of Audiobus, simply due to the specificity of the problems Audiobus sets out to solve, which are beyond Apple’s typical scope.
Audiobus is a product made by iOS music app developers for iOS developers and we’ve been in contact with iOS music app developers and bloggers throughout the process of its creation.
Synthtopia: Some of the features that were originally planned for Audiobus were mixing and recording. What’s behind the decision to drop those features?
Sebastian Dittmann: As development proceeded, it became clearer and clearer that Audiobus’ strength lay in its ability to tie other apps together into a cohesive whole. One of the very things that makes this product so exciting to us is the fact that it allows for users to bring together apps with a small scope, but excellent quality: Apps that do “one thing well”.
It became clear to us that pouring our limited resources into building additional, auxiliary features into the Audiobus app itself, such as mixing and recording, was a less sensible option than devoting all of our efforts into making Audiobus excellent at tying together other apps, many of which already perform those functions excellently.
Synthtopia: There are a lot of mobile musicians anxious to try out Audiobus. Their biggest questions are: When will Audiobus be released?, How much will it cost? and What apps will support it? Can you address any of these questions?
Sebastian Dittmann: We have yet to set a launch date, as we are still working with a number of separate development teams to integrate Audiobus into the initial set of supporting apps.
We have also not yet fixed a price, although it is going to be in the sub-$10 price range.
We have a number of apps whose developers we are working with, many of which are extremely well-known and well-respected, but we are not going to disclose this list quite yet.
Synthtopia: What’s your timetable is for testing and releasing Audiobus, and what types of applications we should expect to see as part of the initial release?
Sebastian Dittmann: We’re not going to disclose the timetable for the release, but implementation and testing is happening right now as I am typing this.
As for other applications to expect: I think it’s impossible to tell what people might come up with, but one example for a new app that can only exist after Audiobus has been launched would be an effects app that only does that: add effects to a live audio stream. It would not need to have additional input or output options, and developers would not have to bother with file management or add all sorts of settings and configuration options as they would have before Audiobus.
To put it in a nutshell: Audiobus will enable developers to create one-purpose apps that allow them to do one thing, and one thing well, without having to focus on all the miscellaneous problems that pre-Audiobus apps have to deal with.
Synthtopia: Mobile music making technology is changing very quickly. What do you see as the future of music making on iOS? And do you think Android or Windows 8 devices will be able to challenge the iPad and iPhone anytime soon?
Sebastian Dittmann: I’m very sure there’s going to be more connectivity and compatibility with iOS devices from major manufacturers of music hardware as iOS becomes more popular with musicians.
Google has made some steps in the right direction with a lower latency audio implementation in Android 4.1, but the only devices supporting that in a decent way have almost no market-share. When we’re talking about iOS and music we’re mainly talking about the iPad – a tablet – and Android tablets make up less than 3% of all Android devices.
Until that changes and Google finds a way to stop fragmentation on Android in a way that gives developers a quasi-standard device specification to develop for, without having to test on 40+ Android devices, the music app market on Android won’t be able to compete with the music app market on iOS.
Windows 8 has a long road ahead before it can prove that it’s a viable market for developers. That’s all I can say about it since I’m not a fan of speculation.