Q&A: Dev-Audio talks about Microcone, iOS and why Android comes second

Macworld Australia Staff
25 April, 2012
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Dev-Audio– Australian audio company – are kicking all sorts of goals with their product designs, ranging from hardware recording devices to accompanying Mac and iOS software. Their latest venture is a unique multi-directional USB microphone device called the Microcone that works alongside the Microcone Recorder app available for Mac OS X.and a companion iOS app, Microcone Remote, which is a remote control for the Mac app.

We had a chat with the company’s Managing Director Iain McCowan to find out more about Dev-Audio and the Microcone range winning awards around the world.

Tell us about the Microcone

The premise of the Microcone is an intelligent microphone designed for groups. It’s unique, as it separates each voice into a separate track (up to 6 voice tracks), and automatically tells you where and when each person speaks. Under the hood, it uses advanced ‘microphone array’ technology.

Building on top of this, the Microcone Recorder app is an innovative productivity tool that is designed to revolutionise the practice of recording meetings. Instead of just having notes, or a simple audio recording, Microcone Recorder automatically produces an enriched record of a group conversation that makes it easy to access afterwards, including features like an automatic timeline of a meeting, allowing you to quickly navigate a recording according to speaking turns, integration with Nuance automatic speech-to-text conversion, to get an approximate transcript of a meeting.and the ability to do keyword search to quickly find key sound-bites in a database of meetings. Plus you can tag cloud summary of keywords for a meeting.

Are there future improvements or additional features planned for the app?

Yes – watch this space!

How many downloads has the app received to date?

While it can be used with the built-in mic, the app is predominantly a companion for the Microcone hardware device.

Since launching, we have sold 100 Microcone devices and several hundred copies of the app.

What has been the feedback from consumers?

We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from consumers and businesses who have been looking for a more convenient way to keep a record of the decisions, actions and key points they make in their meetings. Not just the bullet points, but to be able to go back and review the context in which those points were made, and what different people’s views were. The ability to capture the full audio with rich automatic annotations means people can concentrate on having a productive discussion rather than on taking notes.

What industry recognition/awards has your app received?

For both the Microcone device and the Microcone Recorder software:

Macworld Best of Show 2012
Australian International Design Award 2011
Telsta Innovation Challenge 2010

How long did it take to develop the app?

A bit longer than most, as it has been a journey of commercialising research, rather than just app development. It has taken almost four years, from R&D and prototyping through to full commercial release of the Microcone device and app in January this year.

What difficulties and challenges did you face throughout the development process?

Like any new business developing a new product, we’ve faced many challenges along the way.

Many of these are due to the fact there is a hardware component to our product.

The ready availability of cheap electronic devices these days has de-sensitised people to the expense and expertise required to engineer innovative electronic designs through concept, prototyping, compliance testing and eventual production. Certainly it has been a hard path to tread for a Gold Coast based start-up that is boot-strapping and can’t readily benefit from the economies of large scale production!

Do you develop apps for Android platforms, too?

Not yet, as maintaining focus has been necessary to achieve a first commercial product.

Why Mac and iOS?

The Mac platform was selected initially the Microcone technology involves developing real-time multi-channel digital audio processing. With Core Audio and leading support for the latest USB Audio standards, Mac OS X, was simply the most productive platform to use during our prototyping phase, leading through to first commercial product.

Having now achieved that, we will progressively follow with support for other platforms.

How did you first get started in application development?

Because the early R&D for the Microcone technology was done on Mac, I learnt Objective C / Cocoa to develop the first proof of concept software interfaces. It turned out to be a good choice – that was just before the App Store was created, fuelling the huge growth of the market for iOS and Mac Apps.

What is your favourite app to use, besides your own?

Audacity – a powerful and versatile multi-platform tool for recording audio.

What Apple product do you like and use the most?

I’m gathering a growing collection of Macbook Pros, and am a great appreciator of the power and elegance of the OS X operating system.

What tech invention do you think has been the most revolutionary?

Apart from the Microcone?

I like the quote “revolution means turning the wheel”. With so many experts working around the world on any given new technology these days, progress is steady and incremental. In this context, ‘revolutionary’ has mostly become just another marketing word (note I used it myself to describe our meeting recording app!).

That said, I think modern mobile communication perhaps fits the bill as revolutionary. To be able to instantaneously pluck your friend’s voice out of the air, a world apart and no strings between you, seems magic, even if in theory you can explain how it’s done.

Where do you think iOS will be 10 years from now? What will it look like?

As they’ve done with OS X for over a decade, I’d hope Apple build on the strong foundations they have developed, steadily improving it each year as technology evolves. On my wish list is having powerful speech recognition API’s as a core part of both iOS and OS X before too long, fuelling more innovative ways of using voice. In the longer term, perhaps we’ll see less focus on the ‘i’ in Apple’s branding, with a move towards devices that can be used by groups, not just individuals.

What advice do you have for aspiring developers wanting to break into the industry?

The great thing with app development is you don’t have to break into the industry – so stop aspiring, start developing!


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