where most DJ apps waste precious real estate with useless virtual turntables, Pacemaker cleverly integrates both its menus and controls into the same layout. It’s a terrifically elegant solution–and one that never would have had any reason to exist before the touchscreen.
For Jonas Norberg, the inventor of Pacemaker, coming up with a DJ interface that felt native to today’s touch devices was the whole point. As his team was plugging away on the app, designers everywhere were talking about the move away from skeuomorphism and interfaces that relied on visual metaphors from the physical world. It was a conversation he followed closely. While heavy skeuomorphism could make any app gaudy, when it came to DJ software, it posed functional problems. DJ setups are typically the size of a desk, Norberg points out, and cramming every knob and slider on a 10″ screen would never be ideal. “It felt stupid to mimic reality,” Norberg says. “Buttons have to behave like buttons. They can’t swell and move around.”
And Jonas is dead right… All those other DJ interfaces simply take the exact thing and cram it down into a tablet. It makes no sense at all. Touchscreens are a different beast and Jonas knows this too well. Its something I’ve been banging on about for years with my presentation for Dj Hackday.
Norberg has been consumed with the idea of simplifying DJing for the better part of the last decade. The original Pacemaker, debuted in 2008, was a kooky piece of hardware that packed a suite of sophisticated mixing tools into a handheld gadget. It was a triumph of consolidation, but it didn’t exactly bring mixing to the masses. “If you want to democratize DJing, $850 is a pretty high price point,” Norberg admits.
High yes but ever so elegant. I reject the idea of it being Kooky… I’m sure Wired stuck that in because that Kooky piece of hardware still runs and got its update along side the Mobile app. That laid the grounds for what you got now.
Around the time that first incarnation of the company was going bankrupt, the iPhone was taking off, and Norberg was sense that apps could be the way forward. Out of nowhere, BlackBerry got in touch and asked the Pacemaker team to develop a piece of software for the PlayBook tablet, a request that Norberg has heard came directly from Mike Lazaridis himself. Despite that slate’s ignominious fate, the effort laid the foundation for the iPad app that came out this month.
While the decision to ditch skeuomorphism dictated much of the look and feel of the final app, Norberg and his team were constantly asking what they could get rid of to make DJing easier. One thing you won’t find in Pacemaker, for example, is a “cue” button–the tool DJs use for setting loop points in a song. Instead, Pacemaker lets you drag a playhead to a particular point on the wave form itself; to jump back to that point, you just have to tap it. As another example, where previous DJ apps confusingly had two “sync” buttons, one for each turntable, Pacemaker just has one. Touch it and your songs will find their way in sync, no matter which track you’re fiddling with at the moment.
Some experienced DJs might chaff at that level of simplicity, but for the rest of us, it makes for a far friendlier experience. It’s a tradeoff Norberg was more than willing to make. Those circles–which his team cheerfully refers to as “cakes”–are a good example of how the team was willing to compromise. “If you had the controls in a grid instead you could control two parameters at once,” he says. “But a grid is no fun.” And that, in essence, is a tidy explanation of what makes Pacemaker so great. It harnesses the power of truly thoughtful design to give people something fun, in a category that all too often slides into the realm of frustrating.
The pacemaker is back baby! And I can’t wait for dual stereo output… Goodbye Faux 3D knobs and skeuomorphic turntables, where we’re going we don’t need roads…