Wooden Crank Turns The iPad Into A Magical Music Box

The iPad’s touchscreen can be played by more instruments than just fingers.

The iPad is great at playing music. You just tap the screen to hit a button, and a processor decodes bits of information into electrical impulses that form music in headphones. The experience totally easy, and completely disconnected from the music making process.


Little Boxes, by Joelle Aeschlimann and ECAL, bring some analog wonder back to iPad music making–though admittedly, through a controller mechanism that simply fakes the experience very well. You see, each Little Box is a wooden box that sits on an iPad. Inside, a metal crank rotates a plate wielding two rubber tips. And these rubber tips glide across the iPad, registering as conductive finger tips for a corresponding app providing visuals and music. But the user, turning a crank much like a music box, is none the wiser. To them, the iPad just works in a new way.

“I do not think necessarily that the iPad is a cold device, however I wanted to give the iPad a more playful side, something more poetic even maybe a little magical,” Aeschlimann tells Co.Design. “I like to think that inanimate objects can take a new form of life through digital elements.”

It’s an interesting choice of words–“inanimate objects”–as both iPads and music boxes live somewhere in between dead blocks and autonomous, animated systems. Both react to user inputs. Both can run for a while without user intervention. And in Little Boxes, both combine to create something wholly new, forming an invented object controlled like no other.

As odd as this sounds, I think Little Boxes would make a fantastic Happy Meal giveaway. Tiny, mechanical objects that can sit atop our electronics, leveraging app platforms, not just in their software flexibility, but in a pseudo-analog flexibility. Imagine a Hot Wheels car that a child could “vroom vroom” across an iPad race track, or an action figure that could swing a sword in real life to hit monsters on the screen.

Indeed, the brilliance of Little Boxes isn’t that they’re bringing some new, high-tech interaction model to tablets; it’s that they’re deploying a very low-tech solution to sit on the iPad as an imaginative booster seat. You ask yourself “how is a crank possibly doing this??” only because, in your hand, all you were ever holding was a simple crank. The rest really was a bit of magic.

[Hat tip: the creators project]


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.