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Smule Turns iPhone into Flute

Mon, 11/10/2008 - 7:08am
Monica Alleven

It looks like Smule, known for its offbeat iPhone software, has another hit on its hands. Late last week, Smule introduced Ocarina, an application that turns the iPhone into a musical wind instrument. In the space of about one hour on Friday, the company estimates 200-300 people signed up for the app, following thousands of others who previously downloaded it.

The app, which sells for 99 cents in the Apple Apps Store, involves four “finger holes” on the screen of the iPhone. The end-user blows into the microphone, the idea being that it simulates a real ocarina, a wind instrument that dates back some 12,000 years, explained Smule Chief Technology Officer and Co-founder Ge Wang. Special software detects air molecules hitting the microphone as the fingers move on the touch screen; the tilt function also comes into play to control bravado.

Smule’s audio engine (CHiP) and the Smule Sonic Network also make it possible to hear semi real-time performances around the world. With the globe view, consumers can hear performances and find out the origin of the performance.

Wang said people can learn to play the ocarina without any formal music training. Wang, 31, is a Stanford University professor at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) and director of the Stanford Laptop Orchestra, as well as the author of the Chuck audio programming language.

Wang said he’s interested in how to use new technology to provide a means of creativity for people. “Our goal is to transform the iPhone into an expressive instrument,” he said. The company has no immediate plans to port the app to another platform.

To see it in action, you can check out a YouTube video here. Wang said three of the five people featured in the video had never played it before the video was shot; the entire video was shot and edited in one evening.

Smule also developed a virtual lighter for the iPhone, as well as the Sonic Boom, which is a “glorified fire cracker,” he said. Another product, Sonic Vox, allows users to alter their voice to see how it sounds in various formats.

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