Borderlands – Review

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Borderlands Created By: Chris Carlson

Updated: June 2 2013.
Borderlands was one of those apps that showed huge potential with great innovative design. It was one I had purchased because I believed in it and really bought the promise of updates. Unfortunately those promised updates to bring vital functions to make this great app live up to its potential. Functions like AudioCopy/Paste and or Audiobus. They should have been added months ago.

It’s not often I will show much interest in music apps that are shipped missing critical components leaving a rather inconvenient to use product. Borderlands is so very unique and designed with such a pleasant user interface, I can’t ignore its brilliance.

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What is Borderlands? Where are the controls or virtual knobs and sliders? What it is, is a gesture controlled granular synthesis instrument. No knobs, sliders, or much of anything except a clean interface with a minimalist list of function buttons on the top of the screen. Everything is controlled by you and your hands.

Load audio files (this is the main problem I’ll touch on later) onto the screen and they appear as waveform snapshots. You double tap to produce “clouds” which are then what brings the audio to life as you sculpt grains of sound. Double tap the cloud again to bring up its specific set of controls. How you move, pinch, spread, zoom, throw or swipe will determine the sounds it generates. Don’t want the cloud or just done with it? Swipe it off the screen to delete it.

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Further control over the audio is done via the top of the screens buttons or icons. These manipulate the grains direction, the grain windows such as Sinc, Exponential, Random and so on control the behaviors. It’s a beautiful experience and fun to experiment. I recommend visiting the website HERE where you will find information , news, and helpful tutorials.

Borderlands is well made to suit live performances, as well as instrumentation for music productions. Turn on the “Gravity” function to enable accelerometer control to add to the fun. While the sample rate is a bit lower than I would prefer and the latency is high, it still sounds really good.

It’s early for Borderlands and what we have today is just a taste of what’s in store through further development as time goes on. The biggest problem with Borderlands is sharing. Importing is limited to a iTunes Borderlands specific playlist you must load and sync well in advance of use. A very cumbersome and dreadful way to import your own samples. If you’re not near your computer with iTunes and want to add something you just made, its not possible at this time. No Audio Copy Paste, No iTunes File Share, No Dropbox, No Audiobus. I’ve found these missing features to be very problematic, as well as terribly inconvenient. You can record, but pretty much only have the options to share that by uploading to SoundCloud.

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Now hang on, I’m not bashing this. I’ve corresponded with Chris Carlson over the past couple months several times. He is doing all of the development himself in his limited spare time. Consider that please. Additionally like you and I, he has a life with many things requiring his attention. Borderlands today is not what Borderlands will always be. He is working diligently to bring in new features, many improvements, and expanding its capabilities. This cannot be rushed if it is to be done right.

Improving audio quality is one thing high on the list. Midi options are planned. Audio Copy Paste, & the AudioShare App SDK is being looked at for implementing shortly. Even better news is he is working on Audiobus Output support. Which contrary to intuition is the routing of audio in to Borderlands to capture. That is far more complex than Audiobus Input which just sends audio.

Borderlands is special and developed by one massively creative person. Limited today, but with a little more time we can expect big things to make the experience far more enjoyable than it already is. This is the kind of creative app development that deserves support. I feel good about having spent the money. Almost there.

So all things considered I rate 3.5 stars. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a great app, but its painful to import your own audio and honestly I wouldn’t use the playlist method of importing. Really this is a 5 star app just temporarily stuck on 3.5 pending the inevitable improvements. You can bet I’ll be adjusting that appropriately the instant those arrive. And they will arrive.

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9 comments

  1. Interesting article, like you I don’t normally tend to give much attention to apps that are missing minimal critical components, like ACP or iTunes sharing. However, after reading this frank and honest article, I concluded that it has the potential to be great, especially with the possibility of the Audiobus intergration & midi.

    After reading I thought to myself interesting and with no direct iTunes link, I was curious about the price and said to myself if its £2 or less then yes 100% ill have to obtain this app to investigate, so off on the link you provided and have since read all about it and watched a tutorial video, avoiding the iTunes link on the official website, I was fairly impressed with what I was seeing and hearing and then reading the comments and responses below the tutorial I decided to see how much this app was going to cost me and there it was 49p more than I originally proposed I was going to pay, so after a short moment of reflection (around 10 seconds lol) I decided to buy this app and wait for its greatness to arrive.

  2. Bought it the day it was released , played it for a few hours , and have kept it aside
    Waiting patiently for atleast a way to get samples in easily. Till then its relegated to a iOS folder “almost there”

  3. thanks for the great review, david, and for the kind comments everybody. as david mentioned, my development time has been limited, but over the coming weeks/months, i will do my best to remedy the sample management and sharing issues. until then, i appreciate your patience and willingness to stick around! here’s hoping i can get Borderlands out of Pat’s “almost there” folder and onto the first app screen 😉

    1. I appreciate all the love and care you have already put into borderlands. It presents a fascinating audio exploration tool, genuinely transformative, what ever you load in. As for the loading issues, what was ever worth having that didn’t require some effort? Take your time I am happy to wait to be amazed by the next iteration of borderlands.

  4. This is really a beautiful app. As stated above by MR-909, one of the best released this year and I too read the instructions over and over for a week before even attempting so I didn’t get discouraged and throw a “rock star fit” and give up the potential of the masterpiece. I am no rock star – far from it. It was some thing that has enabled me to create music without any trainning. I’ve loved music my entire life but never had success playing an instrument. I bought my daughter an ipad a year ago for Christmas and saw music apps listed. After an entire day of browsing the app store I drove to the apple store the next and bought myself an ipad strictly on the desire to experiment playing music on those apps. Over the weeks that followed I began playing with every app I could get my hands on. When I loaded Borderlands Granular onto my ipad I realized I had discovered something that made sense. It was visual and It did what I commanded it to do like I wanted to hear come from my mind to my hands to my ears. Its magic. I have played with It and have produced amazing things from it. Please update this app to it’s full potential. Just hearing Chris is working on the apps compatibility with audiobus, MIDI, and audio copy / paste makes me have hope. Waiting somewhat patiently.

  5. Anyone know if the developer is still working on an update, or is the app abandoned? I bought this app as soon as it was released, but never use it solely because of the lack of sample import options.

    1. Last I heard was before Christmas that AudioCopy/Paste was coming up “soon” or in a couple months followed by Audiobus. Now its June and nothing’s happened. Its very disappointing. I bought it to support good development for a good design I want to use, and on the promise of critical features being added. A pretty solid example of why no music app should be purchased until its ready, and never based on potential. If the reason there have been no developments is because of low sales, well, that’s their fault. Its hard enough to make money off apps, much less selling ones half baked that can’t be used.

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