An app that made recording as easy as pressing a big red button
The latest entry in our classic app series made making recordings and accessing them anywhere simple.
What was Just Press Record?
Initially – in 2015 – a Mac app, and then within months also an app for Apple mobile devices. It let you quickly and efficiently record audio and later dig into your recordings.
Why was it a classic?
At first, you were grabbed by the simplicity. You pressed a button. Recordings happened. The end. But the app combined this elegance with a deeper (yet usable) feature set that rapidly incorporated the likes of cross-device sync and automatic transcription
Where is it now?
Still on the App Store. And although Apple continues to chip away at Just Press Record’s features by adding similar functionality to Voice Memos, the ‘big red button’ app is still more than worth the investment.
Q&A: a brief history of Just Press Record
We speak to Just Press Record co-creator Gordon Murrison about his app and an ongoing quest for simplicity and features that just work.
How did you get started with Just Press Record?
Gordon: The idea came from something I did for the local Cub Scouts. I created a simple Mac app to help them record voiceovers for a movie-making activity. The idea was to put a big red button on the screen – with audio and file handling hidden behind the scenes – so the Cubs could focus on their voiceovers rather than the tech. It worked well and we realized the ‘big red button’ idea might be useful to other people. So we turned it into a product and released it on the Mac App Store in 2015.
What did you prioritize when rethinking the app for mobile devices?
When we created the iOS and watchOS versions of Just Press Record, the Apple Watch was the key element. We felt the wrist was the perfect location for the ‘big red button’ idea.
The first version used a recording view provided by Apple because there was no direct access to the microphone. But as Apple opened up access, we added our own interface, which meant we had the same design identity and features across all platforms.
How did you balance keeping the app minimal and focused with adding new features?
The app’s name has been a great guide when deciding on new features. Anything new had to fit with this idea.
In 2016, iOS provided a Speech API, which enabled us to add text-to-speech transcription – perhaps the most important addition to date. It’s automatically applied, giving you an audio file and searchable transcript, without further interaction with the app.
We’re also proud of our accessibility support. We’ve strived to create a VoiceOver experience on par with the visual interface, building on loads of great feedback from the community.
What have been your biggest challenges and successes with the app?
The biggest challenge comes each year at WWDC where we have to find the right balance between adopting the latest features and maintaining compatibility with older operating systems and devices. Sometimes it’s simple to conditionally include a new technology, such as stereo recording from compatible iPhone microphones. But adopting SwiftUI for the latest watchOS app required dropping support for older operating systems.
The biggest high point is when we hear from people that have appreciated the work we’ve done and find the app useful – whether that’s being featured as Apple’s ‘App of the Day’ or users getting in touch directly.
What’s next for Just Press Record? And how would you respond if Apple (finally) added transcription to its Voice Memos app?
That would impact Just Press Record, but there’s always room for small companies to innovate where Apple doesn’t. Just look at all the notes and reminders apps that do well despite the excellent built-in apps.
As for what’s next, the pace of adding new features to Just Press Record has slowed, but we’re not done yet. We recently added support for interactive widgets, and reworked the Apple Watch app to increase the features available in the recording list screen. And with our Mac and iPad versions sharing a lot of code, that means we can more rapidly bring new features to all platforms at the same time. They just have to fit with that original ‘big red button’ vision!