I have one rule on my iPod Touch: I don’t use it to be productive. That’s what my computer is for. Generally speaking, though, I’m not really even into what I’d call “novelty apps”. I usually just stick to games. Every once in a while someone will ask me to take a look at something that’s not a game, and sometimes I actually bite the bullet. In this case, I’m so glad I did. mScribble is such a simple concept, yet it’s almost mesmerizing in what it does. Plus, it’s just fun to play with. It’s pretty hard to argue with that.
mScribble is an app for making music. Unlike traditional apps that might emulate an instrument such as a drum or guitar, however, mScribble only requires one finger and the desire for you to draw on the screen. You pick one of nine background melodies ranging from jazz to “Big Feet”, then you pick a “sound color” (your choices are blue, green, red and orange) and finally you tap start. Then you just drag your finger across the screen and you’re writing a song! When you’re done you can double-tap the arrow in the lower left corner of the screen to access a menu which will allow you to email the song you’ve just created to yourself or a friend. Unfortunately this feature doesn’t seem to work on my iPod Touch 2G, otherwise I’d share a “composition” with you.
The left side of the screen is quiet and the right is loud, so you adjust the volume by moving back and forth. This is just for your notes, not for the background melody. Higher notes are at the top of the screen and lower notes at the bottom, so you can change the notes you’re playing by moving up and down. If you just tap and hold on an area the note you’re playing will change as the melody changes. Finally, you can adjust the vibrato by gently shaking the device, though that’s kind of hard to do while you’re playing music at the same time.
One thing I really like about mScribble is that unless you need to look at the pretty lights when you’re drawing you can effectively use this without staring at the screen. It’s great if you’re embarrassed about messing with your device in front of people that don’t know what you’re doing. As long as you use subtle movements to make the music, no one will even know you’re playing a game (unless you’re not wearing headphones, of course).
The main thing that’s missing from mScribble is a way to save and replay your creations on-device. The email feature is nice (when it works), but it’s kind of shame that your only chance to do anything with a given song is when you first exit from playing that song. A nice little file system at least showing the date the song was created, the length of the song and the background music that was used would be cool. And of course the ability to email from archive and delete from archive should be there. Still, for what the program offers it’s a lot of fun to mess around with.
As one might expect, the graphics are pretty basic. Notes fly across the screen in a steady stream, and a line that’s constantly changing color follows your finger around. There are, of course, no sound effects, as that would detract from the music. There are 9 base tracks that you can choose from, and while none of them are really bad, you’re sure to find a couple favorites. The nice part is that no matter which one you choose, it’s pretty hard to add a bad note on top of it with whatever algorithm they use to generate the music you “create”.
Those of you looking for high scores and leader boards need to look elsewhere. Or maybe you need this as your bit of relaxation amidst all the stress of competition. This is a great application to just pull out and mess with for a few minutes while you’re waiting in line somewhere or perhaps when that elevator is taking a bit too long to reach your floor. And if you’ve got kids that love music, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have this application. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that we might see a few more background tracks some day.
[Note: since I wrote this review I've been in touch with the developer via Appular, and it turns out my problem with sending my songs out as emails is a combination of older device (iPod Touch 2G), older OS (3.1.3) and overall song size. If all goes well the issue should be fixed in iOS 4.2, so if you've got an iPod Touch 2G and you're on the upgrade path you should be fine. In the mean time, you can still send really short songs!]