CS 491: Homework 0 – Sir Sampleton

App Name: Sir Sampleton

Developer: SOFTOFT TECHECH

Available for iOS devices on the App Store for for $2.99.

The Gist

Sir Sampleton is an easy-to-use musical sampling keyboard application available for iOS devices. If you want to record your cat meowing and then play it back to the tune of “O Canada” over a lo-fi hip-hop beat, this is the app for you.

Learning to Use

On initial launch after installing, a modal overlay is presented with instructions for basic use. These are enough to get started for the casual user, and the remainder of the settings and actions (saving banks of samples, tweaking sample length and tuning, etc.) are straightforward enough to figure out as needed for more advanced users. Tapping the red button starts recording a new sample with animated visual feedback overlaid on the piano keys indicating audio level, followed by a flourish when the recording stops.

A limited selection of lo-fi drum tracks can be played while the user jams simultaneously on two octave-range keyboards, using either one or two different recorded samples (or in combination with one of the built-in piano/synth/flute sounds). Part of the design and appeal of Sir Sampleton is that it is simple enough for a child to pick up and use, but is highly customizable for more advanced use.

Controls and User Interface

All control elements are treated as keys rather than buttons–they respond immediately on a touch event rather than when the user lifts from the surface (or in Cocoa Touch terms, actions are tied to touchDown events rather than touchUpInside events). This makes sense for the piano keys, but is a little unusual for buttons on the various control and setting screens, making them seem a little jumpy compared to standard iOS behavior. Though this is a great app, the user experience for some control aspects could be smoothed out a bit. For example, when adjusting the tempo of a rhythm loop, the loop starts over rather than simply speeding up mid-loop. This is a little jarring and can cause the user to loose the groove a bit.

Controls for most settings behave like radio buttons, with each option represented with a custom visual cue or matched pair of “ON”/”OFF” indicators. Only one device orientation is supported (landscape right). Sir Sampleton makes good use of the mobile platform in that it is a dead simple application that does one thing very well. While it might be nice to be able to import sounds from a computer, swap sample files with your friends, or turn Sir Sampleton into a multi-track recording studio, these features would clutter up the experience of something that works very well as it is, and is fun to use.

Unexpected Behavior

I wasn’t able to break the app, but did get some odd behavior under what I would consider to be edge-case touch scenarios. For example, tapping a button for one of the option/control screens while holding down a piano key allows you to sustain a note while trying to adjust settings. You can even slide your finger around to play different notes while the piano keys are hidden from view.

In The Marketplace

There are a number of other music sampler applications, but like many music apps, they are often a) more expensive, and b) more complicated to use. Sir Sampleton is a limited but expressive tool that takes no time to set up. Customer reviews in the App Store are overwhelmingly positive, averaging 4.5/5 stars.

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