Sunday, July 31, 2011

Where are the Android Tablet Music Readers?

News of latest release of forScore for the iPad has gotten me interested in working with the new generation media slates again.  With wedding season heating up, I’ve been scanning and moving my trio music to dropbox in the hopes of ditching that gig bag of books too (as I’ve already ditched most of my teaching bag). 

The thing is, I’m not a fan of the iPad.  I’m not saying it’s a bad product or anything, just that it’s not my thing; personal preference. It’s still a little small for what I like in a music reader, and lacks active pen input, but I think it could work for our trio music. Most of our books are made from smaller letter sized paper, rather than larger sheet music (A4, I think).  With some cropping of the scans, this music comes out an acceptable size for the iPad display.  The trio music doesn’t require much in the way of markup, and in my limited use I’ve found the drawing tools in forScore to be much improved.

I’d love to give an Android tablet a try, as I already use an Android smartphone and I love my HTC Flyer, which at 7” is way too small to consider for music reading.  I’m not alone, as I’ve gotten a few emails from readers interested in Android tablets for sheet music.  So I went looking.  There are few enough apps in the Android market that are specifically for tablets anyway, and none of them are PDF music readers. 

So, I emailed forScore to see if they might have any plans to break into the Android world and their reply echoed a lot of what I’ve been hearing from other app developers.  I do appreciate the time they took to explain.  Here is their response:

“First off, the biggest reason why we haven't jumped into the Android ring is simply a matter of resources: we started and continue to run our company during what will probably be considered the worst economic conditions of a generation, so we've always been very deliberate in how we spend our time and resources. We'd rather make a single product that's really solid and gets frequent updates than two products that don't always work well (the latter being the approach that all too many developers take).

Secondly, the iPad commands an overwhelming majority of market share at this point. We'd be spending more than half of our time working on a version that may only yield a small percentage of the sales we see with the App Store, so it's just not worth it at this point.

Finally, and really most importantly, the Android environment itself just isn't as attractive. From a hardware standpoint, there are a bunch of different devices all with varying capabilities (some have cameras, some don't, some are very fast, others can barely keep up). If we have to either ship an untested product or purchase one of every Android tablet out there, then that's a big issue to take into account. From a software standpoint, Apple's environment is just a lot more attractive and easier to work with on the whole. There's a level of integration that Google can't match, and the ubiquity of the platform makes it easier to get help from the community as needed.”

I can’t blame them.  It’s one of those catch 22 cycles where there’s not enough adoption of the platform to warrant developing apps for it, but no one is going to adopt the platform if there aren’t enough apps.  No one want to write for a platform that people aren’t using, and people don’t want to use a platform that no one is writing for. 

Also, while the hardware has become much more standardized on honeycomb (10” 1280x800 screens, Tegra2) there are still plenty of variations even in those (camera? SD card? microSD? full size USB?).

The real killer though is the screen.  The 10” widescreen is simply too narrow in portrait mode.  I swung by Best Buy to check them out again, and was able load a PDF of music from my dropbox.  While there are no specific music readers, there are plenty of tools to read PDF files.  The iPad is barely passable in size for me, so the narrower Android tablets were just too small.  With their smaller screens and lack of apps, I could not recommend an Android tablet for music reading.  Not on the current generation of hardware at least. 


  1. What about the Asus Eee Pad Transformer? It has a 10.1" screen and runs on Android. Have you tried that out to read music?

  2. Yup, it was the Transformer that I specifically tested at Best Buy (see the last paragraph). I logged into Dropbox on it and loaded one of my gig books in it to see what the music would look like on that screen, and it's beyond too small. They may claim you're getting a bigger screen at 10.1" vs the 9.7" of the iPad, but it's all about aspect ratio. The 10" widescreens are much narrower when set up in portrait mode, so the music displays with black bars on the top and bottom rather than using up the full screen like it does on an iPad. Widescreens may be great for watching movies, but they're not so great for document reading.

  3. I just wanted to say that I released an app called MobileSheets that is very similar in nature to forScore. It's currently only available for 10" tablets running Honeycomb, but an update is coming out Sunday that will make it available for any tablets running Gingerbread or higher, including 7" tablets like the Kindle Fire. New features and enhancements are being rapidly, and there are plans for introducing annotations sometime this month. If you have a chance to check it out (there is a free version called MobileSheetsFree), I'd be curious to get your opinion, as you have experience with similar apps. You can find out more information at if you are interested. Thanks!

  4. Thanks for the heads up Zuber, I'll definitely check that out.

  5. If you want to buy a new tablet I strongly recommend you buy a kindle fire hd. Because, it's very cheap and the performance is very powerful when compare with any expensive tablet like iPad, Nexus. Moreover, Amazon often give some kindle fire hd deals which help you buy this tablet even cheaper.

  6. Obviously a lot have happened in the Android world since this blog post was written (over 2 years ago). Of course, better apps can do nothing about the physical size of a 10.1 screen. But in my opinion the higher resolution and automatic page cropping of some apps do the trick. Personally I use Fakebook (which BTW further enhance readability when using other formats than PDF, like text and Chordpro files). But there are many other great music viewers as well.
    Give Fakebook a try at

    1. Hi, Ulf (and Violajack). Thanks for the kind words about the Fakebook app. There is a lot happening with this at the moment, especially with regards to PDF import and indexing of huge music collections. If you'd like to write a review, don't hesitate to contact us at or download from Google Play: