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Hands on with GarageBand for the iPhone and iPad

Serenity Caldwell | Nov. 3, 2011
It's no secret around these parts that we're pretty fond of GarageBand on iOS.

It's no secret around these parts that we're pretty fond of GarageBand on iOS. Apple's mobile music app hits all the right notes, appealing to newbie musicians and professionals alike, offering massive amounts of functionality behind the guise of an easy-to-use interface and playful instrument designs; it's almost hard to believe the program has only been around since March.

Now, GarageBand is getting its first full update, and it's a whopper: The app has gone universal, with a brand-new iPhone and iPod touch interface, and has added a bunch of new features, including custom chords for Smart Instruments, an Arpeggiator, new velocity settings, transposition, new time signatures, quantization options, and support for AAC and AIFF export.

I spent the morning playing around with GarageBand on both my iPad 2 and iPhone 4; here are some initial impressions on the update.

Phenomenal cosmic powers... itty bitty living space

When I first got a chance to play with GarageBand on the iPad back in March, I had little expectation for an iPhone port. At the time, iMovie had just been made universal, which made sense enough. You're capturing video on your iPhone; surely you might want to edit it on the device. But while the iPhone's portable size makes it ideal for recording vocal snippets and guitar parts on the go, I was skeptical about the viability of GarageBand's full feature-set on such a small device. I'd owned guitar and piano iPhone apps before, but found them severely lacking in actual usability, thanks to small screen space and poorly-done interfaces.

As of Tuesday, I am very happy to be completely, utterly wrong. Not only does GarageBand's iPhone and iPod touch version make music creation, editing, and exporting a snap, but the folks on the development team have somehow managed to implement almost every single feature from GarageBand for iPad into the device, and without compromising on design or user experience, at that. (The only missing feature I could find was support for multiple keyboards on one screen--something that makes little to no sense on a device as small as an iPhone or iPod touch.)

All your instruments from GarageBand for iPad are ready and waiting; all your settings, ready to be tweaked. The design team has made some very clever adjustments to compensate for the iPhone's small screen: The instruments themselves take up the full length of the screen, saving a small amount of space for the toolbar, which offers all your controls, hidden in several nicely-defined menus.

To access alternate instrument styles, other instruments, or to return to your songs list, tap the upside-down triangle in the upper left corner. If you want to swap back to your song timeline for editing, tap the timeline button immediately next to it. This button is intelligent: When in timeline mode, the icon switches to that of the instrument you have selected; tap it again to return to instrument mode, and it will turn into the timeline icon again.


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