GarageBand iOS – A studio in your pocket?

Apple released a new version of Garageband yesterday (18th Jan 2017) where among a host of improvements you now have access to the Alchemy Synth which is awesome (well a cut down version of it that will only work on newer iOS devices). It also added features to make it easier to work with it’s desktop daddy Logic Pro X. The track above was created in less than an hour and that included actually leaning how to use the app!

So, is it now a powerful studio in your pocket? The quick answer is no but if you consider what equipment we needed 15 years ago to achieve the same results with then perhaps we could say yes! However, there is a monumental issue that Apple themselves have made and for me at least, its a deal breaker. Yes, you’ve all heard about it – Apple killed the headphone socket on the latest iPhone. So what? Well here is the problem.

On previous iPhones the way mobile musicians work (mostly) is to stick on a pair of headphones into the headphone socket and connect a small USB midi controller keyboard such as the Akai LP25 to the lightning port via a little dongle. OK, we could not charge our devices when doing this but it did give us a few hours of true mobile music making. When you are making what I would call ‘real’ music where you actually need to be able to play an instrument rather than mashing samples together you need a keyboard or a guitar attached to your iPhone to either get midi data or audio data into it whilst being able to listen on your headphones or on a connected speaker.

Now we only have a lighting connector so although it is still possible to get midi and audio into it we can’t actually monitor it or listen to it through anything but the iPhones inbuilt speaker which sucks massively. Bluetooth is a big no no so we won’t even go there because you press a key on your midi keyboard and hear it half a second later which makes it impossible to play. With all of this in mind it is now also impossible to use your iPhone as a live instrument as many people do. You can’t get the audio out if you are already using the lightning port for midi or audio! OK, so there are companies out there with an array of dongles nobody wants to carry around as that negates the ‘mobile’ part of mobile music.

So, there we have it. With one hand Apple gives and with the other hand it takes away. I’m not even sure why they are bothering anymore with mobile music making apps like Garageband because they have paralyzed it by taking away the headphone socket. Apple you suck big time. Don’t even get me started on the new MacBook pros and their un-connectivity! It’s actually stopping me buying a new MacBook Pro!

So, to wrap it up – if you are happy to use the actual iOS device’s touch screen as the instrument which is extremely fiddly for anything but the most simple tracks, then it’s a great little sketchpad for a real instrument playing musician. If you are a loop and sample mixer then you don’t need an external controller in most cases so its also cool for you. A mobile studio for anyone with an iPhone 7 it is not.