Portal is billed as an iPhone and iPad app designed to help you focus, relax, or sleep. It was last year selected by Apple as App of the Day and is a demo app in Apple Stores.

I’m not quite sure I buy the ‘focus’ part of the claim – I personally find silence the best thing for that – but it does tick the relaxation and sleep boxes for me…

The app is a simple one: it displays slow-moving video clips of nature scenes on the iPhone or iPad screen while playing real-life sounds from the same location through any AirPlay speakers.

In the latest update, which added Philips Hue integration, it also aims to sync your color lighting to the scenes. You just select your room, and all the lighting in that room will be controlled by the app.

There’s a sleep timer if you want to drift off to the sights and sounds, and an alarm clock if you want to wake gently to a sunrise. The app also has Siri support, so you can create Siri shortcuts for your favorite scenes.

Created by two brothers, Nick and Tim Daniels, the company explains that the app was born out of a camping experience in New Zealand.

Portal is inspired by Nick’s honeymoon camping experience in New Zealand, and a desire to bottle up the incredible experience falling asleep and waking up in such beautiful, isolated places. This same experience also gave Nick the best sleep of his life.

“I wanted to find a way to recreate some of that experience back in London”,explains Nick. “I was on the flight home and couldn’t sleep and was thinking about whether there was a way I could ‘transport’ myself back to some of those places we’d been. That’s when the idea for Portal was born.”

I found the idea works really well. The Hue lighting integration creates a much more immersive sense of each scene.

My only complaint is that quite a few of the lighting setups were basically just off-white. It was only a minority of them, like the Spring Barley Field or Lake Kawaguchi, that really worked well. Portal tells me the colors are manually matched, and that some better lend themselves to more intense colors.

There’s also a storm scene, where I felt the lightning strikes should be matched by the Hue lighting to really make you feel like you were experiencing the real thing. Tim Daniels tells me he likes the idea, and they are also working on things like having a fireside scene creating flickering flame effects with the lights.

To me, this is a great concept not yet fully realized, but it’s worth checking out the free version before you decide whether or not to invest the four bucks to unlock the complete set of scenes. It requires an iPhone 6s or iPad Air 2 or later.

Portal is a free download from the App Store with a $3.99 in-app purchase. Four scenes are free, 14 more are unlocked with the IAP. 

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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