BY PAUL QUENEAU
You know there’s an app for that?
Those seven words have become cliché in this age of do-everything smart phones.
Make that almost do-everything. One of the more fundamental telephone accessories for outdoor writers — the ability to record an interview — remains elusive even on the 10th anniversary of Steve Jobs’ big 2007 unveiling of the first iPhone.
I have long employed Radio Shack’s finest $5 handset splitter to tape interviews on my office landline, first recording them to mini-cassette and now to MP3 tracks using my handheld digital recorder. Easy enough.
Unfortunately, my cutting-edge iPhone won’t allow me to record a single phone call to its internal memory. I’ve researched the available “apps for that,” but all seem to involve per-minute subscription fees and offloading of audio to a third-party site. Way more complicated than it seems to me it needs to be.
The hang-up may lie in the legality of recording calls, which I’ve got a hunch scares off app developers since in some states callers are required by law to notify anyone they wish to tape. (Always remember to ask!)
I instead devised a somewhat ludicrous hack using my Macbook. Since Apple introduced OS X “Yosemite,” I’ve had the option to place calls on my computer using my iPhone’s cell connection over a Wi-Fi network (phone has to be running iOS 8 or later).
I do this by entering any phone number I want to call into my computer’s contacts app, which then displays a “call” button over the listing. Once clicked, the calls begin, and I use a Mac screen-capture app called Screenflow that also allows me to record computer audio. I use my Apple headphones with a built-in microphone, and in the end get an audio file of the conversation that’s about as high-fidelity as you could possibly get over a phone.
Granted, Screenflow costs $99, but never fear: there is a free download called Soundflower that allows you to record computer audio using Apple’s built-in Quicktime app. I use Screenflow because I already had it installed at the time, and Soundflower takes a couple more steps to get it to work, but it is a good option for an admittedly complex route.
Freelancer Aaron Teasdale has used a somewhat similar setup to record his interviews using Skype, his speakerphone and QuickTime’s audio recording feature.
But wasn’t the original goal of all this to keep it all within our smartphones? For that, a viable option is the Google Voice app, which allows one to record conversation with a simple key punch. The big caveat is it only works for incoming calls—a clumsy hurdle to have to ask every interviewee to call you right back, especially on a cold call.
From what I can gather, smartphone users on the Android side of things have an
easier time recording calls using free apps such as Smart Voice Recorder.
On the iPhone side, though, the best in-phone option appears to currently be the $10 TapeACall Pro app. It creates a three-way call between you, the caller and the TapeACall service. This creates a downloadable MP3 file, which your phone can grab off the company’s servers after the conversation. That doesn’t carry the same peace of mind as having a recorder there right in front of you, but probably your best option at this point. After a year, TapeACall requires an annual $8 fee.
Teasdale said he’s used this app rather than his Skype workaround in recent months, and largely likes it.
“It works well, but the setup process for each call isn’t exactly intuitive,” he said. “I have to refresh myself on the procedure each time. But it does make quality recordings. I still wish there was something simpler, but it’s the best I found.”
Another iPhone option is the NoNotes, which is free for first the 20 minutes, but costs 25 cents per minute after that, or $7 per month. One advantage, though, is that it includes a built-in competitively priced transcription service ($0.75/minute or $40/hour) to save you the task of putting words to text.
Whatever smartphone you use, it doesn’t appear that the level of ease-of-use we’ve all become so accustomed to has yet made it to primetime. That could all change with the next version of any competing phone’s operation system, but until then, we can rest assured that foreign governments and state intelligence agencies have long ago gotten this cell phone recording thing down pat, and like drones, perhaps it’s only a matter of time before it makes the leap to the consumer side. ♦
— Paul Queneau is an editor for Bugle magazine at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in Missoula, Montana. He is also a freelance and photographer with credits in Outdoor Life, Montana Quarterly and other publications.
BY PAUL QUENEAU