Audio journaling using the iOS Voice Memos app

Journaling is scientifically proven to improve overall wellbeing and quality of life. Its a small, achievable task that can lead to a big impact.

But it’s hard to get started journaling. I previously wrote about what user experience designers and app developers call ‘friction points.’

Traditional methods of journaling have lots of friction points: you have to have the right pen and right notebook; you have to remember where the notebook is each day, and not leave it somewhere if you’re travelling; you’re continuously confronted with spelling and grammar; it’s slow; it hurts your hand to do for a long time; etc.

So audio journaling is a great alternative. It’s as easy as sending a voice note to a friend. And, if you use your phone to make recordings, you’ll likely always have everything you need.

Let’s take a look at the default Voice Memos app that comes bundled on all iPhones and iPads.

Screenshots of the Voice Memos app.

The default voice memos app: before, during and after recording.

This is a great app: it works well for making simple recordings. But when using it specifically for making audio journal entries, there are a few big problems…

Problem 1: It’s boring. #

Okay, sure, maybe that doesn’t sound like the most critical issue. But it definitely is! Journaling, whether done traditionally or by audio recordings, is a habit that needs to be practised and cultivated. Having a bland app that you can’t customise is uninspiring, and won**’t keep you coming back each day**.

Problem 2: It’s intimidating. #

To start recording, you press a big red button. As you speak, you immediately get feedback as a waveform, that’s hyper-responsive to your voice and rushes across the screen.

This feedback may be useful for recording other things, to check you’ve got the levels correctly adjusted and audio is coming through, but for a journaling app, it’s really stressful. You want to feel calm, relaxed, and ideally have no indication of how much time is passing.

Really, you should just feel free to talk through everything on your head.

Problem 3: It’s too bright. #

Rory, Elly and I have been voice journaling for the last few months. Everyone approaches it differently, and there’s no right way to do it… but we’ve found it’s something really good to do at the end of the day, as a way of reflecting on what’s been accomplished that day, what’s bothering you, and ‘closing things off.’

The Voice Memos app is way too bright for this. When using it at night time, in bed, it lights up a dark room entirely.

(NB: With iOS 13 and iOS 14, system apps have a default dark mode, so turning that on at scheduled times helps to alleviate this problem.)

Problem 4: You can’t track your progress… #

There’s only one way to view your previous recordings: as a long vertical list.

This is imposing, bland, and quite unhelpful for looking back. Compare this to a physical journal: flicking through the pages of the last few months should be exciting, even if you don’t stop to read each entry in detail.

Moreover: you can’t easily see what times recordings were made, or tell if recordings were made on the same day. There’s no way of seeing how many days you’ve recorded for, or how long you’ve gone without missing a recording. You can’t see your progress across a month. You can’t see the total length of all your recordings. You can’t easily see where you were when you made each recording. These are all things that an app should be able to fix, but the default app doesn’t allow you to do.

Problem 5: It’s hard to label how you’re feeling. #

The default Voice Memos app lets you title each recording. This is, of course, really useful when making random recordings. I’ve used my Voice Memos app to record bits of lectures, funny lines from TV shows, and interesting guitar chord progressions. It’s easy to label those just with what they are.

Audio journal entries are trickier. I’ve just left the date of when they were recorded as the title. But this feels dishonest: each recording covers so much that I’ve spoken about, that I want to add as a label… its hard to come up with a snappy title which encapsulates that. A good audio journaling app should allow you to easily track your feelings each day that you recorded without having to use words.

You can tell, we’ve been using the default Voice Memos app a lot, and we really dug into all the problems that arise when using it for voice journaling.

The good news is that our startup, Sound Off, is working on solving all these problems. We want to make audio journaling into an approachable, enjoyable and relaxing experience. One way we’re doing that is by building a purpose-built app, that solves all these problems. And good news: it’s coming soon.

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