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GarageBand Review: Standard-Setting

With the first generation iPad, we have already seen some incredible acts of creative expression [I mean, Gorillaz recorded a whole album on one!]. Apple, after carefully framing the first iPad as a content consumption device, appears more ready to embrace the iPad’s creative side. It’s evident in the iPad 2 launch release GarageBand, which is by far one of my favorite Apple-brand iPad apps ever.

Rather than porting the Mac version of GarageBand, the iPad version is, like the iWork suite before it, completely redesigned for the touch interface. And boy, does it show! Everything is controlled via intuitive touch commands, with as few pulldown menus cluttering things as possible. GarageBand has been given the same thought, care, and polish that the iWork for iPad suite was. Actually, I’d say it has been given more polish, because it is slicker, more intuitive, and easier to use than either Numbers of Keynote.

Let me run down the highlights really quick. First, there’s four main instruments, including guitar, bass, piano, and drums, each with it’s own internal varieties (hip-hop drum machine, roots rock guitar, electric piano, etc.) and each with the ability to generate auto play loops or to be played freestyle. Voice work and sound samples can also be recorded, tweaked, and looped. Anything you play or automate can also be recorded, either to a fixed length (default is 8 chords) or to whatever length you want. Anything that’s recorded can be manipulated in the mixer, which is a fully realized touch interface that’s so easy to use, even complete music noobs like me can quickly create a jaunty little tune. And there’s all sorts of other bells and whistles, too … and all for five bucks.

My favorite things here may be the little touches. For example, it’s impossible not to be impressed with the “touch sensitivity” built into things. It has something to do with surface area and the accelerometer — I don’t quite get how they could do it, honestly — but the result is impressive. When you lightly touch a piano key or tom-Tom or top hat, you get a soft sound; but when you tap harder, you get a louder sound. Whoever fine-tuned this idea at Apple deserves a raise, because it’s brilliant.

The ease of use contributes to the other great thing about GarageBand: it’s incredibly fun to play with. I am not a serious musician, but I just had a blast creating little riffs and beats and samples. And because of the automated features, I was able to do it quite quickly, and quite well. Of course, I’ve probably just scratched the surface of all the things this app can do; I don’t make any of the finer adjustments, though I know the options are there. I can only imagine what real musicians are going to start doing now that they have this app.

To be fair, there were a couple of things that I went looking for but couldn’t find. For example, there’s no way to fade a track in or out, which is a pretty basic thing, and it seemed odd for it to be omitted. And like the iWork suite, transferring files out of the app is limited to e-mail and iTunes (seriously, Apple, the cloud exists, and it is awesome). But these are minor compared to all that the app *can* do, and each is easily remedied in a future update.

There’s really only one problem with GarageBand, and it’s this: it’s going to make a lot of third-party music and recording apps very unhappy. For $5 you get not only a top-notch virtual piano, bass, guitar, and drum app, but also a voice recorder, a sampler, track loops, and what is easily the best mixing/editing software to appear on the device yet. It sets the standard for music apps going forward, and it’s truly a showcase for all that’s great about the iPad and iOS.

GarageBand - AppleĀ®

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