The best thing about the iPad. Man, we dev monkeys have known for a long time that something like the iPad was a good idea. Remember how touchscreens were like this mystical feature into a world of futuristic interfaces for so long? Like how engaging warp nine was totally the shit in conceptual whiteboard land but never actually a reality until a little PC vendor finally struck gold with a good design?

So why was this such a cool idea for all those years? What message was in our deepest gut that said at we wanted iTouch everything? Now hat we finally have this platform well-deployed and it’s the most popular consumer electronics item of our lifetime (of all time?), what do we do with it? What’s next? What now?

I think the answer is we push the envelope of user interface design with good graphics, wacky paradigms, and new ways of looking at problems. We are finally at a point where the door is open for the average developer to make the next big advancement, and it’s all about the idea.

For one small example, sketching with AutoDesk SketchPad pro is incredible. It won’t replace pencil and paper for everything, but does a lot of things pencil and paper can’t do. You can quickly and fearlessly fearlessly move through ideas with undo and by adding new layers. You can try combos of brushes and blending that would never be possible on the old medium. This means you’ve got a new tool with a new niche – not just a toy.

We’ve had visualizations for music for some time. They’ve always looked cool, but is it possible that they help us think about the music better?

What can the machine do that we could never do before? What other ways can we show the data? What new angle can we present the problem? Nothing other than unbridled creativity can answer those questions.

My favorite pet puzzle is finding a way to push the envelope with live music production – and more specifically with music sequencing (writing out a part for an instrument). Just like finger painting, making music is something that is completely human and an art form where computers can make a big difference in helping humans become even more human.

The obvious iPad answer is to resell software reproductions of classic hardware synthesizers with beautifully crafted interfaces like the Korg iMS-20, or iElectribe. Plugging a MIDI keyboard in using the camera connection kit means the iPad can be a real, usable musical instrument and can save us thousands of dollars on the hardware counterparts.

Kaoss Pad – So much fun with a low-pass filter.

Bt what next? What about new ways of designing the sounds or composing the music? In my humble opinion, the best interface for writing a drum part is still 30 years old, and I feel like that is going to change very soon (remember all that techno from 10-15 years ago? Yeah, that’s where it came from). It’s time to try new ideas, like improving the workflow for live MIDI recording arrangement to build a better musical whiteboard. Or building on the clunky grid-based midi sequence editor that every music composition program seems to have settled on as “good enough”.

It’s all about the features that really matter. For example, if Garage Band for the iPad relied on the built-in keyboard or a shitty 16-step drum sequencer like all the other apps, it would be a very cool and utterly worthless gimmick. Adding a line-in to record real instruments makes it an incredible mixing and arranging tool.

Roland TR-808, and the classic 16-step drum sequencer.
We haven’t moved much past this for drums and synth lines.

It’s all about the ideas. Rebuilding a cheaper and more portable version of something old is step one, but running with that old concept and making something new is the next step. This means breaking the mold, thinking outside the box, and not being afraid of failure. Presenting instrument tracks as 3D interactive planets, or adjusting the alpha channel of their colors to display their relevance in the mix, or drawing on modern empirical response studies and data visualization techniques to generate a good overview of the musical concept you are trying to put down are examples of things developers haven’t tried.

I put stuff like this on this blog because I feel they have relevance to the general world of software design. What an amazing time we are living in.