I saw a post a couple of months ago by Patty Mitchell (reigning champion of online oboe journalism) about the iPhone app Oboe Reed Maker PRO, and decided to bite the bullet, part with the $1.99, and take it for a spin. Here is my review. As is my custom lately, I have tried to keep the review balanced and accurate by involving the maker of the product. In this case that is Christopher Gaudi of the San Francisco Symphony and OboeClass.com.
(Note that this is a review of version 1.0 of the app, so if you’re reading this after my publication date, then the app may have changed by now. I’ll update this post if I use any future versions that have changes worth mentioning; you’re also welcome to add your own updates in the comments.)
In the world of iPhone apps, I’ve grown accustomed to getting a lot of good stuff for free, and hesitate even to buy a 99-cent app unless I’m sure it’s going to be great. For $1.99, it had better be outstanding! However, in the past I’ve paid the better part of $100 for individual books on reed making, so, realistically, $1.99 isn’t much if you’re looking for a few tidbits of information. And that’s what this app offers. If you’re interested in this thing, think of it as a very cheap book (a pamphlet, really), rather than an expensive app. Here is the main screen, as shown in the iTunes store:
If you’re reading this on my website you’ll see a border that I have added to the image, which reveals some white space at the bottom (the border might not show up in RSS feeds, etc.). Note that this space, in the actual app, contains an advertisement (at the moment, a 1-800 number for a criminal defense attorney). In my opinion, including ads is bad form for a paid application. There are additional monetization efforts built into the app. The “Oboe Gear” button leads to affiliate links to Amazon products, which are providing someone, presumably Mr. Gaudi, with additional income. The “More” button provides income-generating affiliate links to additional paid apps, some ostensibly music-related, some not. Mr. Gaudi responds:
I can understand the criticism of the ads in a paid app though I hope you can understand the need to monetize it. The app wasn’t created for free. There was a considerable cost to produce it and there are costs to revise and update it over time. I hope you can appreciate the need for monetary compensation for those who create a product for sale. My time and knowledge is worth something, just as my private students pay for weekly lessons as do countless other oboe students across the country pay for private lessons.
This is a fair response, I think, if the user knows they are paying for a product that will include advertisements; I was unaware of the ads before my purchase but you can consider yourself now warned. For every other app on my phone, paid versions are reliably ad-free. In my opinion, it would make more sense in the current app marketplace to raise the price on the app itself, if necessary, and scrap the ads, or maybe keep at least some of the ads/monetization and give the app away for free.
The actual useful content of the app is accessed with the green “Reed Maker” and “Reed Doctor” buttons. The “Reed Maker” button leads to a summary of the reed scraping process, starting with a reed blank (tying is not addressed). The summary is ten pages, most with one or two sentences of text, and each showing the same image of a reed with different areas highlighted. Knife technique is not addressed, just which areas to scrape in which order. There are some interesting bits of information here, but be forewarned that this app does not attempt to teach the full process of reedmaking. (It doesn’t specifically claim to, but you don’t know what ground the instruction covers until you buy.) Mr. Gaudi points out:
Even though there may be only a few sentences per screen, those few sentences contain tons of information, though the sentences contained in the app have to be taken seriously by the user.
The $1.99 price of the app seems to be very reasonable and a deal, in my opinion, compared to private lessons with the best oboe players in the country which are $150+++. Even a book, which you mentioned, can cost $100+.
I do agree that concision does not preclude depth and value. But a book containing this quantity of text, no matter how excellent, wouldn’t be a $100 item, and a teacher who had only this amount of information to share wouldn’t get away with $150 per lesson. A good book or lesson costs more, but also offers more.
The “Reed Doctor” section lists eleven reed characteristics (“Reed is too open,” “Ease of attacks,” “Generally bulky,” and so forth) and offers a few sentences and a diagram showing where to scrape to improve each aspect. In general, the reedmaking information looks good to me, though, of course, slightly different from my own accustomed process. I did get a few new ideas that I’m already experimenting with. Note that with any kind of text on reedmaking, I think it’s important to keep in mind that any reedmaking “recipe” is just what works best for somebody, and if you gouge or shape or tie or scrape your reeds differently from that person, then their ideas might not be compatible with your own recipe. I say, try them out and see.
Mr. Gaudi takes a little different view. I’ll provide his comments here, concede that he is a much more accomplished oboist than I, and leave it to you to sort it out.
This app explains “universal truths” about oboe reed making. For example, the repeated reference to the “scoop” is essential for a refined reed that is stable in pitch and has a cushioned tone and comfortable response. … The Reed Doctor section also explains these “universal truths”. Certain problems, like sharpness, flatness, and the need for better response or more cushion etc… can be overcome or achieved consistently by scraping certain specific areas of the reed.
The app has a few small usability issues—missed opportunities, really. The “Reed Maker” content is navigated with left and right arrow buttons, but swiping left and right does nothing. The iPhone platform (and its competitors) creates lots of possibilities for intelligent user interaction, but this app feels more like a simple static website stuck inside a phone. This isn’t a dealbreaker, necessarily, but again: this is a world where a two-buck app needs to be outstanding. Mr. Gaudi acknowledged in an email that there may be shortcomings in this area, and he invites feedback for future releases. (If you have purchased the app, you can do this by leaving a review in the App Store.) My final scorecard:
|Quality of reedmaking information||Seems legit, but, as always, your mileage may vary. Note: not a “complete” reedmaking method.|
|Price||Reasonable for a very small book, high for an app|
|Monetization||Too much for my tastes|