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Voice Memos glitch in iPhone exposes the peril of relying on free apps

Column Lost audio files show the right kit is worth the money
Fri Jul 04 2014, 15:00

V3 and The INQUIRER editor Madeline BennettPICTURE THE SCENE: You're in an important meeting and have been asked to record the discussion for archiving later; or you're at your kid's flute recital and want to record the music; or you're a journalist at a conference attending a 30-minute packed out session, listening to the IT chief of a major global entertainment firm wax lyrical.

In any of the above examples, many of us would turn to our trusty iPhone and the built-in Voice Memos app to record the audio, which is exactly what I did in the latter of those three scenarios last month.

I've been a long-term iPhone user, and am currently using the iPhone 5S running iOS 7. Over the years, I've used Voice Memos sporadically as a handy free tool for recording interviews I'm conducting and events I'm attending. While generally I'll still take notes during the event, on some occasions it's better to let the recorder do its job so I can sit and focus on the discussion in hand.

At the event I attended recently, however, I didn't take down many notes; space was so tight I didn't have room to jot much down in a notepad and certainly not get out a laptop. So I sat back watching Voice Memos do its job and listening to the presentation.

At the end of the session I named the file and hit save as normal and the audio recording was in the index, listed as 25 minutes. I played this back to check it had recorded okay, and it played back fine. But then something went wrong. A while later, I recorded another short interview (which is still intact in my Voice Memos folder), and suddenly the 25-minute file had been reduced to 20 seconds.

I tried everything to retrieve the file, searching the web for advice and paying £25 for some software that claimed to recover audio files - but this didn't work as it just 'found' the shortened versions.

So the file was gone, not a disaster in most senses of the word but a mild one for me as it meant I couldn't write the article, which was one of the most interesting sessions I attended across the week.

Over the next few days I continued to use Voice Memos - while also frantically taking notes in case of similar glitches. I also had a situation where as I hit save on a 10-minute recording, the timer suddenly reset and reduced this to two minutes, and wiped most of the recording, but other times the file saved in its full version.

While searching around for advice on the problem, I came across hundreds of others who had also had mild disasters of this sort - most had gone to retrieve their saved audio file in Voice Memos and found the whole thing had been wiped.

It has been suggested that perhaps the app had crashed while recording, and so some of the audio at the end would be lost, but the audio recorded fine without crashing; or whether my iPhone was really low on memory and if the problem stopped after freeing up some space on the device. However, I've used Voice Memos since to record a 32-minute file and other shorter ones with no errors, with the same memory available as before. And hopefully if it was a memory issue, iOS would be clever enough to alert me to a lack of space while recording or straight after rather than shrinking files at random.

I also came across advice that very long files can take a few minutes to save; and that Voice Memos doesn't work properly on iOS 7 if you have files saved on there recorded with iOS 6; but again none of these solutions related to my problem, so I decided to put it down to experience and put a recording device on my shopping list.

And then a few days later, the exact same problem happened to one of my colleagues; and then a couple of days after that, another of the team suffered the same fate, both iPhone 5C users.

Which made me think about how lazy devices like the iPhone have made us, and how dangerous it is to rely solely on free bundled tools. The era of the smartphone has made everything so easy, with firms like Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and Google bundling in a raft of handy tools like Voice Memos, meaning you don't have to lay out for extra recording devices to carry around.

The problem is, when free apps like Voice Memos go wrong, some would point out that you can't really complain as it's free anyway, and you've only got yourself to blame for lost files, for relying on it in the first place. The main issue for me with the Voice Memos glitch is that it's sporadic. I've used it since and it's worked fine, but I know the next time I use it as the sole recorder for a really important piece of audio, that's the time it will shrink the saved file again, and so I can't really use it anymore.

So I've learnt my lesson here and will be investing in a Dictaphone or alternative voice recorder - I've heard Audio Memos is a good option, but please get in touch if you want to recommend others worth a try - and I'll be more wary in future of using free tools for important tasks. µ


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