Dieter Rams’s 1973 T3 Pocket Radio is one of the most sought-after objects in postwar industrial design. The unassuming plastic radios–which many argue inspired the first iPod–regularly go for thousands of dollars online, when they’re being sold at all. “Original T3’s are extremely hard to come across,” says Bryn Bodayle, the developer behind an iOS app that replicates Rams’s gadget. “I believe we’ve put this piece of history back into people’s pockets.”
The T3 Player App, which goes for 99 cents on iTunes, is the brainchild of Bodayle’s partner, Peruvian designer Eder Rengifo. After seeing Rengifo’s idea for the app (which he calls “a conceptual tribute” to Rams) on Behance, Bodayle contacted him about developing it. The two collaborated from different continents, launching the app within just a few months.
Open up T3, and you’ll see a vertically oriented screen that looks quite a lot like the face of Rams’s original. You can select a song from your library, then use the click-wheel to control playback. It’s a cut-and-dried third-party music app. The novelty here is in replicating the experience of hearing your songs coming out of what looks and supposedly feels like a T3. “There is a certain magic in the turning of a Dieter Rams dial,” Bodayle says. “The dials have the perfect amount of resistance and deceleration. I spent a good deal of energy making sure the wheel felt and acted right.”
There’s something hilariously meta about using the T3 app. It’s skeuomorphism on top of skeuomorphism: an interface that represents a 1973 radio using pixels, viewed on a device that was born out of the iPod, itself a direct facsimile of the original T3. Does the app break some of Rams’s principles of good design? Maybe. After all, Rams says that products are like tools: “They are neither decorative objects nor works of art.” Rengifo is aware of the irony, and notes that while this was a labor of love, it’s also a functional product. “Of course, we tried to make this useful,“ he adds, “because it’s not just a good design, it’s a useful tool for our iPhones.”
Check it out for yourself on iTunes.