The rolling buffer is the next great promise of personal devices.
Instead of having to hit record, all a user has to do is hit "save". That great little conversation you had? Save it and then add it to a podcast later. Russian dash cams are a good example of this kind of technology.*
That hilarious thing your nephew did? If your phone was out you could already have it saved as a video. When you add in wearable computers/cameras like Google Glass, you get the ability to authentically capture great moments without having to interrupt life.
Phones like the Moto X are the first of these kind of devices. Always listening, ready to snap-to at a word. Privacy concerns aside, there is a lot of power that could directly benefit users.
One example of this technology that is available today is an iPhone app called Heard.
Heard promises to deliver the almost magical power of a rolling buffer to your iPhone's audio recording. The free version of the app keeps up to 12 seconds of recording. When someone says something worth saving, you simply tap the center button and save it. The buffer resumes and you can record another "chunk" of audio. A two dollar in-app purchase increases the buffer up to 5 minutes.
Theoretically, this is killer.
I'm not the only person who stumbles into really great conversations and thinks, "man, I wish I was recording this!" But Heard isn't truly as passive and easy as it needs to be.
A user must first turn on the app, and then it keeps listening in the background. A big red bar will appear at the top of the iPhone screen, similar to the green bar users are familiar with from using Apple Maps navigation. This is required by Apple's software limitations as the app is still active and listening. Tapping the red bar jumps back into Heard where you can hit "save" to store the audio.
One of the biggest drawbacks is the nature of the recording. It only records in the set "chunk" of time. A user can interrupt the recording at any point to save it, but the buffer cannot go longer than what the user has set it for. If I realize that a really good conversation is just beginning, I can't say "record and keep recording"- I would have to switch recording software to keep going. This is impractical and defeats my main use for such an application.
There is also no built in editing capability once a recording is saved. The user can only export the file by email and then edit it on another app. This isn't a big of a downside as the primary recording limitations, though.
For those concerned about privacy, Heard does not automatically store audio off of the device. The user is always in control of the audio file and can delete or export as desired.
Heard feels like a great idea encumbered by the phone's limitations. It isn't too hard to imagine that Apple could add this level of functionality to their own Audio Note app and give it a little extra access to the phone's utilities, like perhaps a lockscreen button or a way to continue a recording onward from the save point. Perhaps Heard on Android would be a better fit, due to that platform's broader permissions for applications.
There's very little cost in trying it out, but Heard doesn't yet seem ready to take on more capable traditional recording apps.
*While those cams may be actively recording at all times, the premise still holds true.