Hipster.0: Virtual Ukulele For iOS

By March 8, 2012

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European developer Amidio plans to release an innovative virtual ukulele, which incorporates hardware as well as software support, for iOS early next month. Futulele will be able to run on one device, but Amidio’s twist on previous smartphone-based virtual instruments is that it can run on an iPhone and an iPad simultaneously, in order to increase the playable surface. The company has prototyped a case that places the iPhone as the fretboard and the iPad as the body and strings, and is looking for a manufacturer.

On a sound production level, Futulele is powered by virtual guitar software the company has already released as OMGuitar, according to official materials. A demo video shows a young woman playing Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” on an iPhone and iPad held in the prototype case.

Virtual instruments running on hardware that is not specialized for sound face a number of challenges, including audio latency and the lack of “fret feel” — challenges the developers noted only obliquely in a press release.

“The chord switch lag is kept at a minimum level, and as for the sound, Futulele successively captures every little nuance of a high-grade professional Ukulele instrument,” reads the release. “Up to 12 chords can be used per song, and changing chord sets on the fly is a blast. Full recording and sharing possibilities come straight from Amidio’s top-ranked guitar app OMGuitar, as well as the onboard FX section.”

Early indications suggest the software will be more along the lines of an autoharp, with the user toggling chords individually, than fully articulated. Like earlier fret simulators for touchscreen phones, though, it may support a more comprehensive input method as well.

The ukulele is a compact, four-stringed instrument that is often strummed to provide a simple accompaniment. In recent times, it has been much-maligned for its association with lo-fi and hipster culture (“What’s the word for liking and hating something at the same time?” wondered BoingBoing’s Mark Frauenfelder, in a post that highlighted the Futulele.)

But the instrument has its defenders as well. In a recent New York Times feature, Ben Sisario lauded the ukelele as an approachable way for amateur songwriters to jump swiftly into composition and performance without undertaking years of instruction on a more sophisticated instrument.

“It’s not hard to see the attraction,” he wrote. “The light, carefree strum that has become the instrument’s sonic stereotype invokes innocence, sincerity and childlike wonder, as well as nostalgia for a pre-rock ’n’ roll era. It doesn’t hurt that the sound also conforms to ingrained notions of Hawaii as a consumer-friendly earthly paradise.”

Amidio, which got its start in the mid-2000s developing Virtual Studio Technology plugins, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.