Earlier this week, I floated the idea of a Personal Audio Recorder, which would keep track of everything you heard. I suggested, and other people pointed out in the comments, that the interface was the key thing. You need to be able to search through your recorded life in an intuitive fashion.

Having thought about it, I think I’ve come up with an interface which is both easy to understand, and as simple as possible. <drumroll> May I present – the iEar!


So where are all the buttons? Well, you don’t need any. While it’s switched on, it’s always recording, and the display shows the current time and date. If you want to review something it’s recorded in the past, you just start winding the wheel back. As you wind, the time and date on the display changes. When you stop winding, it starts playing from where you’ve got to, out of the built-in speaker (ignore the earphones; I couldn’t find a picture without them). Press the central button, and it resets itself to “now”.

But here’s the clever bit. The longer you keep winding, the faster it goes. So you can use the same winding action to take you back a minute, an hour, a day or a year. When you are close, stop and start again, and it’ll have slowed back down to a manageable pace. This way, you can easily zoom in on where you want to be.

This is how people would use the product anyway – they’d wind a bit, have a listen, wind some more, and so on. Once they found the key point where they had been told which pub they were meeting in, they’d listen for a few seconds and then press the reset button.

The mic may well be attached to your wrist, or some other location without too much clothing rustle, transmitting data back to the base unit via Bluetooth or some similar technology. That’s implementation detail.

What do you think? A winner? :-)

10 thoughts on “iEar

  1. First thing that comes to mind is that if I know exactly where (date & time) I want to go, I’d really just want to plug that in directly than sit and scroll. Not to say that couldn’t be implimented easliy with the scroll wheel.

    Second thing is it would seem natural to make the scroll wheel gradiently sensitive (like autoscrolling in a webpage), so the further you go from the origination point the faster the scrolling. Perhaps there’s a good reason not to do this, but again, its just what comes to mind.

  2. Looks good…one thing I think I’d want, would be some way for the device to categorize who (if anyone) I was conversing with at the time. It would take some voice recognition, but that wouldn’t be too hard. If it were really smart, it would hear me say “Hi there Jim” and know who I was talking to…

  3. I hope such a device will never come into existence or popular to be used like you suggest it. Maybe a person who speaks with someone wearing such a thing doesn’t want to be recorded! This is a major privacy issue. Instead of one Big Brother this would create an army of “small brothers” so to say.

  4. Great idea (no kidding), one problem: It’s probably illegal (i.e. jail) in Germany :-( (and maybe elsewhere).

    “(1) Mit Freiheitsstrafe bis zu drei Jahren oder mit Geldstrafe wird bestraft, wer unbefugt
    1. das nicht�ffentlich gesprochene Wort eines anderen auf einen Tontr�ger aufnimmt”

    Summary: Up to 3 years jail for unauthorized recording of non-public spoken words of others

    This makes no sense to me. Most people save all emails. But when you archive the phone calls you made, you end up in jail?

  5. Ben: If you write something in a digital form and send it to someone else you know or at least should know, that this writing can be archived on a hard drive or some other media for an unlimited period of time. So you can decide what you want to write in an email knowing about this.

    But if you are recorded by someone else wearing a small (probably not visible) mic, you can’t do anything about it. The same is true when you place a telephone call and are recorded without knowing about it.

    This is a huge difference! I want to be in control and want to know about it when any data about me is digitally saved. This is what German data protection law is all about. I don’t think it’s illegal to record a phone call in Germany when you inform the caller about this before you do so.

  6. Stefan, yes, but you have to assume that *I* remember what you said, using my brain. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to use tools to help me with it?

    Actually, some personal fights could be avoided, if I had a way to prove to a person what she said (or be convinced that she didn’t). :)

    Your speech is legally binding (informal contracts). The only reason that it usually doesn’t hold in court is that you can’t prove it.

    Of course, you should not disclose private information, but you could do that as well by repeating from brain memory, and some people do so since thousands of years. :(

    What really worries me is the potential of (ab)use of the “small brothers” by “Big Brother” (see your first answer).

    Asking for consent is not practical, neither on the phone (“Hi, I’m Ben Bucksch. This call will be recorded. I saw your job offer and …”) and even less so with normal speech as gerv proposes. Requiring consent practically equates forbidding it. I don’t see that being justified.

  7. The iEar is cool! One wheel is user-friendly, but probably annoyingly slow to find the right place if you store more than a few days of sound. IMO it should be combined with a bookmark/metadata system (voice-driven, of course).

  8. I agree, Ben. This is part of a huge issue that is becoming increasingly important as people become increasingly cyborged. What happens when most people have an equivalent to the iEar – perhaps implanted (it *will* happen, just wait 30 years)?