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!