It's a genuinely dangerous problem -- cyclists being unaware of pedestrians, and pedestrians walking in front of cars, all because they're in a zombie iPod trance from the music in their headphones. Now an iPhone and iPod touch app can help, by increasing your awareness of the sounds going on around you without ruining your enjoyment of the music.
Available at £2.99 in the Apple app store, Awareness is designed to allow you to listen to music, but with the knowledge that important noises like warnings, shouts, sirens and alarms won't be missed.
Created by Essency, the app uses your headphones' built-in microphone to analyse your surroundings. It sets up a mic trigger level stopping everyday background noise from being picked up and played in your headphones. But when a noise is picked up which is louder than the background noise, the mic is switched on.
Awareness sets itself up, but you can manually tweak the settings by sliding your finger over the red scale, fine-tuning the mic trigger. It will run on the iPhone 4, 3GS, iPod touch fourth and third-gen, as long as your headset has a mic. It won't work with the iPhone 3G, or with Bluetooth or wireless headsets. Versions for the iPad, Android, Symbian, BlackBerry, PC and Mac will follow.
We haven't had a chance to test it yet, but the video below shows it in action, and we can imagine how useful it could be. On a train, for example, it could allow you to hear an important announcement, while pedestrians lost in their music will be able to hear important warnings or sirens. Cyclists determined to listen to music on their morning commute could do so more safely (although we really don't recommend it), while you should be able to order a coffee without having to take your headphones out of your ears.
If you've got a spare three quid, try it out, and tell us how you go in the comments.