When it comes to music creation, modification, digital instruments effects, and the like, iOS has always been overwhelmingly ahead of Android. There's one simple reason for this – it's not because of hardware limitation. It's not because developers and effects manufacturers don't want to to support Android. It's because of the audio-in latency – it's simply too high. For those who may not know, audio latency is "a short period of delay (usually measured in milliseconds) between when an audio signal enters and when it emerges from a system." In this case, it's the amount of time it takes to get the signal from an instrument (or similar creation device) through the Android OS. Logically, if it takes the system too long to process the first note, the second, third, or even tenth could already be on its way before the first is finished processing. You can see how that's a massive problem.
On iOS, audio-in latency is around 20ms, which is perfect for recording software or producing real-time effects on something like a guitar. On Android, however, the latency is around 200-300ms, which is absolutely unacceptable in terms of audio recording and digital effect processing. It just doesn't work. Typically, the audio-in latency needs to be below 25ms to be useable.
Despite this being an issue that has been in the Android bug report system for well over two years (and garnering over 2000 stars), Google hasn't done anything to correct it. Now, don't get this confused with the audio-out latency issues that were fixed in Android 4.1 – that has absolutely nothing to do with low-latency on the input channel. Of course, the two do go hand-in-hand, so it's good that Google at least fixed one side of the signal chain.
Now, a company called Sonoma Wire Works – which is responsible for some incredible guitar effects processing software for iOS, as well as the famed GuitarJack – has fixed the issue in Google's stead, which includes an API so other developers can utilize it for their own apps. It actually showed off the tech at the recent NAMM show, complete with a demonstration of real-time guitar effects being produced with a Galaxy Nexus:
So, when can we expect this fix in our devices? Well, that depends. Since it's an OS-level modification, the company is looking to license it to hardware manufacturers – HTC, Samsung, LG, the like – to get it incorporated into their respective Android builds. Hopefully each device manufacturer will see the value in this code, as music-producing apps are a big part of the allure of iOS for many people (myself included – don't shoot me).
Of course, that means there's no actual timeline as to when these types of apps and accessories will become a reality on Android, either; that, and there's nothing stopping Google from getting to it first. After all, a built-in fix that wouldn't require licensing from a third-party and would be more affordable for manufacturers. Fortunately, Sonoma is OK with that solution, too. When we asked the company how it would react if Google released a low-latency fix for the audio-in channel, it had this to say:
We will be happy when all the devices have it, no matter who provides it, because we could sell more products to a wider market.
I'm of a similar mindset here – I don't care who brings it to life first, I just want it. Now. Alas, patience is a virtue, but one thing's for sure: we'll definitely be keeping a close watch on this one, as it will be a game changer once it's actually available.