Sunday, June 19, 2016

About that giant dual screen eInk sheet music reader

So, this thing has shown up in my news feed from several of the sites I frequent. Now that I have some experience in the news room of a major tech news site, I understand the perspective many of these bigger tech blogs are covering this from. Someone who used to play an instrument back in high school (yes, many authors cited this as their experience) is handed a press release and told to put together a news item. They have 30 minutes and a "this looks neat" attitude. And it does look neat. Unless you've been doing this for, oh, say, the last 7 years.

What is this thing? This thing is two 13.3" Mobius eInk screens, running 1200x1600 (the same resolution and slightly larger than the HP PS12 I use now), on unkown internals, with unkown software. But hey, it's got a Wacom digitizer! You can totally write on your music! So revolutionary! And you can turn the page with a tap, so much faster than flipping a physical page!

A few things based on my years of experience:

1. We've moved beyond tapping to turn. If I have to take my bow off the string to turn, it's a step back from where I am now. Yes it has Bluetooth, but the press release only says "a variety of accessories can also be connected". It's probably not a big leap to assume that would include foot pedals for page turns, but it's still a leap.

2. Two screens != better. First off, just one of these screens currently translates to an $800 price tag, so two of them is going to be unreasonably expensive. If I'm not willing to put a $1000 iPad Pro on a stand, there's no way I'm going to put a $1600 reader out at a gig.

2a. Speaking of price, at least the $1000 iPad pro can do about a million other things. Likely paying more than that for a single purpose device? Nope. My current tablet was under $300 and runs full Android.

3. Okay, so back to the two screens thing, with foot pedals and half page turn options, it no longer matters that I'm looking at one page of music versus two. I don't have to stop playing to turn, that's one of the major benefits to going digital. Loosing half page turns is a huge step back.

4. eInk was cool some years ago, but we've moved past it. I'm using my HP PS12 in the pit right now. While there are arguments that I should still have my stand on, illuminating the space around the lit up tablet screen to make things easier on my eyes, I don't need the stand light. That's one less thing for me to carry and potentially forget at gigs. But eInk isn't backlit, you'll still need that stand light, just like paper.

4a. Also, eInk flashes when it refreshes. As eInk has improved, it no longer needs to flash each page turn, but it will inevitably be the one where you really need that next page RIGHT NOW. See why I don't want to give my half page turns? I can turn several lines before I actually need the next page.

5. OMG a pen! You can write on your music! my TC1100 did that many years ago. This should be a standard feature of anything (including apps) purporting to replace paper sheet music. But given how many apps don't even support annotation, I suppose it is still a big deal.

Maybe I shouldn't be so harsh. I mean, it's great to see companies trying new things and inveseting in this space. But we've long past the "let's emulate paper exactly, just digital" and into "how can we make the experience of carrying/reading/performing from so much sheet music better." Just slapping together two giant eInk screens is not better than the current digital solution, even if it's a step up from paper.

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