That’s app magic

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After last week's look at radio iOS apps, which are aimed at the consumer end of our industry, this week I thought I'd look at some apps for the performers amongst us (and those with aspirations in this area) – specifically, magicians.

When it comes to stage magic, I’ve always been more of a fan of the close-up kind than the overwrought, let’s-make-the-London Eye-disappear kind of spectacle. Making a small object such as a coin pass through a physical barrier, or working out which card has been picked from a pack, impress me far more.

Decades ago, I realised that all the children’s magic kits in the world wouldn’t make me a good conjuror: you need a level of confidence in yourself in order to become a con artist that I just don’t possess. For those who are better at magic – or even just learning the basics – than I, here are three iPhone apps by British conjurors that turn Apple’s smartphone into a technologically advanced magician’s assistant.

Now, I may not be a member of the Magic Circle, and therefore not bound by their code – but enjoyment of these apps is dependent on how they work being a secret. So don’t expect too much in the way of description of technique here…

Streets

This 69p app, devised by John Archer, is the smartphone equivalent of his map-based ‘book test’ (also available for a rather larger sum in dead tree format). Starting with a map of the UK, as you ask people to double-tap to zoom in to any city and further down to street level, you can amaze them by naming any street address they end up on.

It’s a smart little trick, let down only that it was first devised when the iPhone’s Maps application was powered by Google, rather than Apple’s new and much derided native version which debuted with iOS 6. But if your patter can get round that slight technical issue, you have every chance of impressing with the thought that you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of UK street names.

Magic Purse

Whereas Streets demonstrates a feat of memory, Chris Dugdale’s trick (also 69p) is a two-stage affair that allows you to manifest an object thought up by your audience – as long as it’s a coin of the realm, from 1p to £2.

On the phone screen is a traditional purse’s metal clasp – open it by using the pinch-and-zoom method familiar to iPhone users, and the clasp opens to reveal the coin your unsuspecting audience member has chosen. What’s more, you will be able to make the coin disappear from the screen, and reappear in physical form in your hand.*

A rather less sophisticated app than Streets, if done well the transition from on-screen coin to physical object will produce gasps, I’m sure – but if you can master that element, I’d wager that you already have a substantial arsenal of close-up tricks up your sleeve. Well, maybe not literally.

* coins not included with purchase

Mindreader

The final of the three apps in this mini round-up is certainly the most visually arresting, as you might expect from Andy Nyman, a long-time collaborator with Derren Brown. As with the other two, it’s a 69p purchase.

At its heart, Mindreader a version of the basic “pick a card, any card” routine – Nyman suggests presenting it as if you wish you had a pack of cards, but your virtual one will have to do. What marks this app out from the other two is the inclusion of a video demonstration by Nyman himself. And most critically, it not only shows you how to operate the trick, but how not to do it – a neat little touch which drastically reduces the learning curve.

If anything works against this trick, it’s the rather ostentatious Victoriana-style presentation of the deck to choose from, along with the accompanying soundtrack. Whereas Streets works hard to feel an intrinsic part of the Apple aesthetic that was in play when the app was first released, here you’re always conscious that the deck of cards you’re choosing from has been constructed for the purposes of the trick.

And ultimately, that will always be a limitation of smartphone-based trick apps: because they have to be bought, downloaded and installed in advance, you’ll only ever be able to use your own iPhone as a prop. That adds one more layer of potential wariness and mistrust in your audience – not insurmountable, perhaps, but an additional challenge nonetheless.

Now, if someone could devise a trick using a phone owned by somebody else that the magician has never seen or handled before – that’s something I’d like to see.

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