We're already turning our eyes to 2012 and all the new software, gadgets and streaming online advancements that the year promises to bring. However, given the breakneck speed at which high-tech innovations rolled out over the past year, you’d be forgiven for forgetting just how many killer apps can be downloaded right this very minute.
Over the last 12 months, we’ve played and reviewed a multitude of new music applications for smartphones, tablets and Web browsers, both iOS and Android outings alike, including the weird, the wild and everything in between. Some serve as tributes to seminal artists, while others allow you to relive concert history and still more promise to benefit bands by teaching you how to play guitar like Dave Mustaine or fire your deadbeat drummer. Given all the excitement surrounding the high-tech category, we even found time to roll out our own official Rolling Stone Recommends music discovery app for the Spotify streaming online music platform.
Between all the multimedia guides to musical eras and “make your own magazine” programs that allow you to filter through online articles, the following examples stand out as among the best smartphone-/tablet-friendly offerings of 2011. Currently available for enjoyment on the iPhone, iPad and other mobile devices, all will keep you idly amused until mid-January’s Consumer Electronics Show ushers in even more new, mind-melting digital downloads.
Animoog – A simulated polyphonic synthesizer that fits in your pocket, this high-tech trip to the outer limits lets electronic music lovers evoke haunting melodies on-command by using visualizers and touch controls to craft shimmering, spage-age compositions. It gives prog-rock and 1980s sci-fi fans a means to make their own mind-expanding interludes sans physical keyboard and magic mushrooms. It’s recently leaped from the iPad to iPhone, and is presently on-sale for both devices. The next time someone asks, “Is that a full-size set of ivories in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” you can vouch for the former.
Songkick Concerts – Keeping track of your favorite bands’ and songwriters’ touring schedules can be tough. The free Songkick Concerts app saves harried iPhone and iPod touch owners the trouble by scanning their device’s music library for artists, detecting users’ location and advising them when their favorite acts are headed to town. Letting you track comings and goings with breaking alerts and easily organize event outings with friends, it makes keeping up with musicians’ erratic performance calendars infinitely less aggravating.
Myxer Social Radio – The only thing better than sharing music in good company is being able to rub friends’ faces in breaking bands and hot new artists you’ve discovered. (That or arguing over which Odd Future MC is coolest.) Letting you listen to real-time online music streams, broadcast current selections on Facebook, and have friends jump into chat rooms for group listening sessions, this iOS and Android app gives the gift of smack-talking camaraderie.
undun – Concept albums are as old as the music industry itself. But hip-hop stalwarts the Roots’ new record offers a new high-tech twist via its own free supporting iPhone app, which uses images, interviews and video snippets to delve further into doomed hero Redford Stephens’ fictional life. Helping flesh out both the inner city victim and circumstances which engendered his demise, the app adds entirely new layers to the faux-documentary soundtrack and suggests a new avenue that musical artists have to expand their folklore.
Tap Tap Revenge 4 – It’s been an unexpectedly decent year for mobile music games on smartphones and tablets, between original lyrics-matching challenges like Say What and full-fledged turntable simulations such as Skillz. But the finger-numbing Tap Tap Revenge series still remains the preferred standby for brain-fried travelers seeking a moment’s respite from extended layovers or exasperating relations. The poster child for low-maintenance thrills, just tap in time with tracks by Ke$ha, Rihanna and Taio Cruz to watch the pain, and IQ points, melt away.
• The Next Year in Music Technology