It was in February 2016 that our Henle Library app for iPad was born, after a gestation period of around two years, followed by a version for Android in June that same year. Five years have since passed, five years of a wonderful and lasting success story! But what’s been happening since my last blog entry about the app in May 2019? I’d like to have a quick look back and then forwards at the future …
The Henle Library was launched five years ago, and we’ve been busy looking after it ever since. We soon learned what we had suspected beforehand as “newbies” in the digital world: a digital project has a beginning but no end. It’s a constant work in progress; the expectations of musicians concerning the app are continually growing; the technical basis is in a constant state of flux – the tablets, their operating systems, the infrastructure in the background in the cloud etc. etc. … Our visions and concrete plans keep us moving forwards and at the same time, the competition is doing its best to keep us on our toes.
Looking back, we can see it’s been a great success, as wherever we look, we can see the numbers are increasing at a fast rate. In the meantime, we have tens of thousands of active users in over 80 countries, the revenue from the app now greatly exceeds our running costs and we are getting wonderful feedback on its quality in our daily contact with the musicians who use it. And yet we still have so much to do.
As is to be expected, the quality of the iPad, its stability and the intuitive nature of the iOS operating system mean that it is this platform that is mainly dominating our market (see the orange bars above). The Android world has not been able to keep up – very few musicians use Android-compatible tablets – even though we made a version of the app with the same functionality for both operating systems in 2016. Nevertheless, we still have an obligation towards Android and will continue to develop this version of our app – even if at a somewhat slower pace. And something that might interest owners of laptops: the iPad version runs on the latest Macbook models (those with M1 chip), as does our Android app on numerous Chromebooks.
Occasionally we are asked to develop a browser version of the Henle Library that is platform agnostic. To date we have not been able to see the benefits of doing so. Our app has been developed with mobile and practical usage in mind, not for desktop computers or laptops as these are less suited to performance or rehearsal situations. In addition, many of the special features that we offer in our app would be extremely difficult to realise using browser technology (especially as they would also have to work offline). Having said this, we will continue to follow the development of Windows tablets, despite the fact that they are far less widespread than iPads and Android tablets, and might even take on this challenge one day.
New features since May 2019
Shortly before my last update on the state of our app in May 2019, we had completely reworked the annotation mode. The results of this larger undertaking proved extremely popular. In particular, working with the Apple Pencil has become much more intuitive, and the introduction of a decent eraser and the undo function have helped, too.
What has happened since then? In the 19 (!) updates we have released since May 2019, alongside a wide range of improvements behind the scenes, we have added several very useful new functions to our app:
- A very important aspect is that our app offers content that goes far beyond what is included in our print editions: numerous additional fingerings and bowings from historical or living artists. In the Henle Store in the app it’s been possible since the end of 2019 to search for the names of these artists or use filters to find them. But what’s more, on the homepage of the store there are rotating banners which show all of the artists and can be filtered through a single tap on the screen:
For quite a while now, a great many artists have become active ambassadors for our app. You can find a current list of all of the musicians who have provided contributions here! We were also recently sent many wonderful birthday greetings, including from none other than Maestro Emanuel Ax.
- You’ve already seen the photo with the Macbook above: we have now also incorporated a double-page view feature in the app, something that many of you have expressed a desire for. And soon musicians will also have the opportunity to turn over one or two pages when they are in this mode. You can watch Lea Hausmann and Sam Sheperd from the fantastic Amatis Trio present this new function for us in a short video.
- To make playing from our app an even safer experience on the stage, we have introduced “Performance-Mode”. If you tap on the curtain icon,
all of the functions (excepting the page-turning options through tap, swipe or pedal) are turned off. So, this means, for example, that you cannot inadvertently turn on annotation mode during a performance.
In autumn 2020 we were finally able to fulfil a request brought to us by music colleges and conservatories: a special offer for students and teachers at these institutions. To our great delight, The Juilliard School, New York and Tianjin – with whom we have enjoyed a close association for many years – became the first conservatory to take up this offer. And many more have followed suit since then. Our “Henle Library – Campus Edition” provides access to the complete Urtext catalogue in the app to members of these institutions free-of-charge.
But many of the changes have happened behind the scenes and are thus – despite their importance – not visible to our musicians. We have seen to the permanently necessary modernisation of the cloud infrastructure, increased data privacy and now, for example, save all of our data, whether user profiles or digital scores, on servers in the EU.
So, what’s on the cards?
What can you expect in the coming years? Well, as I mentioned above, first of all we are considering increasing the number of platforms on which our app is available – even possibly a version for smartphones. In addition, we would like to greatly expand the communication and sharing possibilities among musicians and also between you and us, to render a service to the Henle Library community. By the end of 2021, the whole of our Urtext catalogue should finally be available in the app – the new publications from the previous years are already available but we are still working on less sought-after titles, which are nevertheless attractive, from our so-called backlist.
And right at the moment we are completing work on two fantastic new functions, that go by the working titles “variations” and “interpretation layers”. The “variations” function allows us to break up the linearity of the musical texts at certain points. This means, for example, that when you get to a cadenza in a concerto, you will soon be able to select the one you want from a collection of different ones and then immediately have it inserted in the right place in the music. This selection option, which we will implement at any point in the musical text, opens up completely new possibilities for presentation, which can only be realised digitally. The “interpretation layers” are layers of annotations that have been supplied by famous teachers and musicians. The layers can be laid over the musical text, just as you can already do with fingerings and bowings. But these ones go much deeper because they contain teaching ideas and also tips for all other musical parameters, including tips and tricks regarding how to master difficult passages or suggestions concerning how to shape their musical character. Coming soon!
The Henle Library app is five years old. Follow us on social media and drop by the Henle Store in the app now and again – there are lots of different special offers, spread out throughout the year!
At any rate, we will not run out of ideas or work!
With very best wishes,