How to Record Calls on an iPhone
Apple doesn't make it easy to record phone calls, but it's not impossible. Here's how.
So you want to record a call on your smartphone? Maybe it's an interview for work, a customer service call or a message from a loved one. On Android, there are few limitations (and many of the tips below also work for Android phones). Things get tricky when you want to record using an iPhone.
You would think there'd be app for that, but Apple doesn't allow third-party apps to access to the microphone and the Phone app directly. However, there are tricks within some apps and services to get around that limitation that can make you a mobile wire-tapping master.
Before you start, make sure to tell the person on the other end of the line you're recording; depending on your location, you may be breaking a law if you don't. Some U.S. states -- like New York and even the feds -- only require one-party consent -- which is you. In California, all parties must know they're being recorded. Play it safe: if the other party on the call is remote, get permission.
Employ Google Voice.
If you haven't used that free Google Voice account in a while, check it out. It provides free voice mail, a free phone number and yes, even conversation recording. For that to work, "Incoming call options" must be activated in the Google Voice settings, which you can reach via the hamburger menu in the mobile app or via voice.google.com on the desktop.
When you answer calls made to your Google Voice number, tap 4 on the Phone app's number pad. Participants will hear a robot voice state that recording has begun -- this is Google's way of keeping you legal, as Alphabet Inc. wants no part of a lawsuit. To stop recording, tap 4 again or hang up. You can hit the 4 key as often as you like in a conversation to start and stop recording.
Since Google Voice forwards calls to your mobile number, you're not technically using the app to do the recording. It's all done on Google's servers, which are handling the Voice over IP (VoIP) connection. While it's possible to make a call using the Google Voice app on your iPhone, recording is limited to incoming calls.
The recordings are forwarded to you via email and appear in Google Voice's list of voice mail recordings. You can generally tell the difference between voice mail messages and recorded conversations because the latter are probably of a longer duration, and say "Transcription not available."
Did we mention that Google Voice is free? It is; all you need is a Google account.
Pay for an app.
On Android, a variety of apps can record a call directly, unless the phone manufacturer blocks it. On iPhone, recording phone calls is blocked, period. The apps that do exist to record a call -- and there are quite a few -- have a workaround, but it will cost you. Here's how it works.
Once you're in a call, incoming or outgoing, the app will facilitate a three-way conference call. The third "caller" accessed is a recording line, provided by a service from the app's developer. Obviously, three-way calling is a must-have feature of your iPhone for this to work, so be sure your carrier supports it. In the U.S., the big four all do, but some smaller carriers like SimpleTalk and Virgin Mobile do not -- at least not in a way these apps support.
Apps in this space include Call Recorder Lite and TapeACall Lite. As the "lite" implies, these are trial/cripple-ware -- they're free to try and will record calls as described -- but only for 60 seconds. Pony up for the Pro versions to talk longer.
TapeACall Pro is $9.99 annually -- users get charged again every year, but call recording length is unlimited. Call Recorder Pro is $9.99 just once but offers only 300 minutes of calling credits; users have to do an in-app purchase to record after that -- and the credits are 10¢ per minute. Recordings are limited to two hours.
Another downside besides the cost is the extra steps required to start recording a call -- it's not as simple as just hitting a key on the number pad. But they can be activated in the middle of any phone call; after, you get easy access to recordings in the app and can play, download, share or export them as desired. (TapeACall is also available for Android.)
Use your own voice mail -- maybe.
If your iPhone has support (via your mobile carrier) for three-way calling and Visual voice mail, you have an option for the cheapest workaround of all.
When you're in a call, wait for the Add Call button to light up, so you can add a third caller via three-way calling. Tell the other person to wait, click the button and call yourself. You stay on the line and listen to your own voice mail greeting, then for the tone that indicates you're recording. Tap Merge Calls. All three calls are merged -- and the third one is just recording the first two to your own voice mail.
Later, you can access the recording like you would any other voice mail message. As of iOS 9, you can export voice mail messages as audio files.
This isn't going to work for all carriers. On mine (AT&T), calling my own number dumped me into the audio voice mail menu and didn't record. You could always try calling the person on the other line -- you'll go directly to their voice mail, certainly. They just have to be able to send you the recorded "voice mail" conversation after. And that's not something most interview subjects want to get involved in. Also, carriers may have a limit to how long they'll let you record a voice mail. Test it with your phone and a friend before you trust this method.
If your own voice mail won't work, you could try the Slydial service (call 267-SLYDIAL), which allows you to bypass greetings to go directly to voice mail on almost any phone. Unfortunately, the free version plays ads when you leave messages.
A better option is a third-party voice mail system like Google Voice or Recordator. For the latter, set up an account and put your phone number in your contacts. Follow the steps above to merge Recordator into the call, keep talking, and once you hang up, MP3s of the conversation will be available on their website. Recordator is not cheap, with a starter plan of 67 minutes for $10, then 15¢ per minute after.
The hardware options.
It seems foolish to buy more hardware to record from the iPhone -- the most advanced hardware in your pocket. But the possibility exists.
The simplest, lowest-tech option -- beyond operating a recorder while you blather over the speakerphone -- is a cable, the $17 Olympus TP-8 Telephone Recording Device. It doesn't digitally capture from your iPhone directly. Instead, it has a microphone built into the earpiece. Plug the other end into a recorder. Then hold the iPhone up to your ear to talk normally. The TP-8 captures each side of the conversation from what comes out of the iPhone's ear speaker, but you can still hear the conversation.
If you need a recorder, get a digital recorder that can take input via the 3.5mm microphone jack. One reliable, inexpensive, and versatile option: the Olympus Digital Voice Recorder WS-852. For less than $60, it operates on 2 AAA batteries, can hold around 1,400 hours of audio and has 3.5mm jacks for both a microphone and a headset. Best of all, it has a USB connector hidden in the top, so you can plug it into a PC and download all the MP3 audio files, or copy files to a Micro SD card in the slot on the side.
A digital recorder is nice and all, but if you just plug the phone into a recorder, you're not going to hear the call -- using the headphone jack cuts off the speakers. Get the Recap-C, a $99 adapter that plugs into an iPhone's 3.5mm jack, with output to a headset as well as to a recorder. The secondary recorder -- connected via a 3.5mm male-to-male auxiliary audio cable -- can be your recorder of choice. It could even be another iOS device (or Android or PC, but probably stick with the digital recorder for simplicity).
A more direct option with far fewer cables is the Esonic PR200 for $109. It records your conversation via Bluetooth -- you hold the PR200 up to your head to talk and listen, as if it's the phone. The call button in the middle of the device can answer calls on the Bluetooth-connected phone. It also features a USB end, so you can quickly access recordings on the computer. It will hold about 144 hours of conversation before it fills up the 4GB of storage. It also records like any digital recorder sans smartphone, since it has an external pin-hole microphone.
Esonic also makes the U2 recorder, a $90 device that plugs directly into a smartphone's 3.5mm phone jack, taking over for your earbuds with an attached microphone. It should face forward, so you can talk and hear through it when recording. It's rechargeable via USB -- that connection is also how you get the recordings on the PC, either Windows or Mac. It also holds 144 hours of conversation.
Wondering how to get an extra phone number to use with your smartphone? Read Burner Accounts 101.