Google’s multitouch operating system is far behind Apple’s iOS regarding musical creation possibilities. The lag is measurable: about 350 milliseconds. It seems insignificant but it is not. This latency problem on Android stops developers from writing musical apps that could compete with those available on iPhone or iPad.

When we started this blog, most recording or synth apps were on iOS. At the time Android’s rise was so overwhelming that we expected things to evolve. We even believed that WebOS or Windows would compete. That was in theory. In practice, iOS is still the king of the castle and will be in the foreseeable future, and as long as Google does not decide to provide development tools that are more powerful, as developers have been asking for.

We interviewed Kevin Chartier, developer for Wizdom music. He is in charge of MorphWiz, SampleWiz, and Geo Synthesizer, real time touch instruments for iPad and iPhone. The live functionality is crucial for these apps as Jordan Rudess, Dream Theater’s keyboardist, uses them in front of thousands of persons during his concerts. In spite of his will to port these apps to Android he can’t because of one main problem: audio latency.

The system mixing buffer is where the differences between iOS and Android are most apparent. On iOS, you have the ability to request any buffer size you want, and the OS will give it to you, if the processor is fast enough to handle it. (…) At a 44.1kHz sampling rate, a 256-sample buffer is about 5.8 milliseconds (…) On our latest Android devices, the minimum buffer size is 16384 samples long, which is about 371.5 milliseconds long.

The best Android phones have a latency of 108.8 ms. What does it mean? It is best understood with a practical example. These four audio files illustrate the lag called latency. In the first the click and the piano are synched : latency zero. In the second we hear latency for iOS, it is so little that one can hardly hear time between which the finger touches the screen and the note is heard. The two last show that it is not possible to play music with an Android phone.

That’s why musicians choose Apple rather Google. For the time being, iOS is for creatives while Android is for content consumption. This will remain the case until Google starts to listen to what audio developers have been asking for more than two years. Then,  Android features would be equivalent to those of the first generation iPhone.

[Update]: Check out More thoughts on audio latency in Android and our Open letter to Google