In Depth

The Other Half

| In Depth, News

In the summer of 2012, over two years ago now, forScore 4 had just hit the App Store and we were beginning to transition forScore over to Core Data. iOS 6 had just been announced, and Apple Maps was gearing up to make waves that still haven’t completely settled down. Since then, we’ve released forScore 5, 6, 7, and now 8, but that’s only half of the story.

This is the story of forScore mini: how we created it, why, and how it reflects the shifts in Apple’s strategy and its priorities.


With iOS 6’s introduction in 2012, Apple sent a clear signal to developers: the days of ‘one size fits all’ were ending. Devices with different screen sizes were coming, and the slow, careful shift in how apps were made was beginning. Rumors had been swirling that the iPad mini was coming later that year, and we wanted to be ready for whatever Apple unveiled.

Since forScore is an iPad-only app and iPhones are typically the first to change radically, they’re a great indicator of what’s to come. They’re also the perfect device to test on—after all, if forScore could scale all the way down to a 3.5-inch iPhone, it could certainly meet much smaller shifts in the iPad lineup. If we were going to try and get a head start, the iPhone would be the laboratory.

Fortunately, the iPad mini ended up using the same resolution as the full-sized iPad and we didn’t have to do a thing to optimize forScore for the the smaller screen, but the long-term message was still loud and clear. So we began crafting a secret double life for forScore. That second experience has existed alongside each new version of forScore, helping us ensure that every part of forScore’s interface adapts usably to whatever sized screen it runs on.


There’s another piece of this story, though, and it started with forScore 5’s automatic margin detection when cropping. By analyzing a page of sheet music, forScore could make a guess about where the important content was on that page and zoom in just enough to give you the best possible view of your music.

That was just the start, though, and we continued to develop that analysis engine and improve its accuracy while extending it’s purpose. The result was a tool that allowed us to detect not just margins, but individual systems of music on each page. By adding a complex new interface, rendering, and caching layer to forScore, that tool became the basis for Reflow, and transformed forScore on the iPhone from a simple testing tool into a potentially great new experience.

There was only one issue: the iPhone was just too small. It all worked, technically, but it wasn’t great. It was tempting, and while we could have easily just released it and moved on, we had to make the tough call and say no. We had done what we set out to do with forScore on the small screen, and—for the time being, at least—that was enough. The iPhone experience continued to live on alongside forScore for iPad, maintained but inactive.

Despite being created for the iPhone, Reflow turned out to be an incredible accessibility tool and made its debut this summer with forScore 8. The feedback we’ve gotten from musicians has been heartwarming and hugely rewarding.

4.7 & 5.5

Things shifted quickly with Apple’s recent unveiling of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. We guessed that it was coming, and we spent the summer testing and working to get our small-screen experience ready for showtime. While the proof of concept was there and much of the work had already been done, it was far from finished.

Panels like the stamp creator, a longtime staple of forScore’s toolset, just didn’t translate well to the small screen. Popovers (interface elements used all over the place in forScore) aren’t available on the iPhone. Tools like the metronome and pitch pipe needed to go full screen on the iPhone and therefore needed to support landscape orientation. The setlist creator, a two-column interface, was completely impractical in portrait orientation but virtually essential in landscape orientation—especially on the new, bigger screens of the iPhone 6.

So we got creative. We found solutions. We reworked the interface until it not only did what it needed to do, but also felt right.


Right from the start, way back in late 2009, we made some key decisions that continue to affect how we do business. We promised free updates for life and, almost a hundred versions later, we’ve never looked back. We chose to raise our price slowly so we could grow with long-term customers who could have a stake in what we were creating. We chose to avoid sales and the more volatile impulse purchasers they attract. (The one and only time forScore has gone on sale was during Apple’s recent ‘Explore Your Creativity’ promotion—a unique opportunity that we don’t expect will repeat itself.)

Unlike social networks and freemium apps, forScore doesn’t need to pursue customers at all costs and benefits from carefully appealing to people who are willing to take some time, learn how to use it, and hopefully be pleasantly surprised when they discover each of the many features it offers. There are no paid upgrades, no features that have to be ‘unlocked’ by an in-app purchase, and we’ve been very happy with our success.

So when it came time to decide what forScore on an iPhone would look like, we faced two options: make forScore a universal app, or release an independent iPhone app. While giving everyone a universal app would’ve felt great and made a lot of people happy, it just doesn’t make financial sense. We’ve never asked our customers to pay for updates, and this is much more than a new add-on feature. We’ve put a tremendous amount of effort into making this experience work, not just technically, but practically.

More importantly, the purpose of forScore mini is to bring forScore to musicians who haven’t been able to use it before. Whether that’s because of the iPad’s price tag or just the infeasibility of carrying such a large device around in, say, a marching band, those are the musicians we feel can benefit most from this new product. Those customers won’t ever use forScore on their iPad, so why charge them for it?

Finally, we never want forScore to be held back, financially or otherwise, by the unique requirements of smaller devices. If a feature is ready for our iPad users to take advantage of but not quite right on the iPhone, we’d rather have the freedom to update one independently of the other.

And so, after much careful consideration, forScore for iPhone became forScore mini.

That Syncing Feeling

Syncing is hard. Even Apple can’t get it right all of the time, and forScore users tend to have large libraries that don’t always fit within iCloud’s storage limits. If something goes wrong, especially during a performance, the results can be catastrophic. Scores and annotations can be completely lost for good without warning, and even when things work perfectly, conflict resolution is a pain for the end user. And, since most forScore users don’t have multiple iPads, requests for cloud syncing have always been muted compared to the average app.

With an iPhone version on the horizon, though, things have shifted somewhat. Although we’re carefully framing forScore mini as a standalone app, naturally some users will want to use both and share information automatically between the two. Frankly, we don’t have a solution yet. It’s still incredibly hard to do syncing right, and the potential for disaster is too high, but we recognize that this is something people want and we’re thinking hard about our next steps.

The biggest question for us was “is forScore mini without syncing worth it?” We think the answer is a clear yes. Those musicians we created it for, the ones who can’t use or afford an iPad, that’s where we start.

The Future

A lot has changed for the iPad over the past year. With bigger, more capable iPhones now taking even more of the spotlight, many bloggers and analysts alike have wondered what Apple’s long term vision for the iPad really is. While forScore users have no doubts about the device’s strengths, rumors of a new, larger iPad continue to circulate and have undoubtedly caused some of the iPad’s biggest cheerleaders to put off upgrading for another year. Apple’s recent quarterly earnings report shows that iPad sales are down year over year, and the doom and gloom crowd is growing.

It’s no wonder that Apple’s priorities have to adapt to the numbers they see. New iOS updates are always a little rougher on the iPad right out of the gate than they are on smaller devices, and unfortunately iOS 8 has been worse than usual. But it’s important to remember that the iPad makes Apple almost as much money as another one of their hobbies: the Mac. Neither category is going anywhere, and it’s obvious that Apple is continuing to dedicate resources to the future of the iPad.

Of course, we see huge opportunities. A larger iPad is a no-brainer, and would solve one of the most common complaints we hear. The iPhone experience is just as exciting, finally bringing forScore to musicians who can’t use or afford an iPad. Simply put, we couldn’t be more positive about the future of forScore. The iPad itself may be looking a little lost with five models currently on sale, but forScore has never looked better.

The story of forScore mini isn’t a separate story at all, it’s a reflection of the ongoing story of forScore itself. It’s a whole other layer to the story, and while it hasn’t been public, it’s been incredibly important and tightly coupled to our journey as a company. We can’t wait to show it to you.

forScore mini is coming soon, so sign up to be notified by email the moment it’s ready!