Retro Apps Resurrect Analog Ancestors in Digital Form

Those who appreciate the anomalies created by humans transitioning from a physical to a digital world find comfort in small things—like rotary interfaces on phone screens that take 10 times as long to dial a number. Or the ability to “rip” 78 rpm records on a USB-enabled turntable with only two speeds by playing a 78 at 45 revolutions per minute—taking nearly twice as long for the record to complete while sounding like a drunk with slurred speech, this being the only way for the hardware to lift the signal from the groove and let software in a connected computer give the music its groove back.

For some users, putting an old face on something new fosters reassurance. How else can you explain the crop of music-playing apps that come straight out of the pre-digital age? I’m talking about a platter that spins on screen while actually accessing MP3s from solid-state memory. Or a reel-to-reel player that seems to stream tape while really streaming bits. Or a deck into which you pop a cassette titled by a handwritten-like font generated from the metadata.

In the interest of casting light on a whole class of mobile apps that resurrect analog ancestors in digital form, here’s a short survey of retro apps. They each attempt to morph your smartphone or tablet into a dedicated device from an earlier time. See if you can spot the real apps from the imagined ones. Answers appear at the bottom.

1. Where’d You Put That Cassette? In this loving attempt to re-create the foibles of lost media, pressing play won’t get you anywhere until you answer the following questions: Did you leave it in the car? Does your ex still have it? Did you mistake it for a bottle opener and break it? (Buzzbee Ltd., Android, free)

2. Rotary Ring—Retro Vintage Dialer. Move your finger around the circle to dial calls to the sound of 10 selectable, electromechanical effects. (Hoi Yan Mak, iOS, free)

3. Reelwave Beta. Simulate your music on a reel-to-reel tape player including the ability to audibly fast-forward or rewind and play songs backwards. Turn me on, dead man. (Matt Handel, Android, free)

4. Vinyl—The Real Record Player. The more you play your music, the scratchier it sounds. No worries: Tap the Clean button. I haven’t been this excited by virtual moisture since tilting my phone showing a mug of iBeer toward my mouth. (elephantcandy, iOS, $3.99)

5. Retro Tape Deck MP3 Player. The animated cassette deck shows the actual track position as the tape unspools. There are no ads or in-app purchases, and you never have to press rewind. (Keith Hughes, Android, free)

6. Jamboxx. Hernia-free, boombox-like control of your iTunes library. Highlights include a volume slider, boost button, and pulsing stereo speakers. Lose the headphones, man. (BSSP Labs, iOS, free)

7. VCR Camcorder. Not only does it play the videos recorded from your iPhone or iPad, it degrades them with static, jittery frames, and bad color registration. (Joseph Gordan, iOS, free)

8. Retro Apps and Games Blocker. Prevents installation of app interfaces that mimic obsolete technology. It works by scanning app descriptions beforehand for keywords such as: emulate, grunge, scratches, skip, hiss, degrade, VHS quality, dust collectors, shelves, cellophane, jackets, jewel cases, and cobwebs. Also thwarts installation of decades-old video games from Pong to Pac-Man as well as such interfaces as Game Boy, NES, PSP, PSX, SuperN64, Genesis MD, and Atari 2600. (Lirpa Labs, iOS/Android, $19.85)

Answers: 2 through 7 are genuine, while 1 and 8 are totally fabricated—for now. Early April Fools.

Tangential's picture

Waste of an article. Write something interesting.