With its release on the App Store today, Dorico for iPad becomes the first major desktop scoring application to be made available on a mobile platform. There is an announcement on the Dorico blog and a new Dorico for iPad section of the Steinberg site, along with a “behind-the-scenes” story of the project. Everything from keyboard shortcuts to user interface, and even the Popover system, will all be familiar to desktop Dorico users.
Dorico’s initial development team comes from many of the same individuals who designed and built Sibelius, and Dorico represented a rare chance to do it all over again, knowing everything they learned from their first go-around. From the start, they built Dorico in a way that would allow them to eventually release on the iPad. (Little did they know that the iPad would eventually be more powerful than many of the laptops that run Dorico.) In some ways, the release of Dorico for iPad is the result of nearly a decade of work, as detailed by product marketing manager Daniel Spreadbury on the Dorico blog.
The home screen of Dorico for iPad shows a variation on the “Hub” from the desktop version. It shows a grid of projects recently opened on the iPad. Tap to open one of them, or start a new project from a template. The app will also open any Dorico project that was started on the desktop (or any MusicXML file for that matter). The easiest way to get to these projects is to have them in a cloud sync service that works with the Files app: iCloud Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, etc. Just like on the desktop, you can also navigate to any file in the Files app and open Dorico by selecting the file.
If you open a project from one of these cloud services, it is imported into Dorico’s app-specific “container”, locally on the iPad and not connected to the original file. (Getting a file back out of Dorico for iPad requires exporting from the Share menu back to a cloud service, AirDrop, email, or similar.)
Know your modes
Just like on the desktop, Setup mode allows you to add and edit players, instruments, Flows (Dorico’s name for independent passages of music, like movements or cues), and Layouts (scores and parts). This mode is nearly identical to its desktop counterpart, including all the instrument, controls for changing player names, percussion kits, and so forth.
It’s difficult to see any significant ways in which Setup mode on iPad differs from the desktop version of Dorico, and that is really great to see.
Write mode, much like Setup mode, will initially look very familiar to desktop Dorico users as the place to input notes and other symbols, but it also includes some new affordances for touch control, as well as a surprise or two that may hint at what Dorico 4 may bring to Windows and Mac.
There are several ways to begin note input: double tapping and pressing Return on an alphanumeric keyboard will feel familiar to desktop Dorico users; plus, there is a new button to begin entry on the left toolbar.
Unlike a desktop computer, an iPad is frequently used without an alphanumeric keyboard, MIDI keyboard, or pointing device (other than a finger, of course), and the Dorico team has done an excellent job of adapting the note entry process to this flexible set of circumstances.
If you are using a standard hardware keyboard over USB or Bluetooth, all of the familiar Dorico keyboard shortcuts for note entry are available: number row for rhythms, A-G keys for pitch, chromatic alterations and articulations in the top right area of the keyboard, and so forth. Even your favorite popovers work using the same Shift-single-letter shortcuts as on the Mac and Windows.
In the likely event that you are using the iPad without a hardware keyboard attached, Dorico still has you covered. There is an expandable set of rhythm and articulation buttons on the left (again, just like on the desktop), but there are some new on-screen options in the lower tool area that will be of use: a piano keyboard, a guitar fretboard, and a drum controller grid that can be used for unpitched percussion (or indefinite-pitched for the pedants in the audience).
Just as these new input methods have been added in place of keyboard controls, there is also a new popover menu in the right tool area. When first launching Dorico, you’ll see a right tool area that is more-or-less identical to Dorico on the desktop. However, a toggle at the top will change from the standard tool palette (indicated by the artist palette icon) to the popover palette (indicated by a keyboard icon). Here, you’ll get one on-screen button for each of Dorico’s beloved popovers.
Tapping them will have the same effect as invoking the popover from an alphanumeric keyboard: a text entry field will show up above the current selection, and the on-screen keyboard will slide up to allow you to control the popover as you would from a hardware keyboard. In my testing, I found this clever adaptation to work great, and it allowed me to quickly acclimate to using Dorico without a keyboard.
One quirk of the current version is that that Shift-I Intervals popover does not show up in the palette, but the keyboard shortcut will invoke the popover as expected. I am a big fan of the Intervals popover, so I hope this will be added soon. [Update — August 9, 2021: The Shift-I popover was added to the left panel in version 1.1. The icon is an eighth note with wrench.]
There are a small handful of other tweaks to things that are very keyboard-intensive on the desktop — such as tuplet entry and marquee-style selections — which are all thoughtfully implemented and self-explanatory in the on-screen tool areas.
If you have a USB or Bluetooth MIDI controller, you can also use it with Dorico for the iPad in place of the on-screen piano keyboard, in which case you can easily change to a different view of the lower tool area or hide it entirely to show more of your score.
I tested with the CME Xkey Air 25-key, which can work either over Bluetooth or USB. Using a MIDI keyboard over USB will likely require a special cable or adapter depending on which kind of iPad you have: iPads with home buttons have Lightning connectors, while iPads without home buttons have USB-C connectors. Using a hardware MIDI device, you can either select durations and articulations using the on-screen controls, or alongside a hardware alphanumeric keyboard using the standard shortcuts.
So far, the note-input methods I’ve described are either the same as on the desktop, or adaptations for touch input. However, there is also a completely new input and note-editing tool in Dorico for iPad called the Key Editor.
The Key Editor may seem a bit of an odd name, as it has nothing to do with key signatures or tonality systems. Instead, the name refers to the MIDI sequencer editing tool in Cubase. Here in Dorico for iPad, it presents a piano roll-style view of the score, a bit like a miniature view into Play mode without leaving Write mode.
From here, you can add and edit notes by dragging them around the grid, just as you would in a DAW or sequencer. Just like in Play mode, you can decide whether you want the timing changes you make to be reflected in the notated rhythms or if you want to only impact the playback.
With this, you can tweak timings to reflect the rubato of a concerto soloist or have a horn section “lay back” behind the beat without impacting the notation. Dorico has long allowed for these changes in Play mode, but having the Key Editor as a first-class note input and editing tool in Write mode feels powerful and fresh.
In addition to editing the pitch and duration in the piano roll, Dorico for iPad also allows for fine control of velocity values for each note. In addition to controlling single notes, Dorico has a novel Histogram view, which shows the statistical distribution of all the note velocities in the current view. This can be really useful for spotting outliers that have accidentally been recorded as far too soft or far too loud, and it can also be a way of showing how much “human imperfection” is in your MIDI data, which sequencer users know is important for balancing the precision of computer playback with life-like musical performance.
In addition to simply seeing the histogram, it’s fairly easy to edit the the average (make everything louder or softer while maintaining the same level of variation), edit the extremes (minimum and maximum velocities), or edit the size of the distribution (increasing or decreasing the variance). These may seem nerdy and abstract, but using them with a tactile interface really makes them feel concrete, like moving faders on a mixing console (more on that later).
Along with the Key Editor, another feature of Play mode has snuck a peak into Write mode: the mixer. Like the Key Editor, this is certainly a playback-focused tool that can be particularly useful to see and tweak while referring directly to the score, without as much mode-switching.
Considering the playback sounds Dorico has access to on the iPad, fine-grained velocity control doesn’t strike me as nearly as useful as it would be on the desktop using the many desktop VST or AU instruments available, but it is certainly an impressive level of detail and control. My greater hope is to see these new Write mode tools find their way to the Mac and Windows versions of Dorico in a future update.
Steinberg has described the paid version of Dorico for iPad as being roughly equivalent to Dorico Elements, the middle tier of Dorico which does not include Engrave mode. Despite that, Engrave mode does make a limited appearance on the iPad.
The only section of Engrave mode that is available is Graphic Editing. I find moving symbols around the page on a touch screen to be very natural and satisfying, and I’m really happy to see this piece of Engrave mode show up. The only other Engrave mode tools that you’ll find here are the ones for controlling system breaks and frame (page) breaks, as well as the engraving properties panel in the bottom tool area.
One of the headlining features from the desktop version of Dorico Pro is missing from the iPad: Master pages and frames, the layout templates and tools for Dorico documents. Creating a new project on the iPad, you are stuck with the defaults for Master pages and frames. However, opening an existing project with customized master pages or tweaked (overridden) frames, the iPad app reads them correctly, you just won’t be able to make any layout adjustments.
Also missing from the iPad version are any of the vertical or horizontal spacing tools from the desktop version of Engrave mode, along with the Graphic Slices tool. I can completely understand omitting Graphic Slices, as it involves quickly spitting out lots of image files, and iPadOS continues to make file management a bit of a pain. But I definitely miss not being able to make small tweaks to spacing.
Having said that, as an analog to Dorico Elements, Engrave mode is more than capable enough on the iPad, and it is genuinely fun to use my fingers or a stylus to make small changes to a score.
Play mode is more-or-less what you might expect coming from the desktop, with the notable addition of the new input and playback tools described above in Write mode. The lower tool area here again includes the piano keyboard, guitar fretboard, percussion controller, mixer, and key editor.
The bigger issue here is that while Dorico for iPad supports AUv3 instrument plugins from other apps, there are only a tiny set of these available on iPad right now. Hopefully more professional creative apps will encourage other instrument plugin developers to build iPad versions of their desktop audio units.
Another major deviation from the desktop application is the lack of Print mode. That’s not to say that you can’t print from the iPad — simply Share > Print to bring up the system print dialog and Share > PDF to export a PDF. However, the detailed controls over print and graphic settings and file naming are missing. That’s probably for the best, considering the state of file management on iPadOS.
In place of Print mode, Dorico for iPad presents Read mode: a clean, minimal view of the score with nothing more than simple page turn controls. I find the idea of Read mode to be very promising, even if its current iteration is a bit lacking.
I can imagine using something like Read mode to quickly share scores or parts in a rehearsal or recording session, possibly updating them in realtime (as in StaffPad’s excellent integration with StaffPad Reader). However, while Dorico’s Read mode looks like a potential score reader, it’s really more of a print preview at the moment — interesting, but much less valuable. You can use a page turn pedal with Read mode, but there are no annotation tools, with Apple Pencil or otherwise. My implementation here would be something like the collaborative score-reader of StaffPad with the notation and engraving of Dorico.
Options dialogs aren’t exactly a mode, but they’re a really important part of using Dorico, or any professional notation application. I wanted to mention them here precisely because they have changed so little from the desktop version of Dorico. Project Info, Notation Options, and Layout Options are some of my favorite parts of Dorico on the desktop, and seeing them on iPad was an clear indication to me that despite some of its limitations, this version of Dorico was still the professional tool that I know from the Mac.
One of the dialogs that is unfortunately absent from Dorico for iPad is Engraving Options. This is understandable, as Engrave mode is intentionally quite limited. However, not having access to Engraving Options means that users will have no control over some very important things, such as chord symbols. The good news is that if you’re opening a project started on the desktop, any Engraving settings for chord symbols or anything else will be imported and rendered correctly. You just won’t be able to change any of them. The same is true of any typography settings from paragraph or character styles.
As mentioned above, Dorico for iPad is most closely analogous to Dorico Elements on the desktop. In addition to the Engrave mode-related limitations described above, that means a limit of 12 or fewer players. That limit seems somewhat reasonable given the screen-size limits on the iPad; the largest iPad Pro has just a 12.9-inch display. However, it also means that if you use Dorico’s Layouts for sketches like I do, you can’t make any edits even to versions of a score that are more appropriate on the smaller screen.[Update — August 9, 2021: As of Dorico for iPad version 1.1, there is no longer any player limit for subscribers. You can create and edit scores with as many players as you like. This may be limited by the amount of RAM in your iPad, but I have yet to see any issues with up to 40 players and many flows on my 2018 iPad Pro. To correspond with the change to the player limit, the template library now includes all the same large orchestra, concert band, and big band configurations that you would expect.]
With any iPad app, it’s hard to avoid the issue of file management. Even with the Files app browser, getting files in and out of Dorico is an extra challenge beyond what it might be on the desktop. It’s worth noting that this isn’t entirely Dorico’s fault, given the app container sandboxing. However, some applications do implement iOS’s open-in-place API, which allows them to open a file that is outside the app container and edit it, just as you would on the desktop. The idea that files have to be imported, edited, and exported again has the potential to be very confusing, yielding unintentional copies and conflicting edits of the same project files.
It’s also important to note that Dorico’s app container folder is local to the iPad, not stored in iCloud as with many other apps. That means that frequently going back and forth between iPad and desktop is not likely to be a good workflow for most users.
Apple Pencil writing
Regular iPad users — especially those used to reading scores on their iPads — may be disappointed (as I was) to discover that there are no Apple Pencil features in Dorico. I don’t think I would want to be able to use handwriting recognition, as with other iPad notation apps like StaffPad. However, I would love to be able to quickly annotate scores in Write mode, Engrave mode, and especially in Read mode. I expect (hope?) this is something that is on the roadmap for the app if it is successful in its current form.
A caveat on fonts
Fonts are a popular topic of discussion among digital music engravers, and Dorico has long been packaged with some excellent text fonts: Academico and Petaluma Script. Many users also make extensive use of custom typography, including fonts that offer special graphical features like Dan Kreider’s MusAnalysis. And of course there are an increasing number of commercially available SMuFL music fonts from designers like Robert Piéchaud and Nor Eddine Bahha.
If any of these is integral to your workflow, you may run into some challenges with Dorico on the iPad. As of this writing, Dorico only has access to the built-in system fonts and those that ship with Dorico. Apple makes it difficult for developers to get access to system fonts as a privacy measure (ad-tracking software can “fingerprint” a device by looking at what fonts are installed). The Dorico team is aware of the need for third-party fonts, and are investigating solutions. In the meanwhile, users who need third-party fonts will have to finish their work on macOS or Windows.
Pricing and tiers
Dorico for iPad is available for free to download. Users get access to a set of tools that is roughly equivalent to the free Dorico SE desktop version. By signing in with a (free) Steinberg ID, users can use up to four players in their score.
For a subscription of $3.99 per month or $39.99 per year, users can access a set of tools that is roughly equivalent to Dorico Elements, the middle tier of the desktop version. Notably, neither of these has the level of graphical control of Dorico Pro, including the rich set of Engrave mode tools and features.
If you have a Mac powered by Apple’s M1 “Silicon” chip, you might be aware that you can run many iPad apps right on your computer. Developers have the option to disable this ability for their apps, however, and Steinberg has done that with Dorico for iPad. Daniel Spreadbury explains: “We decided against allowing Dorico for iPad to be run on Apple Silicon Macs. This is for two reasons: firstly, we already have a directly comparable macOS app that is designed specifically for the affordances of a desktop computer (although of course Dorico 3.5 does not yet have all of the new features we’ve added for Dorico for iPad, though these will all come, where they make sense); and secondly, the user experience of iPad apps on macOS is not yet completely ideal.”
I know that many users are wary of subscription software. I personally do not share these concerns, but I certainly understand them. In the case of software distributed through Apple’s App Store, it is — for both better and worse — one of the only sustainable revenue models. Subscriptions are among the only ways developers can offer a free trial, and they support the ongoing development to remain compatible with rapidly evolving platforms. Another benefit is that after one year of subscribing, Apple lowers their commission fee from 30% to 15%. So even if this was a $40 purchase each year (and there’s no upgrade pricing in the App Store), Steinberg stands to earn more if they use the subscription model.
I know we are likely all tied to a lot of subscriptions already, but I think there is a lot of value here for the price. Steinberg and the Dorico team are acutely aware of the subscription hesitancy among users, and made it abundantly clear in the Dorico for iPad release notes that they have no intention of creating subscriptions for the desktop version of Dorico. My apologies to those of you who have already started crafting your conspiracy theories.
More information, and conclusions for now
In connection with the release of Dorico for iPad, Steinberg has launched a number of resources. In addition to their live-stream session on their YouTube channel announcing the release and an introductory video, you’ll find posts on the new Dorico for iPad section of the Steinberg site where you can explore the app further, including an announcement on the Dorico blog and a “behind-the-scenes” story of the project.
From our end, please watch my full Dorico for iPad video overview made especially for you, the Scoring Notes reader. And of course, tune in to this weekend’s episode of the Scoring Notes podcast, where we’ll be talking with Dorico expert Leo Nicholson all about the iPad release and his new Dorico Basics video tutorial course.
Dorico for iPad is a major achievement for the team that launched Dorico 1.0 for Mac and Windows just under five years ago.
Despite its limitations — many of which are imposed by the operating system — Dorico for iPad is not a toy version of Dorico. It’s the real thing, and will be useful both as a standalone application and as a companion to desktop version. For iPad-only or iPad-first users, Dorico can create professional-quality scores on iPad, and it is by far the most cost-effective way to get into Dorico. For those coming from the desktop version, there will be almost no learning curve because at its core, Dorico for the iPad is exactly that: Dorico.