Thursday, November 19, 2009

Using the iPhone as Numeric Keypad with Sibelius

No, I am not turning this blog into an advertising agency... but this tiny little iPhone app makes mobile life with Sibelius on the Mac so much easier that I can't hold off and post about it (as Sibeliusblog just did): edovia NumPad turns the iPhone into a numeric pad, also featuring a dedicated Sibelius mode.

For many a task a numeric keypad might seem superfluous. Just taking up space. Apple obviously holds this view: there is no wireless keyboard with a numeric pad and no laptop with a numeric pad either, not even the 17" where it would easily fit into. Yet this is a huge drawback for music pro users. Every pro audio software relies on the numeric keypad; alternative keyboard layouts without a numeric pad are much more complicated. For Sibelius it is more than that - I feel like my right hand is missing! The no-numpad layout is virtually impossible to use because it requires option keys for each and every operation.

The only thing I am missing is Sibelius' six skip-through layouts for the numeric keypad.

This app has drawn my attention to using the iPhone as a remote control for audio software - there's some stuff out! Since this is a bit off-topic, I'll restrict myself to very brief descriptions.

If you are ready to spend € 80 / $ 100 then opt for Far Out Lab's ProRemote. While this is much money for an iPhone app, it is a very reasonable price for a 32 channel controler with fully featured transport functions (your iPhone is sunk cost if you already own one; if not the calculation is more sophisticated ;-). There are limited editions: there is ProTransport, which does everything you would expect with great precision, and it is cheap. Plus there is ProRemote LE with a limitation to 8 channels, no transport etc. for € 28. Setup is easy; there's a server proprietary application for the host computer which does everything behind the scenes.

Hexler's TouchOSC, compared to the serious engineering look & feel of Far Out Lab's products, looks very funky, maybe inspired by Ableton Live. The concept is totally different. First, it is built upon the Open Sound Control (OSC) protocol, which is to be installed on the host computer using third party software. While TouchOSC is as cheap as iPhone apps are, this can be a source of hidden cost - and the whole system cumbersome to set up. This would not annoy the typical TouchOSC user because, secondly, it is totally configurable. On the one hand it is required to connect each and every fader/knob manually to the DAW, but on the other hand objects and layouts can be created with no limits. Far Out Lab's apps, in contrast, are fast but inflexible. Anyway, who needs this flexiblity, one might ask...

iTouchMidi has an emulation of Mackie Control named iTM MCU. Complete set of functions but way too small buttons, I'd say. The setup requires knowledge of concepts like IP address and port - more tedious than FOL's setup but still a lot easier than the whole OSC story. Their iTM Pad / iTM Tilt are very interesting; a single multi-dimensional control which can be assigned to everything.
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