App Review: Amplitude — Your iPhone as a Covert Surveillance Tool


[appreview] title=Amplitude

Amplitude pushes the iPhone (s aapl) in a new direction, transforming the device in to a hand-held James Bond-style surveillance tool. An intriguing concept indeed, but would Q approve?

Setting aside the more recent Bourne-esque gritty romps of the latest Bond movies — which are, for the record, utterly brilliant — I’ll be forever enchanted with the classic laboratory scenes where Q presents 007 with an array of innocent-looking yet lethal gadgetry.

Amplitude transforms the iPhone in to a surveillance device, allowing you listen in on distant conversations.

Covert Conversing

Originally released under the guise of iHearClear, the app was designed specifically for individuals who are hard of hearing. The intention being that the iPhone could act as a tool for amplifying quiet sounds.

Gripwire, the folks behind the app, suggested that iHearClear could be used in a variety of ways such as improving the sound quality at a movie theater or at parties and gatherings to communicate easier with friends.


Amplitude is a re-skinned, re-imagining version of iHearClear, designed with a younger audience in mind and pitched more as a tech-styled spy gadget than a listening tool.

With both apps, your iPhone essentially becomes the electronic equivalent of one of those unsettling old-time ear trumpets. Certainly not as glamorous as Bond, but perhaps a more accurate description of what the app does.

Seeing & Hearing

The app is designed to look like a kids-version of a spy gadget with all dark brushed metal, exposed screws with a couple of buttons, and a big slider. The centerpiece to Amplitude’s visual is an oscilloscope, a pulsing green screen ripped straight out of a scientific laboratory.

The idea behind the oscilloscope is that it allows the user to view, and visually quantify, signal voltages, as you’re able to see the volume of the sound your listening to. More importantly though, it lends the app some much needed visual authenticity — in short, it looks super-cool.

Amplitude Screenshot 1

The slider beneath the oscilloscope controls the amount of microphone boost to be applied. This is essentially the active component of the app — the useful bit — as, in essence, Amplitude is merely boosting the volume of the sound coming in to the iPhone mic.

There’s also a mute button, enabling the app to be muted (useful in instances where the sound-level may have jumped up unexpectedly) and an info button. The info button, aside from displaying the credits, provides access to a settings screen where you’re able to set the app to mute on startup (advisable as a precaution for your ears).

Spy Games

In testing the app, I decided to try out a few different situations. My initial experiment consisted of listening in on two friends whispering to each other.

Pointing the iPhone’s mic towards the duo and plugging my headphones in (note that the app works best with headphones without a built-in mic), I discovered that, despite a bit of hum, I could hear them whispering.

Amplitude Screenshot 2

However, upon removing the headphones, I discovered that I could still hear them whispering and, without the hum of the boosted iPhone microphone, everything sounded much clearer. My next test — listening to a friend’s heartbeat — ended similarly. I discovered that while Amplitude could aid me in listening to their heartbeat, my ears did a much better job.

The creators of the app posed the question, “Have you ever heard the sound of a hummingbird’s wings beating back and forth.” Yes, it’s like a tiny motorcycle being driven by a little biker man. “Using Amplitude it’s a truly amazing experience.” No, if I could locate a real, live hummingbird, using Amplitude, I’d most probably discover that the sound is slightly louder and more annoying than just listening with my ears.

Summing Up

According to the marketing text in the App Store, Amplitude can be used a tool to help fix your car. Or to spy on baseball players communicating in the batting circle. Or any number of a variety of utterly bizarre situations where, in actual fact, I doubt Amplitude really would work. Unless of course you stood next to these people, in which case you wouldn’t need the app anyway.

Amplitude is about as much actual use as a novelty fart apps. However, setting aside the grotesquely exaggerated claims of Amplitude’s ability by the app’s creators, it’s good fun as a 99 cent novelty app.

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