Of course you could always do a detailed Google search and get millions of results, use Google’s Custom Search feature to create you own list, or even use the Duck, Duck, Go search engine if you don’t want to end up with tons of ads for custom acoustic foam fabricators for the rest of your life, but isn’t this list just a bit handier? Besides, these are from a website I created with Chip Doyle almost 20 years ago called NVHmaterials.com. It was a big deal back in a time when Google was still “in beta” with only 60 million pages indexed and Lycos ruled the search engine world. Interestingly, over 70% of the companies from the original list are still around today!
Now that the 13 part series “Online Security” is done, it’s time to get back to other interesting topics like Sound and nobody does Sound like Apple. Even the earliest Apple II computers had sound generation. I remember my amazement when I heard Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” played on the Apple Music Synthesizer in 1978.
Fast forward to 2001 and the first iPod was released. Then in 2002 Apple was the first computer manufacturer to own a music software company when they purchased Emagic, the makers of Logic Pro. From this, Apple created the super popular consumer version, GarageBand. In 2003, the iTunes Store opened, selling tracks for $0.99 and seven years later Apple was the world’s largest music retailer.
Mostly recently in November 2016, I wrote the post, “Acoustics – Apple’s Future is ‘Ear’” refuting the negative publicity around the new AirPods and sure enough six months later, they are another smash hit. However even with these successes, Apple is still a relentless innovator and will soon release the HomePod, “a powerful speaker that sounds amazing, adapts to wherever it’s playing, and together with Apple Music, gives you effortless access to one of the world’s largest music catalogs. All controlled through natural voice interaction with Siri.”
So what do humble Notification sounds have to do with these blockbuster products? To me, they are the true measure of a commitment to excellence and form an integral part of the “personality” of iDevices. Keep in mind that at one point during the Super Bowl, over 380,000 text messages were sent EVERY SECOND. That’s a lot of “Note” notifications. Apple even dedicated a session at their recent World Wide Developers Conference to “Designing Sound.” In a fun twist, the presenter actually played “Note” live at 15:25 in the video.
He also played the “Chord” notification used in the Calendar at 16:45. Spoiler alert, it’s a Kalimba! The entire presentation is fascinating and demonstrates how serious Apple is about the high quality of its design ethic.
At 18:30, he also goes on to provide an introduction to creating your own appropriate notifications using simple tools such as iOS Voice Recorder and GarageBand including how to avoid the pitfalls associated with improperly created sounds like noise and truncated endings.
If you have a few free minutes, capture sounds that catch your attention and make notifications from them. My wife and I heard a wonderful ringtone while we were in Cuba and now it is her iPhone ringtone. It’s a fun, creative way to personalize something that quickly becomes a part of your personal soundscape!
While the techno nostalgia is fun, The Verge article focuses on the power that the sounds convey in the associated YouTube video: a spinning hard drive accessing, the high pitched whine of an old CRT, the CD tray opening and closing, the sighs of the user trying to recover files from an ancient Acer computer, and the finality of decreasing pitch at the moment of shutdown.
While “a picture is worth 1,000 words,” sounds evoke emotional content like nothing else can. As The Verge writer beautifully concludes, “Next time we review a new Chromebook, smartphone, or VR headset, I’ll think more about what the experience is like for the ears, not just the eyes and fingertips. Because four years later — or 10 or 20 — it will be the sound that’s still stuck in our heads.”
To continue the short rant that ended Part 1 of this series, Windows 10 is far from perfect and continues with the tradition of bizarre Microsoft design decisions. For example, the “system tray” found on the bottom right of every Windows main screen is full of obtuse software by default including something called the Intel Rapid Storage Manager (don’t touch these settings!), Synaptics Touchpad (I have adjusted my Mac touchpad once in four years), Lenovo Solution Center (an oxymoron), McAfee Anti-Virus, etc. McAfee is a joke in itself, more like buying a used car than software.
On the other hand, macOS shows only Bluetooth status by default. Also, high end Windows machines aren’t cheap anymore either. Microsoft’s Surface Book is pushing $2,200 and has several serious issues.
In the world of mobile operating systems, people threatening to jump ship from iOS to Android should read the balanced, well written article: “What I Learned about My iPhone After Switching to the Google Pixel.” The author sums up his experience with Google most recent phone by saying, “If you’re predisposed towards Android, or don’t enjoy iOS, the Pixel presents a superb overall experience… For now though, even though I’m still carrying around my Pixel, my iPhone remains my main device.” I have a Android Nexus 6 phone that I keep updated and I came to exactly the same conclusion. Even Google’s flagship phone from last year, the Nexus 6P, is experiencing a software problem (boot loop) so severe that it disables the phone completely. The thread on Reddit has almost 500 comments. If the iPhone had the same problem… Ugh, I shudder to think of the media frenzy. “Coincidentally,” the Pixel XL with 128 GB is EXACTLY the same price as the iPhone 7+ with 128 GB, $869. So much for Android being the less expensive option.
Finally, since I love acoustics, I found this article to be a fascinating glimpse into what happens when people stray away from the closed systems that Google has created: “An Audiophile Switches From iOS to Android.” His conclusion, “My journey from iOS to Android on a Google Pixel phone has been frustrating with respect to audio playback… Google could make all of this a nonissue, but based on the company’s responses, I don’t have a good feeling the company will ‘Do the right thing.'” By contrast, his iOS audiophile configuration is straightforward: Lightening Connector to USB, then the DragonFly USB DAC.
So where does that leave Apple in the wild world of consumer electronics? We will see in Part 3 of this series!
Despite what might seem like missteps, Apple definitely has a well thought out plan and acoustics will continue to play a major role. How could it be otherwise? They made the first commercially viable MP3 player with the iPod and pioneered the first digital music ecosystem with iTunes. Also, many people don’t remember that cellphones used to have proprietary audio connectors. Apple was the first manufacturer to standardize on the 1/8″ headphone jack. The BBC News post, “The 19th Century plug that’s still being used” is wonderful if you want the full story.
As for the title of this post, it comes from another major change in the world of audio recording that’s all but forgotten: the wire recorder. This is strange because it is still the recording format with the longest history, over 70 years! ArsTechnica wrote an excellent, in-depth article about it recently, “Forgotten audio formats: Wire recording.” Along the way, the article revisits Woody Guthrie’s recordings, the first audio bootlegging, and its impact on the language in phrases such as “wire tap,” “on the wire,” and “wired for sound.”