StaffPad launched as a truly unique app for Windows-based tablets nearly five years ago, allowing composers to scribble notes on a screen and convert the handwritten music into a typeset score. At its launch, StaffPad was described as “groundbreaking” by professionals that had been waiting for such an app, but it was only available on Windows. That’s all changing today, as StaffPad debuts on the iPad with some big improvements.
Handwriting recognition for music notation is the big selling point of StaffPad. That’s now being complemented with new sound libraries that let you play your score with the realism of a full orchestra, and a separate free Reader app that anyone can use to play a score on Windows tablets and the iPad.
StaffPad has partnered with Spitfire Audio, Orchestral Tools, and Cinesamples to offer these sound libraries as in-app purchases that range from $19.99 for steel drums all the way up to $99.99 for percussion, strings, and brass. That means you can have your score sound like a full orchestra is playing it, if you want. “Previously this would have been so complicated to try and achieve,” explains David William Hearn, co-founder of StaffPad, in an interview with The Verge. “You’d need Logic Pro or Pro Tools, a sampler like Kontakt, a MIDI keyboard, an audio interface, and all of this expertise. All of that is too complicated, I want to press play and hear my flute part and it sound like a real flute.”
While the new sound libraries will undoubtedly wow musicians, another big change to StaffPad is the new Reader app. It’s a free app that’s designed more for musicians rather than composers, and connects back to StaffPad to display the individual parts of a StaffPad score in real-time across multiple iPads and Windows tablets. Imagine an orchestra replacing their paper scores with tablets that automatically follow the conductor’s score.
This new Reader app is available on iPad or Windows, and also includes a $12.99 in-app purchase that will enable the playback of StaffPad’s built-in sound libraries. So, if you’re a musician that wants to practice their individual role as part of a bigger orchestra then that’s now possible. It opens StaffPad up to many more uses cases, especially in education and even the potential for composers to share scores they have written for others to download and play.
StaffPad’s iPad app is identical to the Windows version, and the company has rewritten it entirely to be cross-platform for iPadOS and Windows. Both Windows and iPadOS apps are now priced at $89.99, and the Windows update will be available free to existing customers. StaffPad will even support Microsoft’s new Surface Pro X device with an ARM64 version of this updated app.
Since StaffPad’s launch nearly five years ago, competitors have slowly emerged to fill the iPad gap thanks to Apple’s Pencil support in 2016. Apps like Komp and Piascore have emerged, but reviewers like Scoring Notes have found “StaffPad is much more accurate and reliable in its recognition than any of the competitors.” Hearn originally gambled on Windows 8 to launch StaffPad, but has spent the last three years working on bringing it to iPad.
“We were looking at the iPad and thinking it was great for browsing the web or reading magazines, but it’s too small to work on really,” says Hearn. That all changed with the iPad Pro in 2016, and now modern larger iPads all have some form of Apple Pencil support. Apple wants apps like StaffPad in its App Store, and Hearn reveals that “Apple took me into a room with security guards and revealed the iPad Pro to me and the Apple Pencil,” ahead of the public unveiling.
This all kicked off the journey to bring StaffPad to the iPad, and rebuild the app to be cross-platform. There aren’t many professional Windows apps that are built using Microsoft’s UWP platform and also available on iPad, which makes StaffPad a rare outlier. Thousands of StaffPad users have actually purchased Surface hardware just to get StaffPad in the past, Hearn tells me. That obviously won’t happen in the same way with the iPad launch which brings StaffPad to a much bigger potential audience.
StaffPad debuts today in Apple’s App Store for $89.99, and the updated Windows app is also available in the Microsoft Store. If you’re interested in a full review of StaffPad and its new features, I’d recommend reading Scoring Notes’ extensive analysis of the app.