vulture bytes

Vulture Bytes: The Skeuomorph Edition

Photo: Air Drives/Courtesy shot

Welcome back, gizmophiliacs. This week: a vocab lesson in the form of a cassette, randomized movie clips on tap, the only earphones a cyclist will ever need, the rare website optimized for the Kindle, and a GarageBand alternative.

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A few months ago Vulture Bytes was at a friend’s house for a bluegrass ‘n’ blueberries brunch. (As you’ve guessed, it was in Brooklyn.) While there, a friend of a friend held court on a word none of us had ever heard before: skeuomorph. It’s what you call a design feature that simulates old technology. A perfect example is the iPhone, whose screen pretends to close a shutter when we take a picture even though there’s no shutter on the actual lens. That’s the first thing we thought of when we heard about Stereolizer, an app that blends a devotion to the new with a nostalgia for the old. It describes itself as an app that will “turn your iPad into an 80’s stereo.” It takes web-radio feeds, organizes them on an old-fashioned tuner spectrum, and then lets you record them to what looks like a cassette. One skeuomorph after another! PRICE: $2
Every morning, Vulture Bytes turns off its alarm, turns on its phone, and starts to blearily read the news in an effort to jar ourselves awake. But words just put us back to sleep, which is why this movie-clip app was intriguing. Every morning it delivers a new two-minute clip from some obscure movie we probably saw ten years ago but promptly forgot. They’re organized in sets with sexually retrograde titles like “Hot Chicks in Flicks,” “Guy Bullseye,” and “Not for Real Men.” What a treat! Who’s the kind soul who’s sending us free movie clips every morning? Someone who wants you to buy the full thing, of course. There’s no branding in the actual app, but it’s made by Sony Pictures. Movie clips, after all, are a little different than trailers — advertisements in disguise. In this case, advertisements for you to buy the movies in iTunes. But still, free movie clips. Not the worst way to be advertised to. PRICE: Free, until you give in and buy The Other Boleyn Girl on a whim.
Casual urban cyclists have to make a stark choice every morning: ride the bike and commute in silence, or ride the subway and dig deep into that reservoir of This American Life podcasts metastasizing on the iPod. Safe biking is so dependent on using your ears that it’s impossible to listen to music or the radio and the way we do when we drive. Headphones just block out too much sound. Which is why the Air Drives really shouldn’t even be called headphones. They’re designed to do the opposite of what most fancy headphone sets do these days. Instead of block out the sound, they welcome it in. The speaker rests just outside the ear canal, directing the sound into your ear while also keeping it unblocked. No you can hear how the cabbie reacts after you scream at him for cutting you off. PRICE: There are different models. But it looks like none are more than $45 on Amazon.
We feel bad for the Kindle. While its e-reader brethren get to have fun with all sorts of apps, it’s left behind in a drab black-and-white existence with nothing to do but read books. Kindlefish is an attempt to at least give the Kindle something to do when it’s reading a book it can’t understand. It’s actually just a website optimized for the Kindle (the same way you’ll sometimes see websites optimized for BlackBerries) that serves as an alternative to Google Translate, which has trouble running in Kindle’s browser. So Kindle, get back to translating that Bolaño novel. Your friends will catch up once they’re done playing Angry Birds. PRICE: Free
Earlier this month, Steve Jobs got onstage and announced GarageBand was finally coming to the iPad. Since then, it’s become the de facto music-mixing program on the tablet. But now it has a challenger in ShapeMix, a supremely visual attempt to tweak the GarageBand formula. It comes from the mind of a RISD graphic-design professor, and it has a colorful minimalism to it — the kind of aesthetic that might show up in a fever dream after the Tylenol wears off. It comes with 100 free instrument tracks, and more are on their way through a ShapeMix marketplace. It’s worth a look if you’re frustrated with GarageBand’s interface, or if you boycott Apple apps out of principle. PRICE: $5 for now; $10 once its debut sale ends.
Vulture Bytes: The Skeuomorph Edition