iPhone Music Makers: Worth Your Money?

Lucas Jensen | September 25, 2008 10:30 am

I bought an iPhone last month because I threw my old phone in the trash at a gas station in Alabama. Yes, it was an accident. And, yes, I am an idiot. I didn’t realize it until about an hour later. Luckily, my contract with AT&T was up! It all feels a little convenient, like my mind’s indefatigable gadget lust took over my body and made me throw my poor old Nokia free-with-the-contract phone away with a Taco Bell bag.

Anyway, I’ve since become enamored with the iPhone Application Store, buying all manner of fool things for it, including a Koi Pond simulator, a Tetris rip-off called “Tris” that was (natch) taken down by the Tetris people, and a little drum simulator called aDrummer. I’m a mediocre drummer myself, and I own a drumset, but I am obsessed with drum machines of all kinds, so I was pretty excited about this little program. Sigh. It’s nothing at all like playing the drums, it stinks as an instrument surrogate, and it it makes you yearn for the elegance and precision of a music program like Guitar Hero. Yep, I just said that.

The “game” features a few different modes, but there is a basic Rock Band-like mode where the user tries to match up various components of a drum set with the cascading red dots that signify a rhythm. It’s also a lot more clinical. You have five drum set pieces laid out in front of you (from L-R): crash cymbal, floor tom, bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat. I’m glad they’re hooking the left-handed drummers up out there, but this is not how 95% of drum sets out there are set up. In fact, it’s positively backwards! And why must everything be linear–why not set the drum kit up commensurate to a real life set-up and have the user tap on it that way? I couldn’t even make it past “Basic Rock Beat” setting on Beginner! God forbid I try “Basic Stadium Beat”! There’s multitouch and all that, but the sensitivity is all jacked up, so it’s hard to get a steady beat going.

Free Play, where the user indulges their inner Hamid Drake and lets loose, should be fun, but it’s limited. You just tap the same five components over and over and over with a picture of a drum kit behind it: lots of wasted space there. The sounds are decent enough. I particularly liked the floor tom. When five of them are played at once, though, the thing really distorts. There are plenty of other drum pads and such out there that do a better job than this. You know what else? There’s no way to quit out of Free Play mode without exiting the program and going back to the main menu, and even that’s not fool-proof. Midway through writing this, I lost the ability to exit Free Play and go back to the beginning. Good design there!

I often hear snotty guitarists complain about Guitar Hero, saying “Why can’t people just play the real thing?” What they forget is that it’s fun, social, and immersive. It’s an entry-level ticket to music making, even if it is really only mimicry at its core. But as far as iPhone apps go, you’d be better off if you drummed on your desk using a couple of pencils as sticks and a Post-It Note as a snare. Don’t bother with this. It’s just not fun enough to play around with or real enough to be useful as a music creation tool.

I’ve got a bunch of these suckers downloaded, so expect more reviews of these coming soon! Maybe I will find the perfect iPhone app to rival my beloved Electroplankton.