Awareness! - App of the month, July 2014

1 July 2014


Using headphones to listen to music as a blind or partially sighted person can really cut you off from the outside world. While this might be exactly the effect you were hoping for on occasion, it’s also likely there are times when you’d still like to be aware of what’s going on around you. This is where Awareness! comes in. The app runs in the background and uses your iPhone microphone to feed ambient noise through your headphones, integrating it with any music you’re listening to.

You can adjust the sensitivity of the app to determine how much or how little background noise gets integrated into the sound playing through any other app, whether music-based ones like iTunes and Spotify, or video players like BBC iPlayer or Sky Go. It even integrates real world sounds with the music and sounds found in game apps. The effect is like having all of the real-world sounds and noises fed through your headphones, but with the added bonus of audio that only you can hear from your iPhone.

What’s so great about Awareness?

Although not specifically pitched at people who are blind or partially sighted, Awareness! has added benefits for such users. People with good vision can use it to keep aware of what’s going on around them while listening to music through headphones. Someone with severe sight loss doesn’t have this (potentially lifesaving) extra alert – especially when listening to music while going from place to place in the outside world.

There are social benefits with the app too. If you enjoy listening to music while working, but colleagues consequently find it difficult to attract your attention, the combination of ambient noise and whatever you’re listening to means you’re never cut off from what’s going on around you.

Where do I get it?

You can download Awareness! for £4.99 from the iTunes Store. At just 5.1MB in size, it should be relatively quick to download and install too.

User comments

User KS says:

"Since Awareness! runs in the background while you’re doing other things, it’s one of the few apps on your iPhone that has real crossover potential, so that’s a real plus point.

"Another unexpected benefit is that if you have difficulty hearing, the app can be used in isolation and act as an unofficial hearing aid, still feeding in sounds from around you through your headphones, but without the additional input of music from other applications.

"The customisable settings mean you’ve got control over how much background noise gets filtered out or allowed into your headphones. This means you could be spared quieter and lower level noises, but still pick up voices, traffic noise, beeping of pedestrian crossings and the like, depending on the sensitivity you select. A simple slider adjusts the sensitivity of your microphone, with the full screen interface meaning it’s still accessible for users with some degree of vision. The app remembers your settings, so you don’t have to go back and tweak the levels once you’re set up.

"Since it’s reliant on your iPhone microphone to channel in sounds from around you, the position of your phone can limit or enhance how effective the app is. If you regularly keep your phone in a pocket, for example, you may find the audio you get is a little muffled. Similarly, place it on a desk and the tapping of a keyboard can be surprisingly loud and intrusive.

"These niggles aside, plus that it won’t work with Bluetooth headphones or earlier models of iPhone like the 3G, Awareness! The Headphone App is still a valuable addition to your iPhone app library."

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