Folks used to working with the Mac version of Garageband will probably notice a little loss in functionality – only 8 tracks, and the audio recording process isn’t entirely intuitive. Monitoring of the audio signal being recorded isn’t on by default, and you have to record in the instrument section and not the track view. Editing in the track view is relatively simple, though, and moving and deleting audio is quite easy. The recording process also involves recording in sections (A, B – think pop song structure) of variable number of measures (4, 8, 16, etc.). Record your A section with all instruments, then move on. Good for songwriting, but not necessarily for free-form idea recording.
The virtual instruments are unusually effective here – the virtual guitars and basses have virtual frets you can touch to get the note. The virtual basses also allow for sliding notes along strings and bending strings. The virtual guitars allow the same on a regular fretboard, and you can also set up sections of chords where you can strum or “fingerpick” without having to worry if your left hand has fretted the chords correctly.
The drums are interesting – you have your choice of a drumkit you can tap beats out on, or you can use “smart drums.” These drums function on an X-Y axis of simple to complex and soft to loud. Pick your drumset, then drop the bass drum on the X-Y axis. The application “plays” the drum in accordance to where you dropped it. This means you can have a steady, loud bass drum with a more complex snare and hi-hat above that. Move them around to tweak the beat to your liking and add more percussion instruments, if you wish. It’s not a standard drum grid, but it might act well if you want a thought-started for songs.
At a price of $5 (plus whatever hardware you buy for getting audio into your iPad), there’s a ton of functionality for both sketching and field recording for the price. It doesn’t replace the software I use for recording or podcasting, but it does make for easy recording of ideas and allows me to get decent audio away from my home rig.
EDIT: How could I forget the most egregious omission?! THERE’S NO VIRTUAL BASS AMP?! Amplitube takes care of live performance needs, but it doesn’t feed audio in GB. Please, Apple – could this be an upgrade for the next version?