Smule helped show the power of the iPhone as a musical app platform with the release four years ago of Ocarina, which turned the iPhone into a digital flute. Now, the music app maker is following up its Hall of Fame app with Ocarina 2, which is designed now to teach people to play familiar songs for a price.
While the original Ocarina app encouraged free play, letting people form their own songs or try and recreate tunes they already know, the new Ocarina 2 leads people through the actual process of learning a song. With a new Guitar Hero like interface in Play mode, users get prompted which buttons to press and how long to hold their notes. As they progress through the song, the app auto harmonizes with the user, giving them some nice back-up.
The app also features some gamification elements, letting people know how many “breath points” they earned on each song, how many notes were played and what their progress was toward mastery. Master enough songs and you can earn achievements like Jedi status for learning 100 tunes.
Users get four free songs to start with and one credit for an additional free tune. To unlock more tunes or premium songs from recording artists, users need to buy tune or premium packs that unlock more songs. An 18-tune pack can be bought for $2.99 while premium packs start at 99 cents for 2 premium songs. There are about 50 songs available at launch, split between tunes and premium tracks. Songs like Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and Justin Bieber’s “Baby” are among the premium songs available.
After playing around with Ocarina 2, I think it will continue Smule’s track record of successful apps. I liked the first app, but it required some early investment in learning how to play. The sequel makes the experience a lot more accessible and shows people how to use it even when they’re not playing a song. That’s different than Guitar Hero, in which learning the sequence of button presses doesn’t mean you can play an actual guitar. Here, I can start internalizing the keys thanks to the prompts. And it means I can still go freestyle anytime I want, but now I’m armed with some songs I know how to play.
Smule’s co-founder Ge Wang goes into the history of the Ocarina franchise in a nice blog post and it’s cool to see how this app really was a great showcase for the iPhone’s app platform. It used multi-touch for notes, the microphone for blowing, the accelerometer for vibrato, GPS for location and the always-on capability to show what other people around the world were playing in real time.
I’d like to see more apps like Ocarina, letting people actually create content and express themselves. We have a ton of games and time-wasters on iOS, but the potential is there for apps to really do a lot more.