Apple Bringing Audio Unit Plugins To iOS


Buried in the deluge of developer announcements that Apple made at their World Wide Developer Conference yesterday was an interesting development for iOS mobile music making: Audio Unit Extensions.

Here’s what Apple has to say about Audio Unit Extensions:

The Audio Unit extension point allows your app to provide musical instruments, audio effects, sound generators, and more for use within apps like GarageBand, Logic, and other Audio Unit host apps. The extension point also brings a full audio plug-in model to iOS and lets you sell Audio Units on the App Store.

It will be months before we can see how this plays out – but it looks like this is an attempt to combine the benefits and flexibility of audio plugins with the sandboxing and distribution benefits of the App Store model.

It also promises to make it easier for developers to create audio effects and synths for both iOS & OS X platforms, and to make it easier for end-users to buy and install them.

Developers can see the App Extension Programming Guide for additional details.

What do you think of the idea of audio plugins on iOS? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

via CDM’s Peter Kirn

38 thoughts on “Apple Bringing Audio Unit Plugins To iOS

  1. So this would save you from using audiomux/midimux? You’d be able to just run Korg gadget as a Plug-in in Logic? Am I understanding this correctly? If so, great news! Now I just need a new ipad…

    1. No, I think you’re misunderstanding this.

      The plug-in support means you’ll soon be able to have virtual instruments and effects that run inside an app. An example might be loading Animoog directly in GarageBand.

        1. Audio Unit Extension’s can be implemented on both iOS and OS X.

          It’s not that interesting an announcement for OS X, though, because OS X already supported AU plugins.

          Just because both systems will support AU extensions, though, does not mean that Gadget will show up in Logic. It just means that both platforms will let you load AU plugins.

          Maybe someone could create a pair of AU extensions, on both Mac and iOS, that would let you route audio & midi between the two plugins, sort of like AudioMux/MIDIMux. I think this would accomplish basically what you want.

    1. Yes Audiobus will become much less attractive now. It will still be cool, but not for your main workflow.

      I should say that, it won’t just run existing AU from your Mac. This is an Extension API. So you still need an a standalone app to package the AU in.

      The good news is that developers can just package their existing AU mostly as-is in an Audio Unit Extention, in an app.

  2. Well, I’d love to port Zed Synth as an AU/VST for Mac & Windows. The audio-engine is fully C++ and should work cross-platform pretty easily.

    However, Apple have (to my knowledge) offer no cross-platform SDK for the user interface. The iOS user interface code does not compile on OS X, nor the reverse.

    So I’m not really sure this changes a lot, developers will still need to use cross-platform SDKs like JUCE.

    Or do you see an alternative?

    1. Seems only reasonable to assume that you would need to do separate UI code/layout for each platform. If for no other reason that simply to ensure that all OS X based plugs ins weren’t constrained to the same size/dimensions as an iPad screen. Also, there is a lot of difference between a click and a tap when it comes to real time functionality, so some wise design choices should be applied differently for each platform.

  3. Just a guess, but I am assuming this will only work on the newest iPads. My first generation iPad 2 can’t run iOS8 without slowing way down. Apple obviously knew this and won’t let you downgrade your OS. That makes me much less likely to run out and buy a new iPad.

    1. side note that may help you. Had upgraded my iPad2 many times…finally got an iPad Air 2 (yay!) and gave my old iPad to my daughter. She complained about it being slow too much (iOS 8…it was frustrating). I wound up completely erasing it/factory resetting it and reinstalling things anew. Was like a new machine! not as bad as it used to be. Still chokes on heavy apps but day-to-day it feels good. Maybe this would help you too.

        1. There are tons of great music apps that still work great on the iPad 1 with iOS 5.

          That said – browsing in Safari is completely useless on it, compared to to my iPad Air. Apple’s got better at power management in the last 5 years, so an Air is probably 10 times more powerful and still runs for 8 hours on a charge.

          I like that the iPad 1 still runs so many music apps very nicely, but technology has moved on and the stuff that developers are doing for more recent machines is pretty amazing.

    2. It will work on your iPad 2. I’m running it on mine now (iOS 9 beta). It’s not significantly slower than iOS 8, which was a little sluggish.

      If you want to dip your toe in, here’s a tip: install the iOS 9 Gold Master beta when it comes out. It’s the same as the release version, and you can go back from it (usually).

  4. Great news all around, and I’m very glad to see Apple getting in front of the obvious on this one. If they don’t set the standard for audio plug ins someone else will, and then we will have a mess. Watching what has started happening already in apps like Auria is troublesome. If I buy a plug in, I want it to work in all my apps, not just one. And I don’t want to buy a separate copy of the same plug in for each app.

    Also, if Apple does indeed offer some resources or support to developers for cross platform needs, it can only be beneficial to users.

    1. I’m just starting the learn this, but Swift (their new coding language), should allow for easy cross-Apple platform development. Meaning build an app for OS X or iOS and you may only have to do this once. The one thing, like someone else mentioned, is the UI. You may have to re-think how that functions differently across even those platforms.

      Now, incentive to have it work on a Windows or VST platform is probably not even on their radar. No reason to do that when they want everyone on an Apple device.

  5. As a 40 year audio veteran I’m not interested in Apple’s late-to-market audio plug-in. VST remains the strong arm of creative freedom with literally hundreds-thousands of plugins available WITHOUT the limitations of the Apple greed and control. Professional audio engineers, recording engineers, musicians and performers continue to use and will stick to using proven, streamlined and reliable VST technology. Kids who want to play with toys on their phones can have AU. (..and for the record… Apple is once again copying existing technology.. not innovating it)

    1. Right! And that’s why VST format blazingly lead the way like a market leader on the obviously head of the pack new hot platform of iPad. Oh… Wait… Never mind.

    2. “Professional audio engineers, recording engineers, musicians and performers continue to use and will stick to using proven, streamlined and reliable VST technology.”

      R u joking? They were on those huge Mac Pro desktops for ages.

  6. i’d be more interested if they open-sourced AudioUnits so there could be the potential for big name developers to port to linux. im honestly not overly interested in continuing with OSX long term due to their continued emphasis on the consumer market and enless interface tweaks versus improved performance and power. Apple Watch is nice, its got great features, but when the companion product (remember when iOS was all about upselling people on Macs?) isnt getting the same love it compromises the ecosystem as a whole.

    [edit] only saying “big name” developers because its only then that the financial resources will be present to make it happen on a large enough scale to enact change in the ecosystem

    1. Unfortunately, Apple is sort of at the mercy of Intel’s stagnation when it comes to pushing laptop/desktop performance forward.

      They’re using the same Intel chips as everybody else, and nobody’s making performance improvements that are big enough to ‘wow’ anybody.

      I’ve got a 4-year old quad-core laptop and there’s not a lot out there that’s much better. In the meantime, iPads and phones have gotten 10 times faster, so that’s where people are spending their money.

      1. Aha! I think you have broken the code!

        Apple designs their own processors for their iOS devices, but have been using off-the-shelf Intel processors for OS-X. It has been said that Apple really wants to move from Intel to their own processors for future Macs, but those pesky issues like legacy compatibility and having Intel drag them into a big legal battle over intellectual property rights seems to have them holding back, for now.

        Meanwhile, let’s see how this iOS/AU porting effort works out. Should be interesting…

        1. Apple always designed their own chips, but went with Intel to maximize compatability with Microsoft Windows. The dual-boot ability would not have otherwise been possible.

          1. The only reason why Apple went with Intel was because the company they used to make processors was unable to crack the multicore processors. So they had no choice if they wanted to remain competitive in terms of speed and performance.

            It’s not a problem on iOS devices, which is why they bought the company they parted way with when they had a chance.
            The benefit of more compatibilty was an added bonus (or a trade-off depending on your perspective)

  7. anyone who says they understand this and all it’s implications for both iOS and OSX is full of it.
    We’ll see what comes of it, it might be earth shaking, it might be the same kind of meh we’ve seen for years…

  8. I hope it will be possible to have multiple instances of the same audio unit in the same App: is possible with VST plug-in Windows, but it is not possible with inter-App in IOS.
    For example, it would serve to have more identical instruments (Synth or effects) in App like cubasis!!!

    1. It would have been completely unusable on early iOS devices, because of CPU requirements.

      Also – it was not really until the iPad Air that an iPod DAW became semi-practical. Tablets are optimized for mobility and battery life vs power, and DAWs need power to be useful.

    1. Audiobus functions as a bus insert and requires implementation of the Audiobus SDK to function as well as purchase of the App and IAPs for full functionality. If you are familiar with IAA, it works the same. It is built into the system, is stable through OS updates and does not require additional purchases to use.

      While Audiobus was a good solution to route audio between apps in a time when AudioCopy and the iTunes Shared folder were the only means of combining the products of various apps into one composition, it has become a thorn in the side of musicians, not only because of the additional cost and the tedium of app switching, but for 8 months of the year it is up in the air which apps will remain and which will fail because a developer needs to update the Audiobus SDK. It’s a headache for developers and a nightmare for musicians. Most musicians refuse to update their devices for this reason alone. We all just want something that works as is as dependable as VST/AU has proved on Mac OS.

  9. That twit in the top photo looke like wither he’s trying to be one of the Wiggles or he’s crapped in his pants ^_^

  10. this actually brings up a really good point, and something in reference to my comments a few weeks back on the Waldorf Nave AU/VST thread…. now that this work will become that much easier, how will developers continue to justify the 7-8x price increase on plugins versus app versions of the same thing? a lot of the reasoning people used there to justify the price difference becomes irrelevant with these announcements. will we continue to pay 7x for a plugin version of the app simply because the plugin version can now run 5 instances on our ipads?

  11. It would seem idea is to take AU plug-ins previously available only in Mac OS and make them available to iOS users. Which makes me rather excited. I do not think id will destroy AU for Mac OS in any way, rather it expands the market for AU plugin developers which now includes the iOS App Store in addition to the Mac App Store. Since it is the same technology, I would imagine developers would merely need to adopt a more flexible UI model and BOOM! I have been dreaming of for two years. 😀

    My initial questions…

    1- “Will IAA functionality automatically adapt to the AU standards, or will developers have to modify the apps (yet again) to keep pace?

    2- Do AU’s seamlessly incorporate MIDI like the current IAA protocol on iOS?

    3- Will GarageBand virtual instrument surfaces be usable as controller for AU’s?

    4- Will this relieve the necessity of app switching?

    1. The answer to the first one is that devs will still have to rewrite their apps in a new format for iOS- they won’t be automatically converted.

  12. I think some people is underestimating ios and ipad I can see in the future ipad replacing laptops and as some have said this market is improving fast, its like the first version of reason and rebirth many people where saying those where just toys and in the beginning they kind of where but here we are years later replacing hardware almost completely by great digital designs, its the same with ipads and mobile devices in couple of years will be more and more mainstream, I have to agree and disagree with apple lately ive been making music and designing sound for 15 years and i remember working on windows was and still find it a pain in the ass, spending hours of work cleaning spam virus, finding on the internet mysterious error codes just to find out where is a patch that can fix it just so it can break something else, im sticking to mac for now but if something better comes like linux finally mainstream so be it, apple is greedy and i hate that shit just using their platform because at the moment there is nothing better, that said i dont mind using vst or au or ipad or what ever diversification is a good think, this news are good news for me, im creating my own plug ins now and wouldnt mind to port them to all platforms and let customers decide which one they like best.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *