A Hardware Music Keyboard for the iPhone

By David Battino
May 5, 2009 | Comments: 3

There are scads of piano-keyboard applications for the iPhone, but I find the lack of tactile feedback frustrating. The touchscreen interface seems better suited to sweeping gestures than tapping ones, although programs like Bebot have implemented clever workarounds. (See 5:50 in this Jordan Rudess demo):

But with Apple opening up the iPhone's dock connector to third parties, I wonder: Couldn't a manufacturer develop a hardware music keyboard with an intelligent docking station? You'd slot in your iPhone and get a high-res screen, tactile controls, and all kinds of sound-making capabilities.

It's not a new idea. Back in 1992, Novation released a keyboard controller that had a slot for a Yamaha QY10 synth. The combination paired the QY10's capable sound engine and sequencer with full-size keys and wheels, but notice the cable spaghetti. Imagine this with a one-click iPhone dock; quarter-inch audio outputs; and some velocity-sensitive, light-up drum pads as well. With 25 keys, the music keyboard could even do double duty as a QWERTY keyboard replacement. (Play harder for capital letters. ;-)

Novation MM10

Seventeen years ago, Novation created a music keyboard for the QY10 portable synth. Time for an iPhone version? (Photo: Malcohol)

What would you attach to an iPhone dock connector?

UPDATE, 2009-05-06: Musique non Talent has published a detailed overview of onscreen keyboard approaches, along with recommendations. Several applications were new to me. (Via Palm Sounds)

UPDATE, 2010-01-28: Akai showed the iPK25, a hardware music keyboard for the iPhone, at the NAMM show earlier this month. A rep told me the hardware was pretty close to the shipping version, but I found the feel of the minikeys and wheels to be cheap and sticky. The dock connector snapped off early in the show when someone tried to swing the attached iPhone up. However, I saw another MIDI device for the iPhone that looks much more promising. More soon!


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3 Comments

I want to plugin my akai ewi usb ...

@Trumpetto: A hardware wind controller would be cool. Have you checked out WiVi Band, the physically modeled wind synths for the iPhone? It uses the mic for breath control, but still has the same touch-screen issues for keys.

Interesting - I'm kinda thinking because of the iPhone's power limitations I'd prefer to see it interfacing with sound-generating hardware as a controller (without a computer).

A controlled-voltage interface á la Volta would be nice; use all those iPhone sensors and the multitouch surface to generate controlling aspects (I'm sure stuff like parameter looping/mutation could be done fairly easily).

Or another example: I've always liked the little step sequencer on the Microkorg - if there were an iPhone MIDI interface you could build a more involved sequencer (how about zoom for step size/resolution?)

Having said that if Intua released a hardware interface for Beatmaker (especially one that did more than just act as a controller) I'd be on it.

Eoin

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