Mimicking the physical

Many a software app has gone down the dead-end of attempting to recreate physical controls and affordances. (See the rich sub-genre of notebook apps with spiral binding and turned-up corners.) But sometimes the clarity and familiarity of a physical analog is just the thing. The key is to use it as a starting point, not to slavishly recreate the physical experience in its entirety.


A good example of this is the new audio capture app, TapeDeck. Modeled after an 80’s-era cassette recorder and its collection of tapes, TapeDeck addresses a key issue in audio recording — the difficulty of distinguishing audio tracks in a visual world. Each recording is represented by a separate cassette tape, organized by date in a slide-out drawer called the Tape Box. It also gives a clear indication of state, running the tape spools in sync with the big push-button controls. Plus, it’s just fun to use.The power of TapeDeck’s design is the balance it strikes: it looks and behaves like a familiar physical object while bringing additional functionality through the magic of software. The tape drawer’s dynamic search filters recordings as you type. Two bars of displays/controls have been added for things like recording quality and playback position. Searchable notes can be attached to each recording.

TapeDeck is certainly not perfect — the organization and differentiation of tapes is quite basic. Another real-world analog might help here — the ability to add images to a tape. TapeDeck falls into the too-much-reality trap, too: why have a big square that always reads “A”, a reference to Side A of a physical cassette? Allow user-defined character there, or an image, or pick up the first letter of the title. Why doesn’t the cassette’s window reflect the length and position of the recording? As an initial release, the designers have done a fine job of embracing and extending a familiar experience to make creating and managing audio recordings more pleasurable.

Tim McCoy

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