Task: Travel around Southern Finland on bicycles. Interview passers-by with a same core question for everyone. Record the interviews and publish them on a blog.
Doesn’t sound technically too demanding. Except when you are using an iPad. The Apple philosophy to make things simple leads to making them very complex.
For recordings we used Zoom H2 digital recorder. It is small and handy, and the sound quality is good enough for this kind of purpose. A natural partner for the Zoom would be a laptop; you can edit the recordings and update the blog. However, my own 12-inch PowerBook is eight years old and the software makers don’t support it anymore, so it has become practically useless. Also the battery has almost died. My travel partner has a similar situation. We had an access to a mini laptop, but it didn’t work with our internet dongle and it was unbelievably clumsy to use.
So we opted for iPad which we could borrow from our working place. The beautiful and shiny iPad is so handy and easy to use – that’s what we’ve heard. Let’s see how handy and easy it is.
1. Transferring audio files from Zoom to iPad. The Zoom H2 records files on an SD memory card. You can also move the files via a USB cable. However the iPad doesn’t have either SD card reader or a USB port. With 29 € you can buy a Camera Kit adapter set that gives you both memory card reader and USB port for iPad. After a little research it turned out, however, that the adapter can be used only for transferring pictures and videos. Not audio files.
According to a rumour jailbreaking the iPad would allow the Camera Kit to transfer other file formats, but as with our employer’s device that option was out of question. According to another rumour certain iPad apps might be able to read other file formats than pictures from the SD card, but I couldn’t find any free app that was capable of doing that, and we were not allowed to install any payable apps into our tablet. And I couldn’t find any support for that particular rumour.
The Internet told me that there is an SD card reader that creates an own WiFi and the iPad would be able to load the audio file from there. However, I didn’t have time to research on that lead and we wouldn’t have had time (or will) to hunt down and purchase such a device.
So it seems that it’s nearly impossible to transfer files into iPad. One option is to record the interviews straight into iPad with its internal microphone. Holding an iPad in front of the interviewee’s face is not the nicest scenario, and the wind protection of the mic must be non-existent. We might have however accepted the sound quality of the internal mic.
The next thought was to connect an external microphone into the iPad. There are official devices and systems for this, but again we didn’t want to spend a lot of money for them. And anyway the Zoom H2 has a headphone/line output and the iPad has a microphone input. So why not give it a shot?
The iPad headphone/microphone connector has four contacts. A quick web search revealed that the last contact (sleeve) is for microphone input signal and the third one is ground. I found a an old iPhone headphone-microphone and took it apart to get a four-pin mini-jack connector. Then a simple soldering operation to connect a normal mini-jack into the other end. (This naturally happened at 1 am on the night before the start of the trip.) Hallelujah, it works! iPad receives only mono signal, but that’s fine as we’re recording only talk. Also the impedances of the sending and receiving ends are probably from a different planet, but at least the signal travels. So now it’s possible for us to record normally with the Zoom and then in the evening in tent or inn transfer the material into the iPad analogically.
2. Audio app for iPad. After a brief test run I ended up with an app called WavePad to be used to edit the interviews. The app seems to be functional and surprisingly versatile to be free. As with many other apps also in this one moving files around has been limited heavily. For example you cannot import audio files into the app! No way around. At least not without computer, and there’s no mention of even that in the manual. But you can record. And as we have the brand new cable we just use it to connect Zoom and iPad, press play in Zoom, rec in WavePad and so the audio is copied. It requires some delicate trimming of colume controls to get the signal in as clean as possible due to the impedance incompatibilty between the two gadgets.
With WavePad it’s possible to trim the file, set gains, normalize, fade in/out (but not crossfade) and compress. There is an HPF, reverb and even noise reduction, however it’s still a bit unclear if it works. The recording can be saved as wav, aiff or mp3 and you can adjust the settings for those formats. The file is saved inside the app. So there is no way of accessing the from outside the app. That’s a typical example of the iOS logic. However, we want the file out of the app, in this case into our blog. WavePad offers an option to send the file into email or an FTP server. Thus we must use one or another.
3. Blog. We decided to use good ol’ WordPress, because it has a working admin panel and stylish and clean outlook. The storage capacity is 3 gigs which is enough for our short mono clips.
There’s an iPad app for updating WordPress, or you can use a web browser. The app works but is very limited in functions. The browser interface is unbelievable buggy and editing text and images (without keyboard and mouse) is pure pain.
After managing to create some sort of skeleton blog we wanted to add an audio clip. Well, in the free version of WordPress that is naturally not possible. To be able to do that you need to upgrade. You can, however, add a SoundCloud link, which would be a good solution as we could have an embeded player inside our blog text.
Let’s head to SoundCloud. After a while we find an Upload & Share menu. There’s a Choose File button. We press it and what options does an iPad give you? “Take a picture or video” and “Choose existing”. When you click the latter you get iPad camera roll and picture stream. I know, pictures are nice, but not this time. Thank you, Steve. There’s no way of importing audio files into SoundCloud via url or email (even though they are married to Google).
SoundCloud offers a some kind of Dropbox connection. That turned out to work only from SoundCloud to Dropbox, not from Dropbox to SoundCloud.
We also tried to utilise Youtube and Vimeo, as WordPress supports them with embedding, but you can’t upload just audio into these services. And with iPad that wouldn’t have been possible in the first place. Maybe we could have used some kind of video app to create a slideshow, but how would we have added the audio track from WavePad?
After spending a lot of time thinking of different solutions we realised that we were in a dead end.
4. FTP server. As there’s an ftp export option in WavePad, I decided to open a free server into which we could transfer our recordings. From there we could link the files into WordPress blog posts. The fancy embeded players would remain a dream, but we could still get the audio out to the world when the blog visitor clicks the link.
ServersFree.com offered a free service and opening the page was quick. The promised waiting time of 12–72 minutes turned out to be 10 minutes. When the FTP connection started to work after some tweaking and the test recording edited with WavePad flew to the server like Laika dog to the orbit, we had finally managed to build bridges from the Zoom via iPad to WordPress. Long live information technology.
After short sleep we’ll start our bicycles and get to test the system on the field. If you’re interested you can follow our blog at rengasradio.wordpress.com.
In the iOS operating system each application plays alone in its isolated sandbox. There’s no common file handling system. Only files from the Photo app can be transferred to the Internet, nothing else. Without computer and iTunes software there’s no way of importing any files into iPad apart from pictures and videos using the separate adapter kit.
It feels like iPad was made only for passive receiving. Maybe there are nice games for iPad, and you can use your Facebook on it. Producing and editing text is difficult. If you can produce something on iPad and share them that’s pictures and videos. However you can get a lot of audio and music apps for iPad. I’m just wondering how can you utilise them in real life when the file transferring is made so limited.
A nice sandbox toy.