When I was a kid, I wanted to be a spy.
I was big on the James Bond books. Not the Ian Flemming books, but the ones written by John Gardner after Flemming’s death (Yes, I would be cooler if I had said I read the Flemming books). I was a shy kid. We moved around a lot so I was usually new somewhere. I think I liked the idea of a spy being the super-cool guy who comes into a new place with a cool identity but keeps to himself. He is an outsider, but ultimately, he is saving the world.
When I finished high school, I enlisted in the U.S. Army. I tested well for languages so they offered me a specialty in Military Intelligence as a linguist. I jumped at the opportunity. I saw it as a step in the direction of my spy career. But, it wasn’t what I expected.
I never did become a spy. I became a history teacher. Then, I became a computer programmer. As I get older, I can’t see why anyone would actually want to be a spy.
Earlier this year, I was brainstorming ideas for mobile phone apps and came back to this whole spy dream. Back it the old spy books and movies, spies carried gadgets that looked like pens, cuff links, or cameras. Today, our smart phones are way better than many of the gadgets that were super cool in spy movies. I asked myself . . . what would a spy install on his phone today?
This is how I came up with the idea of Ear Spy. A spy would definitely carry around a listening device. All it would have to do is amplify what he is hearing and filter out background noise. A phone could do this. Actually, today mobile phones are used for listening to music too– so wearing headphones with a mobile phone would not look out of place. If you use a bluetooth headset, you could leave your phone somewhere you could listen from a few feet away. This is what a spy would have installed on his phone.
I asked my family what they thought of this and they all came back with the same response– it’s creepy. Yes, I conceded, maybe a little. I dropped the idea for a while. Then, while visiting Toys R Us, I noticed an entire section of spy toys. Some of them even allowed you to have “super hearing”. In the baby section, baby monitors allow you to listen to one room from another. If Ear Spy was such a creepy idea, why are they selling similar things in Toys R Us?
After a few months of development, Ear Spy went live on Android in early September and is approaching 40,000 installs. It averages 400 installs a day. It went live on iOS in October and is doing well there too.
We even released the same functionality to Ear Assist. Much of the code is the same, but it is marketed to helping people hear better.
Someone on Twitter mentioned that this app was morally dubious. Well, I hope not. There are some bits of functionality that I have considered, but dropped simply because it crossed the line. For example, we could have enabled remote listening with the web– but we did not (bluetooth is as far as you can get). We could have allowed many other things that just went too far. I see Ear Spy as an app that adds some fun functionality to your phone. I hope people use it conscientiously.
We are currently working on some other spy gadgets in the same spirit as Ear Spy. Like Ear Spy, they are fun but also useful. Watch for them in the coming months.