State of Play
It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these and much has happened. Moving house, broken arms (the two are not related) the discovery of the joys of piano.
But in all that time, there has not been the same rampant innovation in the guitar app world as we were used to. Go back 2 years and invention was everywhere, Bias? Blew us away! Bias FX? So good. Tonestack? Sounded so good.
But in August 2016, where are we now?
The pioneer, the innovator, the capo de fruitti tutti del monte. It still sits proudly on my Ipad. And it still sounds really good. The developers are still issuing bug updates….but there are no signs of any big new releases. The last amp and effect packs were long, long ago and there are rumours that the developers (who also made the excellent Tab toolkit) are looking for buyers.
So this may be the issue, you can develop software that is high quality and innovative but even then, there may not be a market for it or at least, not the market you’d expect there to be. Look, when it was first released, just the idea that you could plug a guitar into your phone and essentially have any amp and effect combination you wanted was just astounding, for just a couple of quid.
Where Ampkit led, the guys from Positive Grid advanced. Jamup was amazing and pushed older Iphones to the limit (hey, it still sounds pretty good) but then you got Bias – you could make your own amps and then Bias FX, where you could fit in all those amps into effects heaven, I even got Bias Pedal.
The innovation seemed endless. But then Positive Grid realised that it is essentially impossible to sell an app for more than £20. Buyers who would not hesitate to buy an amp for £700, a guitar for £1,000 or a plug in for £100 will not spring the same sort of money for a humble app.
So PG went for the PC, and it was good. Bias on the PC is amazing, but costs 20 times more than the app, so that means 20 times the profit (actually, even more as Apple don’t take their cut). And if there is more profit there, how much is there in a real, physical amp head, like the Bias Head? Or the utterly tempting Tone Match overdrive pedal?
Positive Grid are an awesome company, still supporting the apps (including a new bass package for Bias FX), but they are a company and how many copies of Bias (at £3.99 in a sale) would they have to sell to match the profits of one Bias Head amp?
I love Tonestack, I love the old skool graphics, I love the liquid beauty of the modulation effects (still the best in Apple-land), I loved the massive V2 expansion, above all, I love the obvious love and attention from not the largest design team in every aspect of the design. I love the sheen and attention to detail of Bias, but I play Tonestack more.
But V2 was a while ago, and while there are whispers on the forum about a big update, where is it?
Line 6 Mobile Pod
Now Line 6 have been in the modelling game now for about 20 years and have had their own app, Mobile Pod around for a number of years. And it sounded great but also curiously unloved. Very few updates, compared to the cornucopia of effects in its rivals, the number of effects you had in Mobile Pod was positively anaemic.
But then, a big shiny new update, pretty new emoji-like graphics and….well, that was it really. No new models, the same rather creaky algorithms. Mobile Pod, with proper corporate backing could be a killer, but it is still the ugly duckling of the app world.
Gripes out of the way first- even after graphical updates it still looks clunky and the signal routing is still much more primitive than its rivals as is the absurd pedal limit. And the constant incentives to spend money are annoying, as is the fact that you have to buy another app if you have an iPhone and an Ipad.
But IK are still innovating, I’ll be reviewing the new Mesa Boogie collection soon, but safe to say that it is not half bad. And the Amplitube Acoustic set is genuiningly ground breaking.
Perhaps constantly goading you to buy is the only way to make a crust in App world. Android is really never going to be a serious platform so designers have only Apple to work for, and Apple do like to take their cut. That is why pioneers like Positive Grid are always seeking ways sell their tech and why Ampkit, despite its brillikancek, is fading away.
Which does leave the question, what does the next 2 years bring us. If I’d asked myself the same question 3 years ago I would have thought endless new amp models, perhaps modelled guitars and pickups, a never ending world of fun.
Now, will there be a guitar app community in 2 years? I’m not totally sure if there will be. Let me know what you think?