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Thunderspace

New app creates a relaxing thunderstorm experience using stereoscopic 3D audio

by Valentina Palladino in Tech on 05 July 2013

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Sometimes there's nothing more calming than hearing the soft sounds of rain against your window. The newest app from the user interface research lab Taptanium, called Thunderspace, takes relaxing nature sounds to the next level with stereoscopic 3D audio and flashes that mimic lightning. In collaboration with Emmy-winning nature sound recordist Gordon Hempton, Thunderspace captures the experience of a thunderstorm outside your window and puts it in your headphones, emphasizing the relaxing sights and sounds that put you at ease after a long day—minus the actual bad weather.

Thunderspace evolved out of an experiment. Taptanium's founder Franz Bruckhoff says he wanted to create something more than a relaxation app—something that would allow users to relax, but also use their iPhones in a new way. Using many of the same user interfaces and audio technologies as their previous weather app Haze, the team played around with "Project Thunderstorm"—as it was called in the early stages. The first prototype had a static one-view interface with just two controls.

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What the prototype lacked in interface innovation, it made up for with the thunderstorm recordings. The sounds were recorded with stereoscopic 3D audio using a special microphone that captured the thunderstorms with interaural time and level differences. 3D audio effects have the ability to place sounds anywhere in a three-dimensional space, such as above or below the listener. Because of the complexities of thunderstorm sounds coming from rain, wind and other elements, this was the effect the app needed to create an auditory illusion of a real thunderstorm inside headphones.

Users were so excited about the prototype that Thunderspace quickly became a full-time project for Taptanium. The team devoted time to creating a more intricate user interface, which greatly resembles Haze with its pulsating gradient background, minimalistic iconography and heavy use of color as a mood indicator. The collaboration with Hempton, who has traveled the world to record all the thunderstorms in stereoscopic 3D, provides the app with a rich canvas of natural sounds.

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Since Bruckhoff wanted Thunderspace to stand out from other relaxation apps, Taptanium didn't stop at the audio. The colors of the UI change to match the locations of each of the eight thunderstorm recordings, meanwhile the iPhone's flash goes off to mimic bursts of lightning. All of these details combined create the proper ambience to completely immerse the user.

The app comes equipped with two recordings, while the other six recordings are available for purchase inside the app. Download Thunderspace from Apple's App Store today for a limited time price of $1 before the standard price of $3 takes effect.

Images courtesy of Taptanium

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