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Hookpad, a wasted opportunity

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When a brilliant plan put to action turns out be to really, really, really shortsighted.

First off, I like Hookpad. I use it almost daily. But that’s not because it’s the best application in its category. I use it because there is no alternative.

Hookpad is technically the best app for my purposes but as soon as something similiar pops up on my radar, I’ll stop using it and never look back.

It’s a shame. Just look at it. Doesn’t it look really nice?

Hookpad should be much better

It’s a great tool to create “sketches” of songs. And it’s an excellent toy to learn more about music theory. But there is just so much wrong with Hookpad.

Let’s begin with the most obvious flaw.

Hookpad still uses Flash

Flash is outdated, insecure and hasslesome. Flash sucks on Linux, it sucks on MacOS, and it sucks just a tiny bit less on Windows. On mobile devices it doesn’t suck because it doesn’t work at all. Modern Android and iOS devices are completely out of the picture.

Also, despite using a fairly powerful desktop machine, Hookpad is sluggish as hell. Sometimes, for no apparent reason at all, it brings my machine to a crawl. I has crashed my browser multiple times.

On my old Thinkpad (Edge 13) it still works but there is absolutely no joy involved.

Many of the issues I have while working with Hookpad can be blamed on the Flash technology. Most of these issues are hard to explain with words. A video would be nice. Maybe I’ll do one at a later time.

The best way to see and feel what I mean is to try it out.

BTW: According to a forum entry from late 2016 the company behind Hookpad is working on dropping Flash.

Usability VS user ability

As you can see in the screenshot above some buttons have characters and numbers added in parentheses.

Hookpad can (and should) be navigated using the keyboard. It makes sense. In Hookpad+ MIDI input is indeed possible.

Pressing the numbers 1 to 7 produces the corresponding notes. The duration of notes can be altered by pressing h, j, k, l and ;

For about a year I didn’t use notes that didn’t belong to the mode I was working with. I wanted to but I thought I couldn’t.

One day I pressed . (period dot) accidentally and it raised the selected note by half a step. Hurray!

Pressing , (comma) lowers the selected note by half a step. Hurray again!

After using Hookpad for more than two years I still stumble over annoying oddities. Maybe those are issues related to Flash? Who knows.

The user interface was obviously designed by a professional but some things just don’t feel right.

Yeah, you can actually use a virtual keyboard to add notes. But even on my 24″ monitor (16:10) the entire upper toolbar is not available when I scroll down to use the virtual keyboard. Using fullscreen mode by pressing F11 only adds around 100px and even if the superfluous toolbar at the very top were gone the virtual keyboard still wouldn’t fit.

There are dozens of little things like that which make Hookpad a pain in the ass to use.

I’m constantly doubting my abilities as a user and I spend lots of time scratching my head, trying to figure out how the developers want me to use their software.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the mixer…

I’d like to do it on the train

The mobile option is very limited due to the technology involved. If it works at all on a tablet or any other handheld device, the design will be in your way constantly.

It’s obviously built for the desktop. There’s nothing wrong with that per se. But a slimmed down version for mobile users would be just great. When I’m on the train I sometimes hum melodies and I’d like to just quickly save them so I don’t forget them. I don’t need all the bells and whistles, just the basic functionality.

Sadly, it’s unusable in its current state.

You shall not loop for free

One of the most important features available in Hookpad is the looping functionality.

I need to listen to my musical creation over and over again so I can hear the mistakes I made.

You can loop your composition three times and then this ugly thing fades into your view:

Many features are missing from Hookpad without the “+” added. A comparison table can be found here.

Currently I’m missing out on looping, MIDI input and MIDI export, polyphony, mixing functionality, recording and probably a dozen other features that I don’t really need.

I’m a proponent of free software. Free as in freedom and free as in free beer. That doesn’t mean that I don’t pay for software.

I generally despise subscription services for numerous reasons but I’d make an exception for Hookpad+ if it weren’t for one simple fact: No PayPal option.

I have to use my credit card. I had one but it expired long ago. I hardly used it in several years. In fact, I’ve only used it for one single (subscription based) service: Aweber, a professional newsletter solution. Oh, and I paid for two flights in 2014 with my credit card.

I don’t expect anyone to adopt all the trends and hypes, e.g. I don’t expect anyone to offer me payment options involving shady crypto currencies.

But PayPal? C’mon. That must be the most popular payment processor for this kind of software.

I’d happily pay more than $4.99 if I could just do it with PayPal. Five dollars, ten, fifteen – that’s not much for a hobby. But right now, the company behind Hookpad gets exactly zero dollars from me because they make paying them so incredibly complicated.

To be fair, most people I know actually need and use their credit cards. Especially in the US a life without a credit card is simply unthinkable. But not everyone lives in the US.

“It’s good enough”

No, it isn’t.

Development is apparently happening but the pace is so, so slow.

A Hookpad developer posted this preview of Hookpad 2 in the forum thread mentioned above. It’s from this year so that’s certainly good news.

Conclusion (a light at the end of the tunnel)

All the things I mentioned could be fixed easily from my point of view. Sure, it would take time and money to make Hookpad really good software. But for some reason (which I can only guess) there seems to be no immediate interest in improving on the product. They’re working on it so that’s a start.

But things could be much easier.

And this leads me to the last of my talking points.

Hookpad shouldn’t be proprietary software

If the Hooktheory LLC released (at least) parts of their amazing software into the open source environment (with appropriate licensing) there would be many willing developers who would love to help.

In fact, the launch of Hookpad+ in 2014 should have been accompanied by some kind of “community edition” for open source developers to fiddle around with.

Music Analysis in the future

Flash is obsolete. It has been obsolete for many years. But it just won’t go away.

The development of Hookpad started when Flash was still very popular so it is somewhat understandable that the Hooktheory LLC decided to use that technology. It’s also understandable that rewriting the software from scratch is a lot of work.

Fortunately there is an alternative in the making. Unfortunately the progress is quite slow and the functionality still very limited. I’m looking forward to the finished product as it is based on sane technology (HTML5 and Javascript) and free software.

Software which you and me can fix and improve on when nobody else does.