Superpowered has released an SDK to enable developers to provide high-quality, real-time audio features in mobile applications. The payoff? Easier code to incorporate and faster graphics as low-latency audio takes on less processing power. Founders Patrick Vlaskovits and Gábor Szántó spoke with ProgrammableWeb about the new release.
Cross-Platform Audio SDK
Superpowered is a cross-platform iOS and Android Audio SDK that enables studio-grade audio quality for mobile apps and wearables. CEO Vlaskovits explains:
Fundamentally, the innovation Superpowered brings to audio development on mobile and wearables is threefold:
1. For iOS, we offer more audio features at better performance than Core Audio — which is rightly held in high regard and is considered the standard to meet or beat!
2. For Android, whose ecosystem APIs are quite frankly, a mess, we not only provide more features and better performance than OpenSL ES, but we act as a much-needed middleware, greatly ameliorating the Android fragmentation problem, which is much more pronounced in the audio sphere.
And lastly, 3. The above two are delivered to developers in an API whose paradigm eschews unnecessary abstraction or need to learn new conceptual models; this is intentional.
Our API's paradigm is one that mimics the real world: connect boxes together and they process audio as the signal flows through. Again, without any strange abstractions to learn and easy integration with one’s own DSP code.
Both CoreAudio and OpenSL ES punish developers with APIs that are not a pleasure to use. We aren't simply offering better audio performance and less power consumption; we are all that wrapped in an API — the sum of which is faster and pain-free audio development.
CTO Szántó adds: “Our SDK is true cross-platform. Write it once in C++ and then deploy simultaneously to iOS and Android. There are example apps for both iOS and Android included in the package."
Low Latency Audio = Faster Frame Rates
Early users have included Szántó’s own side project, DJ Player App, and high-quality music apps like Crossfader.
“DJ Player App is what I call an industrial-strength DJ application,” says Szántó. “It may not be the prettiest app, and it doesn’t have cutesy turntables or a super-duper-sexy UI — but it does provide real-time audio latency, with all the necessary audio filters and effects in a highly fault-tolerant system, not to mention, the crème de la crème of audio effects: time-stretching and pitch-shifting, meaning that professional DJs, people who actually get paid to DJ, love DJ Player App.”
To make the DJ Player App work, Superpowered helps ensure that the audio signal is channeled from the turntable to the iPad running DJ Player App, which then adds effects and channels the results through output. The Superpowered SDK carries out all of the heavy infrastructure involved in audio processing and does so with real-time audio latency, which means things like DJ scratching work via an app rather than causing pauses and awkward silences in the DJ interactions.
Another prominent customer of Superpowered is Crossfader.fm. Crossfader is founded by Seth Goldstein of Turntable.fm and is a remix/cross-fader app. It has been a featured App Store app multiple times, and more than a million people have downloaded it.
Using Superpowered, not only did they get Crossfader to run super smoothly at 60 fps, but were able to enhance their app with more visual and better audio on platforms such as iPhone 4 that suffer from older, low-power processors.
Vlaskovits points to a quote from Ilias Karim, a co-founder of Crossfader, who noted that one of the unexpected benefits is that Superpowered can handle audio with less processing power, meaning the app rendered close to 60 frames per second using Superpowered.
In a similar way, the Superpowered SDK also has the potential to improve the user experience for apps built for wearables:
Encouragingly, we are seeing people start to experiment with Superpowered on wearables. Fundamentally, Superpowered technology is optimized for the low-power wearable world. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see that wearable devices will disrupt smartphones and their ilk. As they do, wearable developers run into the same sorts of audio performance and power-consumption problems we solve: how to eke performance out of inexpensive processors coupled with tiny power sources.
Our technology is the equivalent of taking a Toyota Corolla (an app on a constrained platform), pouring special fuel into it (Superpowered), and now having it drive like a Porsche AND get the fuel mileage of a Prius.
Free Access Until Your App Succeeds
The Superpowered Audio SDK is available for free to download and use. Following an increasingly common business model that invests in early adopters to help them grow their business by offering the SDK/API access for free, the plan is to introduce pricing for heavier users. If an app with Superpowered’s SDK reaches 50,000 installations, the Superpowered team wants to talk, but until then, SDK usage is free.
It is a business model that Vlaskovits is keen to test, and he should know what he is talking about. Vlaskovits has previously co-authored several lean startup guides that are now used as key textbooks in business schools across the U.S. and around the world. He explains the business model:
With regard to revenue model, currently we are taking that on a case-by-case basis. We are open to fixed fee, revenue share and monthly fees. To be honest, we haven’t nailed that just yet. But that isn’t our biggest concern right now. Our biggest concern right now is making sure we nail our product and deliver super value to the creators and developers of apps and wearables.
The Superpowered SDK is available for download from the startup’s website, while an in-depth series of blog posts describes the low-latency features of the audio service. IOS developers who do not want to completely swap over from using Apple’s Core Audio in their apps can make use of Superpowered’s open source project, which can help developers better navigate the challenges of using Apple’s Core Audio RemoteIO audio unit.