Personal Podcasting with AudioBoo, UK’s “Twitter for Voice”

7/10/09Follow @wroush

The human voice is making a comeback. For a while, it looked like e-mail, instant messaging, blogs, RSS, and all of the Internet’s other texty goodness might permanently eclipse the old-fashioned phone call and other voice-driven forms of communication. Even the spread of cell phones hasn’t halted the tide of text—more than a third of mobile phone owners use their phones primarily to send SMS text messages rather than making actual calls, according to research from Cambridge, MA-based Vlingo.

But a stream of new mobile-device applications designed for voice input might be restoring the balance. This month I’m excited about two examples in particular: the new Voice Memo app that showed up with Apple’s iPhone 3.0 operating system, and AudioBoo, a nifty audio recording app for the iPhone with a surprising origin: Channel 4, Britain’s publicly funded alternative television network. Along with several other programs, these apps are turning the iPhone into a handy platform for “personal podcasting,” an emerging genre of amateur digital publishing that’s as convenient and spontaneous as Twitter but, because it’s actually a person talking, feels more human.

[You can click here or skip to page 3 to hear an AudioBoo version of this article.]

No apologies, by the way, to non-iPhone owners. With iPhone 3G now priced at $99 and the 3GS starting at $199, there are fewer and fewer excuses for not trying out Apple’s marvelously powerful uber-gadget.

First, a word about Voice Memo on the iPhone. Many mobile phones come with a voice recording function these days, so it wasn’t a surprise to see Apple add one when it updated the iPhone operating system last month. It’s fairly basic: it lets you make new audio notes and review your old notes, all of which get copied to your iTunes library whenever you sync. There’s also a basic editing feature that lets you trim a voice memo by lopping time off the beginning or the end. Best of all, there’s a “share” button that lets you send out copies of voice memos via e-mail.

iPhone Voice MemoI really like the sharing feature, which is great for sending people quick voice messages, and has two advantages over conventional voicemail. First, the sound quality is far superior. Voice memos are monaural, but they don’t get compressed the way your voice does when you’re leaving a message for someone over a cellular voice network (compression that’s redoubled if the recipient is retrieving their voicemail from their own cell phone). Second, e-mailing a voice memo is a non-sneaky substitute for voicemail for those times when you want to leave a voice message but you don’t want to risk actually talking to the person. (Slydial offers a similar capability by connecting you directly to someone’s voicemail—but it’s not foolproof, as it sometimes makes their phone ring anyway.)

In a pinch, you can also use the iPhone Voice Memo app to record audio for publication on the Web. It clearly wasn’t designed for this purpose, as the app records memos using the relatively voluminous .m4a audio format, and doesn’t allow you to transfer memos over a certain size by e-mail. (I’m not sure what the limit is, but I was unable to send a 5-minute, 12-megabyte file.) Also, it buries the synchronized copies of your voice memos deep in the iTunes folder of your computer, where it’s difficult to find them. But as a test, I located one memo—a few thoughts that I recorded on a drizzly afternoon at the Japanese Garden at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts—and used iTunes to convert it from .m4a to the more compact .mp3 format, which made it small enough to post on my personal blog at Tumblr.

But if you really want to use your iPhone as a tool for audio publishing, there are much simpler options.

For a long time, my favorite iPhone audio recording app was iTalk, the coolest feature of which is that … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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