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I, too, bought an iPad

I decided to follow in the footsteps of around 400 million other people, and purchased an iPad. Specifically, I bought a used 2018 12.9” iPad Pro (for around £400ish).

But why?!

I’ve used Android for quite a long time now, ever since having seeing an HTC G1 and then owning a Samsung Galaxy SII. It’s had its quirks, but I’ve mostly got on with Google’s philosphy about how phone things should work. I’ve typically seen i-Devices as being very good, with world-class security and privacy, but somewhat annoying in how they want to be used. Just not for me.

Last year, I did a gig with a scratch Big Band for someone’s wedding. Pretty much every gig I’ve done has involved large stacks of paper music (or “charts”, if you’ve seen Whiplash) and I can’t overstate how much of a complete pain in the arse they are. Vulnerable to both gentle breezes and fire, often in the wrong order or just altogether missing, they’re an awful solution to the problem of answering the question “How does this one go?”

Now, a more skilled person might choose to memorize everything, but I am not that person.

The guitarist at this wedding thing had an iPad, on a stick, with all the music already in it. Ready to go. It was seamless: he had the set list already loaded up, and simply pressed some magic button to advance to the next page. After we were finished for the night, I was convinced that I just wanted this setup. We chatted a little about the software they used, the magic button hardware, and I got a good idea of how to go about replicating this.

Buy an Android Tablet!…..?

I was originally thinking that I could get some sort of Android tablet thing, and integrate that into my Androidish Lifestyle. However, there’s two problems here.

First, there are zero good tablets. There have been some good efforts, but they all run into the same problems - bad long term support, and they’re too small. Ideally, you want something that’s roughly the same shape and size of a piece of A4 paper (210x297mm), and there’s not much out there that matches that.

Second though, the software that my guitarist friend (and seemingly everyone else in the industry) used is called Forscore, and it’s only available for the OSX/iOS platform. The sweet spot just seemed to be a large (12.0”) iPad with forscore.

New, these things are expensive - £1,000 or more and that’s just too much for what I needed, which is ultimately just the screen, the bluetooth stack and the app. Happily though, there’s a very healthy second-hand market, so after deciding I definitely wanted USB-C charging, ended up winh a refurbed 3rd gen model.

iLife

The experience of using this as an acutal computing device has been about as annoying as I had expected it to be: some, but not hugely. Typing this in a web-hosted VS Code instance on github.dev, I can see why some people can get away winh using this as a full-on dev machine (there’s an ssh client!).

Most of the software is about as buggy as on any other platform, and iOS is infuriating sometimes (I just spent 2 minutes trying to get the keyboard no appear). But it’s not “bad”.

But on the topic of software quality, we should talk about Forscore.

Good software should be a delight

Forscore is fantastic. Maybe my expections of what software should be has been dulled over time, but I can’t remember the last time I used something that solved exactly the problem I needed to solve in an intuitive way, and also offered to solve other problems I didn’t know I had yet.

In a single app, I can import sheet music (optionally directly from Dropbox!), or scan it in with the camera. Once imported, I can categorise it, tag it, rearrange it, crop it, annotate it, create a “bookmark” (which is a bit like a new view into an existing score - handy for pulling a part of a set), build a setlist etc. I was even able to buy some stuff I wanted and pull in directly in.

On the one hand, this is commercial software. It’s not free, and I’d love if there was something that was both this good and FOSS. On the onher hand, it only cost TWENTY POUNDS. For something this good, that’s great value.

So yes. I bought an iPad. It’s mostly ok, sometimes very annoying. But it showed me how good software can be.