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The new GarageBand: Hands-on

Among the software announcements today, one of our favorite apps, GarageBand, got some major feature editions that will make the music creation tool even more fun to play with.

The updated version of GarageBand is getting "smart strings," a note editor, iCloud integration, and sharing. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Though iPhoto is the newest addition to the iPad's iLife apps, GarageBand also got a few updated features and instruments to add to its arsenal of music tools. The original version of GarageBand for iOS already impressed me with intuitive touch-screen instruments, smart instruments that required no prior musical skill, and multitrack recording features anyone could use, but the new GarageBand adds even more to like, with wireless connections of up to four iPads for live music creation, and more.

The new version is by no means a complete makeover, but it adds a new category of instruments, the ability to "jam" with others over Wi-Fi, and other smaller tweaks to make music creation easier. In my early testing, I found all the new features add up to an app that I already think is one of the best in the iTunes App Store.

In the new Note Editor you can change velocity, cut and copy, or change the note entirely if you hit a bad one. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Smart instruments--GarageBand's unique and intuitive interface layouts that let anyone play passable music--now offers a Strings category and adds more sounds to both the Synth and Smart Bass categories. Smart Strings has its own unique interface layout, just like the other instruments, and the play style is kind of like bowing an actual violin with a forward and back swiping of your finger. Four new bass sounds also made it into the update, adding four new sounds including retro. The synth additions add four new instruments to the Smart Piano category complete with autoplay features. Frankly, any new instruments to play are a good thing in a music creation app, and I like the way Apple laid them out in the new GarageBand.

Another feature shown at the presentation was the ability to jam with up to three other iOS devices in real time. In my early testing I was able to create a session with Rumor Has It co-host Karyne Levy, and we were able to jam with the resulting tracks showing up on my iPad. At first the metronome was a distraction and would not match up (presumably to account for connection speed), but once we turned the metronome off, jamming worked pretty well. Though it's pretty entertaining, I wonder how often people will actually use this feature.

The four new synth options (under the piano tones found in the original) come complete as Smart Instruments with autoplay features. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

One feature that was mentioned at the presentation but not expanded upon was the Note Editor. I had the chance to play around with it on my iPad and this might be the biggest feature enhancement for those serious about music creation in GarageBand. From the track screen, you're now able to touch a track, then touch an Edit button. from here the track breaks out into a new interface element that lets you change each note (of a chord, for example). This will be great for going back in and perfecting a track, rather than being forced to rerecord a whole track--a big time saver while recording.

To round out the new features, GarageBand now lets you merge finished tracks to make room for more and you can share songs directly to Facebook, YouTube, and SoundCloud.

Check back in the coming days for my review of the new GarageBand and a more info on each of the new features.