Sometimes There Just Isn't an App for That

Photograph by Mike Hartley

When my 20 year-old Dr. Beat Metronome finally gave up the ghost last week, I did what any modern technophile would do—I headed over to Apple App Store to find a replacement. Who needs another piece of gear when I already have an iPhone and an iPad? After a half-dozen downloads, I discovered that I couldn’t replicate the exact functionality, nor could I find an app that had the same functions and tactile feel you get from Dr. Beat.

For you non-drummers, the Dr. Beat line of metronomes (not to be confused with the song of the same name by Miami Sound Machine) has been the de facto drummer practice tool since consumer electronics made their way into the world of musical instruments. And its not just drummers who rely on Dr. Beat—any musician who practices patterns while keeping time and watching tempo can espouse the virtues of the simplicity and functionality of the good doctor.

Rather than debate the value of using a metronome (which I did incessantly during many years, under the tutelage of the late great jazz drummer Sonny Igoe), let’s just agree that if you play an instrument, you undoubtedly need to practice more, and as you get older and have less practice time, you need every edge you can get.

There had to be an app, and there were many. I came pretty close with the $9.99 purchase of Dr. Betotte TC, which had many functions but became annoying, as my phone screen turned off and I could no longer see the click track. Several others accurately mimic the ticktock of old-school mechanical metronomes.

An hour later I had been through all the standard emotional stages of change—disbelief, anger, acceptance, and finally, commitment to the fact that not everything can or should be an app. I had possibly found a loophole in the app store ecosystem: There is an app for that and I don’t care.

In the Apple iOS ecosystem, app consumers are routinely stumped by the vast number of available options and tend to be lead toward what Apple features or whatever happens to have crawled up the popularity charts. Curating content can be hugely valuable to the consuming audience, even if accuracy and favor are occasionally suspect. And there really is an app for everything. In fact, there are too many apps for everything.

Despite the meteoric rise of smartphone applications, stand-alone products that are both hardware and software, such as Dr. Beat metronomes, Cateye bicycling computers, Garmin GPS watches, and Fitbit fitness trackers continue to have a place in the consumer electronics lexicon. Many, such as Fitbit, have online and/or mobile application complements that provide key pieces to the puzzle, where others such as Cateye or Dr. Beat tend to be less connected.

Would Dr. Beat be better if it were connected to the internet and you could track progress, as you can do with Fitbit or Nike Plus? Maybe. But sometimes what you’re quantifying just isn’t all that interesting. Sometimes you just want to keep rhythm. Sometimes you just want your damn single-purpose gadget back.

And that’s why I jumped over to my Amazon app and ordered up a new Dr. Beat DB-90 and had it shipped overnight. Great having you back, Dr. Beat.

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