Last year, in Paris, Ignasi Giró and some friends set out to make a documentary about love. They wanted to be able to record casual interviews for the film in places like parks and cafes, but instead of relying on DSLRs, they wanted to do it using only an iPhone. Giró and his collaborators eventually settled on an unlikely solution: a mirror. It was, he says, "an analog way to do something no digital app can do"--that is, record two sides of the iPhone (and thus two sides of a conversation) at the same time.
People were so smitten with the low-tech hack that Giró's company, the Barcelona-based outfit Honest&Smile, turned it into a product, the Love Box. Now, they’re back with a new version, the AbracadabrApp, that builds the two-way video functionality into a compact Moleskine notebook.
The product’s official description is "analog image mixer and notebook," though Giró refers to it simply as an "analog app"--rather than a bite-size piece of software, it’s an actual, physical thing that expands what your iPhone can do. With the blessing of Moleskine, Honest&Smile outfitted one of the company’s notebooks with a swiveling mirror, allowing users to train the iPhone’s higher-quality, back-facing camera on things behind the phone and in front of it, simultaneously. Three colored pieces of transparent plastic, or HandyFilters, can be layered on top of the lens--a sort of analog answer to now-ubiquitous Instagram-style photo effects.
The range of practical applications for a two-way iPhone video is admittedly limited. But then again, you’ve probably downloaded a few actual apps that aren’t all that useful, either. And at a point when many of us are reaching (or have long since reached) app saturation, the AbracadabrApp is noteworthy, if nothing else, for making us re-examine our idea of what a smartphone accessory should do. As Giró puts it, the notebook has the capacity for a sort of real-world, "emotional" functionality that you rarely get with anything you find in the App Store.
"It’s true that we live in a highly 'techy’ and digital world," he says. "Which is good. But don’t we all somehow miss the good old things, too?" Like, instead of burying your face in your smartphone when you’re somewhere waiting for a friend, actually chatting up the stranger sitting next to you. Here, in particular, Giró says, the AbracadabrApp is highly functional.
"You take it out in a bar, mount it, and in less than five minutes the people around you come and ask and smile … It’s almost impossible to use it without immediately getting in touch with the people beside you. And we love that."
It’s the difference between a self-absorbing app and, in Giró's words, a "self-opening" one. And he might have a point. Because no matter how much you’re into whatever doodad you just downloaded from the App Store, "Check out this new app" is never as good a pick-up line as it sounds in your head.
Honest&Smile are currently trying to crowdsource funding for the project. For $38, you can reserve one of the first AbracadabrApps, modified by hand from the original Moleksine. Read more on the AbracadabrApp site.