May 22, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Pacemaker Founder Explains Odd Decision to Port Hardware DJ Machine to BlackBerry Tablet

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In Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2008, I spotted an interesting piece of hardware called Pacemaker, featuring two circular controls for remixing and DJing music, with the option to add all sorts of effects, and generally tweak the sound. In that video, which I posted on Wired.com back then (note: I only found out today that pictured in the video is Pacemaker marketing manager Ola Sars, and not CEO Jonas Norberg), you can see how the hardware works.

pacemaker remix music

Pacemaker went bankrupt as a hardware concept, even though it looked cool. Its founder resurrected the code and made it an app... for the Blackberry Playbook tablet. We had to know why.

What is apparent now, in retrospect, is that this thing should never have been hardware in the first place. It should have been an app, because that way, the manufacturer would be able to sell the concept without forcing people to shell out for hardware. This is the allure of the app.

Pacemaker went bankrupt as a hardware company, but founder Jonas Norberg bought back the code, which is how he ended up presenting the app running on a BlackBerry Playbook tablet at BlackBerry World Congress 2012 earlier this month (video above). His revamped app has yet to be released, but you can enter your email address here to be notified when that happens.

Here’s the thing: We cover plenty of music apps for iOS and Android, so we had to ask… Why, after all he has been through with Pacemaker, would Norberg choose the BlackBerry PlayBook above all other platforms, when word on TheStreet is that “even basic apps are clumsy” on RIM’s BlackBerry app platform?

We found out more via email interview (slightly edited for length and clarity).

Eliot Van Buskirk, Evolver.fm: Why develop this app for BlackBerry tablet?

Jonas Norberg, founder and CEO, Pacemaker: There are many reasons for why we decided to go with BlackBerry PlayBook as our first platform for Pacemaker app, but one thing is more important than everything else: PlayBook OS is based on QNX, the only true real time operating system running on a mobile device. When developing a DJ system, low latency and high responsiveness is very important. QNX gives us the kind of control we need to achieve that.

Evolver.fm: Does the BlackBerry tablet have everything you need in terms of processing power, responsiveness, and SDKs? What was it like to develop
on?

Norberg: As I said above, QNX is great for high responsiveness and low latency. PlayBook is also sporting a very powerful dual core ARM and it has loads of onboard memory. This means PlayBook is a way more powerful platform than what we used to run Pacemaker on, i.e. the Pacemaker device. For example, it wasn’t possible for us to allow the user multiple effects running at the same time. They simply had to choose if they wanted Reverb or Echo. Now they can have both. At the same time! And that sounds pretty funky!

Porting the 12.5 man-years’ worth of code derived from Pacemaker device onto PlayBook was quite easy for us. As most developers, we used open-source components for the Pacemaker device. QNX is very open-source friendly, and many of our building blocks were extremely easy to get up and running. Like with the open source ALSA sound libraries that we use, we didn’t have to do much to make them work.

pacemaker blackberry

Norberg demonstrates the Pacemaker BlackBerry Playbook app at BlackBerry World Congress earlier in May.

Evolver.fm: Do you really think the Blackberry Tablet can be a viable machine for DJs and music makers?

Norberg: Definitely! The computational power of PlayBook is great, and combined with QNX and the Cascades UI framework, it makes a very potent platform for everyone developing software.

I also believe these are fantastic times for everyone developing DJ, music tools, and whatnot. The power of today’s modern and powerful mobile platforms, in combination with how easy it is for developers to distribute their software as apps, are just mind boggling. And if you also think about Mac App Store and Windows Stores that distribute software to Mac and PC’s,
well then, it is clear that we are in for a disruptive change in the art of software development. The barriers are gone. If you have an idea you can get it out.

But I think what separates a great developer from a good developer is that a great developer is able to use the new possibilities to enhance the user experience. It is also very much about creating automagic that helps the user do things that they didn’t know they could do, like DJ, create music, edit film, paint beautiful pictures etc. We are only in the beginning of this change and I believe we will see some very exiting things going forward.

Evolver.fm: Is there anything else we should know?

Norberg: We are going to launch Pacemaker on new platforms going forward. First out is going to be BlackBerry 10, and then at some point next year, we will reach new territories.

Stay tuned for more music app news, analysis, and interviews.