I remember watching the the World Series on TV a few years ago and low and behold there was IK Multimedia's AmpliTube app on an Apple iPad ad. Prime time exposure! It doesn't get better than that if you are a marketing guy.
IK has made a bold commitment to mobile computing since the advent of the first viable devices. Making that kind of commitment requires changes in values, business philosophy, corporate structure, not to mention a serious financial risk. On top of that you can't lose sight of what got you where you are in the first place.
Enrico Iori, the founder and Director of IK Multimedia was kind enough to bring us up to date on what has been going on since they made that commitment.
What's the most interesting thing you've experienced since making the initial commitment to the iOS?
I think it has been the opportunity to materialize ideas in various fields, because the iOS market was like a clean slate for us when we started. And there were a lot of opportunities. That allowed us to do microphones, keyboards, pads controllers, speakers and more. Probably that has been the most interesting thing.
Are there any products that you think you did better on iOS than you might have done on a desktop computer system?
First of all, often with iOS we've tried to do something that did not exist before, so we were presented with new types of challenges like low power, and high portability. And every product has to be like a complete solution by itself.
To give you an example, we just announced a field recorder microphone. For many years, people have used those at concerts, but we did it in a way that can also work for video with a mobile device. We came up with a new design that allows you to rotate the mic to get a true stereo field.
And I'm also very happy about the way we solved the Android latency problem by bypassing the limitations of the platform.
Using DSP in your hardware...
Yes. We had this idea two years ago. We had monitored the progress of the Android OS to see if it was on a path to being a true real-time operating system, and that seemed not to be the case. So we decided the only way was to move the problem from the OS to our device, using a '90s solution to a 21st century problem. These are the challenges that we find beautiful in solving problems for the mobile world.
What's the most useful thing you learned while you're making your MI products that you have applied to making mobile products?
It has been the other way around. I think we learned to design better MI products with the experience we accumulated in designing mobile products. The world of MI is the world of technicians and engineers. The mobile platform forces you to change your way of thinking, more to your everyday user. In the MI world, we tend to overcomplicate. It is a world of features, where you often forget the user experience, and how to keep the workflow simple and accessible.
So in the Consumer Electronics (CE) mobile market, you learned how to make the things easier to use. Was there anything from MI that gave you an advantage?
For sure. We could not have done what we have done in the mobile market without the experience we accumulated working previously in the MI market.
How important was the IK brand when you went into mobile?
Not that important, because it's always the product and how it respond to user needs that's key. Branding helps but it's always the product first.
So you started from scratch on some levels...
You're right. There was not that much of a crossover between mobile and MI users when we started, it was two completely different things.
How do you bridge between supporting somebody who buys SampleTank 3 for $350, and somebody that buys SampleTank for iOS for...
...Twenty bucks... (laughs) The gap between the two worlds was more real five years ago, but now the market has evolved, and although the entry price is generally much cheaper on iOS, with the large range of additional features available as in-app purchases, and an overall reduction in MI prices, the price gap between the two worlds has been greatly reduced.
I remember when we started developing apps for iOS Apple was selling stuff for $1. We were selling $300 software and I remember thinking I can't do that, so we started with prices in $20 level, a higher level than the apps available at that time, but we proved to be right.
The music creation market is still a niche one when compared to other types of apps like camera and video or utility, and as much as I love all of this, if we weren't successful and making money, we would not be here to talk.
Speaking of that, can you contrast your experiences from when you first set out in MI and when you first set out in the mobile market?
When we did the first iOS apps we had many years of experience in MI. That's a big difference. So you start out of the gate with all of the things in place, because you know from the past experience how it has gone. We had already seen how markets evolved, because we saw it before with computer music. So that's why we did it faster, without making too many mistakes, going straight to the things that we thought were important for the user.
But the marketing was completely different because the costs of consumer marketing are comparatively huge. So if you make a mistake, it costs you a lot more...
Yes. It's different. Everything is multiplied by 10. Promotional cycles last days, hours, instead of months or quarters. So all of that required learning and adaptation. And if you're not very careful with your chips you can burn a lot of them at once.
Is the competition different?
It's the same. Competition stimulates you. You know, app manufacturers, audio manufacturers — it's exactly the same thing. We're trying to be first to market with the right mindset. Competitors today arise at light speed in every market. That's globalization.
What drove the decision to do SampleTank 3?
We are committed to Mac and PC development - stronger than ever. This year, I hope you will see three to four major releases for the MI market from us. And you will see things that go maybe more in parallel between Mac/PC and iOS, or mobile. So something that we're going to do on Mac/PC that translates to mobile much faster, due to some convergence between the two worlds and increased CPU power on mobile.
Like most companies IK occasionally takes a beating in forums. How would you respond? What have you guys done in the last year or two years to serve your customer in terms of the way you support them or the kinds of things you do for them?
Even if it's not evident, the fact that we have senior IK employees like Peter Toriello on KVR, who really cares about the people there, and tries to get feedback from the users. He is an open connection. So whatever comment is made, escalates, both good and bad. Listening to and learning from your customers is a big part of marketing, and we are there to get feedback and translate these requests into product features. Sometimes it's easier and faster, and sometimes it takes a lot of time, but that's why we stay there. So we have a presence to engage directly with users.
That's actually a really good answer. At what point did you set Peter on this path, or has this just been the case all along?
From the beginning. For a while, Peter had as his icon, a hazmat suit, meant to signify he was taking a lot of ****. It was ironic. You must take it with some sense of humor, mostly on KVR.
The answer is that you are listening at the highest levels. You can only respond through the action of creating products....
Exactly. Either improving the product or listening to what the customer has to say on other aspects like pricing, policies and so on. "We don't like this. We don't like that." Okay, than we try to fit these requests into our development process. Even right now, as we have done in the past, we are doing stuff that has been requested on KVR and we hope with great joy of the audience there.
It takes a lot of moxie to make the kind of commitment that IK has made to the mobile market, while maintaining your commitment to MI. And it takes a lot of perseverance and energy to maintain that commitment. IK hasn't lost their pioneering spirit, and that's a good thing for the industry.