How the PhotoVoice iPhone App Works

Take a picture, add your voice, and send your friends a postcard!
Take a picture, add your voice, and send your friends a postcard!
Philip and Karen Smith/The Image Bank/Getty Images

You've undoubtedly heard the old expression, "A picture is worth a thousand words." But what if you combined the two? That would be even better, wouldn't it?

Well, thanks to the marvels of digital photography, sound recording, and smartphone technology, you can do just that. One way is through PhotoVoice, an app that allows you to take a photograph with your iPhone, record and attach a sound file to the picture, preview the combination, and then send it via e-mail, SMS message or social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Or, you can do all of those things in quick succession. "For the first time, your iPhone photos can talk!" boasts the app's page in the iTunes store [source: iTunes].

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Aside from the cool stuff you can do with PhotoVoice -- creating talking digital birthday cards, for example -- one of the other interesting things about the app is that it wasn't conceived by a professional smartphone software writer, or even by a photographer. Instead, it was conceived by Dan O'Day, a radio industry consultant, who was surprised to discover that someone more technologically savvy hadn't thought of it first.

PhotoVoice iPhone Specs

A screenshot of the PhotoVoice app
A screenshot of the PhotoVoice app
HowStuffWorks.com

In most ways, PhotoVoice is a pretty garden-variety app. It can run on any iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch that has iOS 4.0 or a later operating system, which means that it will work with the iPhone 3GS and every model that comes after that. Unfortunately, if you use another type of smartphone, you're pretty much out of luck; so far, O'Day hasn't created versions of PhotoVoice for the Android, BlackBerry or Windows operating systems. The app takes up just 5.9 megabytes of space in your phone's solid-state memory, about as much room as two or three full-sized snapshots [sources: iTunes, Ritchie].

PhotoVoice costs just 99 cents to download -- but if that's too rich for your blood, there's also a free "Lite" version. The most important functional difference between the two is that the voice-and-photo combos created with the Lite version disappear after you send them, while the paid version lets you store them for future use. One other advantage is that if you're still using an older iPhone or first-generation iPad with the iOS 3.1 operating system, the Lite version will run on those devices [source: CNet.com].

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Using PhotoVoice is fairly simple. When you click the app's icon, an opening screen gives you the option of either taking a photo or using one you've already taken from the phone's picture roll. Next, you can add a voice comment or greeting of up to 10 seconds in length by tapping "record." Then, hit "create & preview," and your voice and photo will be combined into a single small MPEG-4 file that can be played on another person's smartphone or computer. Finally, you can share your PhotoVoice creation with a friend -- or a whole lot of friends -- by attaching it to an e-mail or an SMS message, tweeting it or posting it to Facebook [source: Photovoicesendnow.com].

PhotoVoice iPhone Features and Creator Dan O'Day

The PhotoVoice app is simple and user-friendly.
The PhotoVoice app is simple and user-friendly.
Oliver Rossi/The Image Bank/Getty Images

As mentioned previously, PhotoVoice is the brainchild of Dan O'Day, a Los Angeles-based radio advertising and marketing consultant, comedy writer and talent coach, who's been working in various capacities in broadcasting since the early 1970s. Perhaps his signature contribution in radio is popularizing the lengthy, elaborate skits performed by morning DJs across the country, which O'Day wrote and marketed to subscribers though his two gag services, OBITS and O'LINERS [source: Danoday.com].

By his own account, O'Day created PhotoVoice pretty much on a lark, just to see if he could do it. "I'm not a techie," he readily admits in his blog. "I can't write a lick of computer programming code, not even the most basic HTML." Nevertheless, one day in late 2011, O'Day got an inspiration: What if there were a simple iPhone app that allowed users to attach their voices to photos? He then found a professional apps designer to help him create PhotoVoice [source: O'Day].

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The idea of annotating digital still photos with sound actually has been around for awhile. Desktop and laptop computer users have been doing it for years, using programs like Windows Movie Maker or the Mac OS program iMovie. Both of those programs allow a user to drag and drop still photos onto the program's story board, record a sound track and then save it as a video file. There's also a program specifically for that purpose, Fotobabble, which has been around since at least 2010 as both a web-based PC and Mac app and as an iPhone app. Fotobabble, which is designed with corporate social marketers in mind, offers a variety of more complicated features than PhotoVoice, including the ability to create slideshows and galleries and embed them on Web sites and in blogs, in addition to sharing them on Facebook and Twitter [sources: O'Dell, Fotobabble.com]. There's also an entertainment-oriented iPhone app, Tap2Cap, which allows users to alter photos with various filters and add sounds to them that viewers can play by clicking the image [source: Tap2Cap.com].

PhotoVoice, in contrast, mostly seems to be an app designed for ordinary iPhone users who just want to have a little more fun with their pictures. One of its big selling points is the ease of use; there are only a few simple functions to figure out. But like the iPhone itself, that simplicity also makes it possible for a user with a little imagination to come up with new ways to use the app.

Author's Note

I started shooting digital photos back in the early 2000s, but the cameras in cell phones always seemed too blurry and imprecise to be of much use until I got my first iPhone in 2010. I was shocked to discover that the phone actually produced images with a higher resolution than my seven-year-old Nikon digital camera, and that it was ridiculously easy to upload them to Facebook or Twitter. Additionally, though, I could carry my camera around in my pocket all the time, so that I was ready to shoot a picture anywhere I went. And I did. In the first three months alone, I snapped more than 1,000 images. I also found that with the iPhone app version of Photoshop, I could manipulate and edit photos with the phone, and also add a lot of cool effects. As a result, I've probably taken more pictures in the past couple of years than I did in my entire life up to that point.

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Sources

  • CNET.com. "PhotoVoice Lite specifications." Feb. 26, 2012 (May 7, 2012) http://download.cnet.com/PhotoVoice-Lite/3010-12511_4-75675698.html
  • Danoday.com. "Dan O'Day." (May 7, 2012) http://danoday.com/dan.shtml
  • Fotobabble.com. "What is Fotobabble?" (May 7, 2012) http://www.fotobabble.com/s/about
  • iTunes store. "Fotobabble." March 30, 2012. (May 7, 2012) http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/fotobabble/id353078443?mt=8
  • iTunes store. "PhotoVoice." Feb. 2, 2012. (May 7, 2012) http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/photovoice/id492150568?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D4
  • O'Day, Dan. "Why Did You Decid to Create An iPhone Camera App?" Photovoicesendnow.com. Feb. 29, 2012. (May 7, 2012) http://photovoicesendnow.com/
  • O'Dell, Jolie. "Fotobabble: Add Audio to Your Pics." Feb. 28, 2010. (May 7, 2012) http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/fotobabble_add_audio_to_your_pics.php
  • Photovoice.com. (May 7, 2012) http://photovoicesendnow.com/
  • Ritchie, Rene. "iOS4 walkthrough." iMore.com. June 14, 2010. (May 7, 2012) http://www.imore.com/2010/06/14/ios-4-walkthrough/
  • Tap2Cap.com. "Tap2Cap." (May 7, 2012) http://tap2cap.com/