Audiobus – a case study in app collaboration

An elegant solution for audio app management

Like many leading CEOs and successful business people, I think it’s essential for all of us to have a creative outlet or a hobby, something that is not directly connected to our working lives.

For my part, I like to compose and record music using iOS apps, under an assumed nom de musique. Several of my compositions have been broadcast on national radio, and occasionally listeners are kind enough to purchase and download the music from my artist website.

In exploring this newer form of music-making, I am fortunate enough to gain access to pre-release and beta versions of new apps, which allows me to provide constructive feedback on new designs and recommend suggested features. This activity also provides some insights on best practice for collaborative app development:

  • Listen to your customers and their needs
  • Listen to your customers’ suppliers and their problems
  • Create a common technical standard (not the same as an open standard)
  • Encourage early adoption by making the standard available to key suppliers
  • Embark on an engaging programme of pre-release marketing via social media
  • Underpromise and over-deliver (but always deliver what you promised, and on time)
  • Repeat the process ad infinitum

There is a very active community of iOS musicians. This community is a thriving cottage industry: most practitioners are non-professionals; some are working on the fringes of the music industry; and a few are well-known software developers, producers and commercial recording artists in their own right. It’s a supportive community, and one where it’s easy to find your own level. It also tends to be a highly collaborative environment, with most participants willing to share their knowledge and provide help and advice. There are dedicated micromusic blogs, helpful product review sites and supportive technical forums.

Which brings me to Audiobus, one of the more interesting new apps that is gaining a lot of attention from developers, users and reviewers alike.

Music apps can be divided into 3 broad categories:

The problem is that most of these apps were not designed to “talk” to one another. Initially, it was possible to connect some apps using MIDI tools, but for many amateurs, this is probably a technical stretch. Besides, in the real world, I can plug a guitar and a keyboard into the same amplifier, or connect them to my desktop recording software via a single interface, easily enough.

Unfortunately, real-time audio generated in one app could not be connected to another app. Audio recordings could only be shared across multiple apps using some tedious save/copy/paste functions, or long-winded export and import processes. Audiobus solves this problem with an elegant design solution that works so simply, you have to wonder why Apple didn’t think of it themselves.

Rather than provide a technical overview of Audiobus, I’m more interested in the business model, and the potential case study it offers for future collaboration between app designers and content developers:

1. Audiobus is a collaboration between the developers behind two of the more successful audio apps, SoundPrism and Loopy HD

2. The developers have released an SDK for easier integration of new and existing 3rd party apps

3. There were a reasonable number of existing apps compatible with Audiobus when it launched, and more are being added all the time

4. As one reviewer has commented, buying the Audiobus app actually increases the useability (and therefore the value) of other apps

5. The key to Audiobus is providing a common standard for handling and processing audio recordings created in different apps

At least one app developer abandoned a new design for audio sharing between his own apps when he realised that the Audiobus solution would offer much more flexibility.

When combined with apps like AudioShare (a document management and conversion tool for audio files) and SoundCloud (THE social media platform for audio), Audiobus is really helping to open up and foster a multi-function environment for musicians through content compatibility, integration, sharing, exporting and collaboration.

Frustratingly, I sometimes struggle to figure out which of my iOS apps I need to use to open, edit and share text files, pdf documents, spreadsheets and slides. All too often, files suffer from incompatible formats, fonts, layout and graphics. If only we could have the same level of collaboration for e-books and productivity tools that Audiobus has fostered for music apps!

8 thoughts on “Audiobus – a case study in app collaboration

  1. Excellent article. I also think it has potential to interface quite beautifully with the bigger gear. One of the reasons I love the Audiobus and iOS stuff in general is the sheer variety, character and evolution that is happening at such a rate. Some of the Synths in Logic for example seem like complete Kludges to me now, slow, predictable, and a little boring.

    I hope everyone in the creative fields (and other areas as well) can learn from what is happening with Audiobus and the iOS music production community.

    I will also add this however: the people doing the development of this stuff deserve a lot of credit, and buyers of apps should consider this when they turn their noses up at anything that isn’t free (including music, and other intellectual/ creative content). Lastly, there is some effort to up the ante in terms of audio interfacing, midi implementation. The better things get with respect to these aspects (including the art of editing and mastering), the better chance the world will start to see the enormous potential of iOS production/composition/sound design. I take it very seriously, and I can see it becoming a replacement for a lot of the “bigger better” stuff. Portability and creativity…

    Thanks for taking the time to spearhead the movement further along.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this article. Agree 100% with your observations about what Audiobus can teach other developers and other creative fields, and the credit the Audiobus developers deserve.

  2. Yes, great article and especially the idea of takings this concept to other types of apps and files. specifically, I can see something like like for video editing and processing… That would be huge!
    I am currently using my ipad for all photo, video and ESPECIALLY music editing and creation!
    Thanks so much for the additional resources as well…

  3. Great article. The question asked hints at the hidden R&D consultation efforts going on behind the scenes between third party developers and the platform builder, Apple, and Audiobus gives an early glimpse into the results of such collaboration. What is inevitable is that there is more to come..

    When you say “Audiobus solves this problem with an elegant design solution that works so simply, you have to wonder why Apple didn’t think of it themselves”, I hope you understand that certain underlying system-wide infrastructures have to be in place first in order for these simple solutions to materialise. Capabilities such as Multi-tasking, Background Processes (background audio in this case) and Core MIDI, which arrived with earlier iterations of iOS, and also the more recent Real-time Audio Streaming which was the kick-starter for real-time audio/music app collaboration.

    I would like to hear your thoughts on another iOS-enabled inter-app standard which has actually existed on the Desktop platforms prior to the creation of iOS, and is called JACK. It may not have the early mover status and momentum of Audiobus, but may show hidden promise due to its origins, which hints at inter-platorm as well as inter-app collaboration, the mere thought of which is quite exciting.

    What privileged times we live in! And to think that a few years from now, we will look back in nostalgic derision at the “primitive implementations” of today, without a doubt.

    • What Audiobus has done is enable plug’n’play for audio apps. Sure, it required a lot of behind the scenes collaboration, development and platform alignment, but I can’t help wondering why it didn’t happen sooner – especially as Apple control the OS, and have supported AU and VST plug-ins in their desktop platforms for some time.

      As for JACK, I’m awaiting for more apps to come on board before I can explore it – with Audiobus, they launched with many of the more popular apps already on board. But definitely this is a positive sign as more collaboration emerges.

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