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Original author: 
Scott Gilbertson

Hybrids. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.

The advent of hybrid laptops that double as tablets or offer some sort of touch input has greatly complicated the life of web developers.

A big part of developing for today’s myriad screens is knowing when to adjust the interface, based not just on screen size, but other details like input device. Fingers are far less precise than a mouse, which means bigger buttons, form fields and other input areas.

But with hybrid devices like touch screen Windows 8 laptops or dockable Android tablets with keyboards, how do you know whether the user is browsing with a mouse or a finger?

Over on the Mozilla Hacks blog Patrick Lauke tackles that question in an article on detecting touch-capable devices. Lauke covers the relatively simple case of touch-only, like iOS devices, before diving into the far more complex problem of hybrid devices.

Lauke’s answer? If developing for the web hasn’t already taught you this lesson, perhaps hybrid devices will — learn to live with uncertainty and accept that you can’t control everything.

What’s the solution to this new conundrum of touch-capable devices that may also have other input methods? While some developers have started to look at complementing a touch feature detection with additional user agent sniffing, I believe that the answer – as in so many other cases in web development – is to accept that we can’t fully detect or control how our users will interact with our web sites and applications, and to be input-agnostic. Instead of making assumptions, our code should cater for all eventualities.

While learning to live with uncertainty and providing interfaces that work with any input sounds nice in theory, developers are bound to want something a bit more concrete. There’s some hope on the horizon. Microsoft has proposed the Pointer Events spec (and created a build of Webkit that supports it). And the CSS Media Queries Level 4 spec will offer a pointer query to see what sort of input device is being used (mouse, finger, stylus etc).

Unfortunately, neither Pointer Events nor Media Queries Level 4 are supported in today’s browsers. Eventually there probably will be some way to easily detect and know for certain which input device is being used, but for the time being you’re going to have to live with some level of uncertainty. Be sure to read through Lauke’s post for more details and some sample code.

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luanna is a beautiful new application out of Tokyo-based visual/sound collective Phontwerp_. Amidst a wave of audiovisual iPad toys, luanna is notable for its elegance, connecting swirling flurries of particles with gestures for manipulation. I imagine I’m not alone when I say I have various sample manipulation patches lying around, many in Pd, lacking visualization, and wonder what I might use in place of a knob or fader to manipulate them. In the case of luanna, these developers find one way of “touching” the sound.


As the developers put it:

luanna is an audio-visual application designed for the iPad
that allows you to create and control music through the manipulation of moving images.

The luanna app has been designed to be visually simple and intuitive, whilst retaining a set of rich and comprehensive functions. Through hand gestures you can touch, tap and manipulate the image, as if you were touching the sound. The image changes dynamically with your hand movements, engaging you with the iPad’s environment.

The interface is multi-modal, with gestures activating different modes. This allows you to select samples, play in reverse, swap different playback options, mute, and add a rhythm track or crashing noises. It’s sort of half-instrument, half-generative.

Phontwerp_ themselves are an interesting shop, descibed as a “unit” that will “create tangible/intangible products all related to sound.” Cleverly naming each as chord symbols, ∆7, -7, add9, and +5 handle sound art, merch, music performance / composition / sound design, and code, respectively. That nexus of four dimensions sounds a familiar one for our age.

Sadly, this particular creation is one of a growing number of applications that skips over the first-generation iPad and its lower-powered processor and less-ample RAM. Given Apple can make some hefty apps run on that hardware, though, I hope that if independent developers find success supporting the later models, they back-port some of their apps.

See the tutorial for more (including a reminder that Apple’s multitasking gestures are a no-no).

US$16.99 on the App Store. (Interested to see the higher price, as price points have been low for this sort of app – but I wonder if going higher will eventually be a trend, given that some of the audiovisual stuff we love has a more limited audience!)

Readers request Audio Copy and sample import right away. I think sample import, at least, could easily justify a higher price, by making this a more flexible tool.

Find it on our own directory, CDM Apps:
http://apps.createdigitalmusic.com/apps/luanna

http://phontwerp.jp/luanna/

Very similar in its approach is the wonderful Thicket, well worth considering:
http://apps.createdigitalmusic.com/apps/thicket

See our recent, extensive profile of that application’s development:
Thicket for iOS Thickens; Artists Describe the Growth of an Audiovisual Playground

See also, in a similar vein, Julien Bayle’s recent release US$4.99 Digital Collisions:

http://julienbayle.net/2012/04/07/digital-collisions-1-1-new-features/

http://apps.createdigitalmusic.com/apps/digital-collisions-hd

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Compare the complex model of what a computer can use to control sound and musical pattern in real-time to the visualization. You see knobs, you see faders that resemble mixers, you see grids, you see – bizarrely – representations of old piano rolls. The accumulated ephemera of old hardware, while useful, can be quickly overwhelmed by a complex musical creation, or visually can fail to show the musical ideas that form a larger piece. You can employ notation, derived originally from instructions for plainsong chant and scrawled for individual musicians – and quickly discover how inadequate it is for the language of sound shaping in the computer.

Or, you can enter a wild, three-dimensional world of exploded geometries, navigated with hand gestures.

Welcome to the sci fi-made-real universe of Portland-based Christian Bannister’s subcycle. Combining sophisticated, beautiful visualizations, elegant mode shifts that move from timbre to musical pattern, and two-dimensional and three-dimensional interactions, it’s a complete visualization and interface for live re-composition. A hand gesture can step from one musical section to another, or copy a pattern. Some familiar idioms are here: the grid of notes, a la piano roll, and the light-up array of buttons of the monome. But other ideas are exploded into spatial geometry, so that you can fly through a sound or make a sweeping rectangle or circle represent a filter.

Ingredients, coupling free and open source software with familiar, musician-friendly tools:

Another terrific video, which gets into generating a pattern:

Now, I could say more, but perhaps it’s best to watch the videos. Normally, when you see a demo video with 10 or 11 minutes on the timeline, you might tune out. Here, I predict you’ll be too busy trying to get your jaw off the floor to skip ahead in the timeline.

At the same time, to me this kind of visualization of music opens a very, very wide door to new audiovisual exploration. Christian’s eye-popping work is the result of countless decisions – which visualization to use, which sound to use, which interaction to devise, which combination of interfaces, of instruments – and, most importantly, what kind of music. Any one of those decisions represents a branch that could lead elsewhere. If I’m right – and I dearly hope I am – we’re seeing the first future echoes of a vast, expanding audiovisual universe yet unseen.

Previously:
Subcycle: Multitouch Sound Crunching with Gestures, 3D Waveforms

And lots more info on the blog for the project:
http://www.subcycle.org/

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Pictured: Loopseque, in final form (top) and sketched on paper (bottom). Images courtesy the developers; visit them on Flickr.

Saturday afternoon in Toronto, I’m giving a talk to the North by Northeast festival on music software and tablets. I’ll explain a bit about what tablets are about, and some of the software that’s out there on the landscape (principally, of course, on the iPad). But I hope to emphasize a deeper issue: how you design software for the tablet, and what’s unique about this convergence of form factor and touch interface. I mean this generically for a reason: on CDM, we covered some of these ideas before even the announcement of the iPhone, and I was an early (and skeptical, I might add) reviewer of the JazzMutant Lemur.

Even looking beyond that, I hope to talk a bit about how representing music graphically has been an essential part of human practice, not only beyond the iPad, but beyond even the current notational system as derived from the Western church. Talk about early tablets: the first known music notation appeared in ancient stone Greek and Byzantine tablets. (On weight and thinness, I don’t think they compete with the iPad.)

That sounds lofty, especially for a potentially-hungover crowd of musicians and designers on a Saturday, so here’s the executive summary: you don’t have to make a bunch of fake knobs.

I’m really mostly curious to start a conversation about design; ideally, I’ll get some designers showing up here in Toronto, but it’s time to make that conversation happen on the Web, too.

With that in mind, I’m curious:

What software designs – iPad or otherwise – have you seen that have most inspired you, in terms of the way the interface was designed?

Fair game: sound toys, music notation (really), art pieces, games, control surfaces … whatever you like.

I’ll post notes from my presentation by early next week, because I’ll probably be assembling it at the last minute it’s already totally done and perfect and rehearsed and I just wouldn’t want to spoil it.

Pictured: Loopseque; previously on CDM

Also, because I’m a huge fanboy of circles in general (as readers of this site know), I love this image and blog post from Loopseque. They didn’t exactly invent the idea of visualizing loops as circles, but let’s join this revolution.
Another step in the evolution of music interface [Loopseque Blog]

Honestly, if tablets are nothing other than an excuse to ask these questions again, all the better – and there’s no reason not to then apply what you’ve learned to computers, embedded hardware, analog hardware, paper notation – anything.

If anyone would like to start a circles versus rectangles fanboy platform war, troll away! I’ll start:

stupd circle &*(&$s you losers got not edges. serious muzos have right angles. go play with your dumba** frisbee shaped toys that dont have even no sides on them and see if you can even figure out PI LOLZ pie like something youd eat its not even a rational number whatevss
real pros use polygons

whaaaa??? ow did someone just hurt on their foursided pointy pointy pointy edge? shoulda used a circle, youd be happier :P :P r4d1us 4 l1f3

Seriously, definitely let me know what new interfaces you’ve found inspiring lately, and I’ll be sure to credit you in my talk!

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