JEFF TILLINGHAST on the changes to touchscreen computing that could affect music.
I met recently with a colleague in a large software company who has been watching the field of digital ink for many generations, and he said that the software and hardware industries hadn’t really fully committed to digital ink in the past because it wasn’t something in which they thought users were particularly interested. As a musician, educator and technologist, this point floored me– how many times have we looked at a file on the screen and wished we could just write directly on it rather than fumble for a way to comment, edit or annotate using the keyboard? I had taken for granted that the desire to write directly on an electronic document was universal, but my colleague’s observation was that the business world (still a major driver of the IT industry) preferred to edit documents by type. His suggestion was that type is “clean” (i.e., professional) and efficient for people to use and share. What his company was starting to realize, though, was that creative fields such as art, design, music, and education, wanted to write freely into a computer precisely because it was messy: the process of designing, creating, annotating and editing is much more about a fluid process than a final product. Where businesses are often more concerned with the professionalism of a final document, a musician is more concerned with personalizing a document to serve an internal purpose: creating a public purpose. This software company’s realization that education and creative/design fields had fundamentally different priorities in working with digital files was leading them to re-commit to designing software that let people use digital ink to collaborate, edit, communicate about and design digital work. Recently I’ve written about two examples of digital ink and handwriting already in the field: StaffPad and NotateMe. These two programs are each very exciting for what they demonstrate about the utility of touchscreen and digital ink for music composition and editing. If this shift in thinking is indicative of a larger industry trend (and I believe that it is), we will continue to see many more promising developments in the coming couple of years that will accelerate the development of software and hardware for digital inking.
I think the difficulty in “marking” music is an impediment for musicians using digital notation, so it will be interesting if technology addresses that.