Thursday, April 03, 2014

FireChat App Lets Users Chat WITHOUT an Internet Connection

FireChat is an iPhone app that has been designed for anonymous hyperlocal communication. What makes it so unlike any other messaging platform is that it does not require an Internet connection or even a cellular signal to work.

FireChat takes advantage of the Multipeer Connectivity Framework in iOS 7. This feature allows developers to connect devices to each other using Bluetooth, WiFi, and peer-to-peer connections. Users must be within a maximum of 100 feet of another to use the 'Nearby' feature, but they can also connect with other users around their countries via the Internet in the 'Everyone' chat room.

The app works best when users are within 30 feet of each other. However, the more people using it within close range of one another, the larger and more robust the network becomes. So, while you are of course limited by distance, you'll still be able to chat with your friends or family while camping, or in a crowded concert - no more need to rely on overloaded cell towers. "You may be connected to a person by Bluetooth or WiFi that is less than 30 feet away from you, but chatting with others that are outside that radius because of the network created by all the connections combined," said Jim McGregor, principal at Tirias Research. "The advantage is that you don't worry about cellular or Internet connectivity, but you are limited by distance and the number of people that are logged into the application at the time." This type of connectivity is also called a "mesh network," where all the devices in a network relay data to the others. "We thought that FireChat would provide a great example of what's possible with P2P mesh networks," stated Christophe Daligault, head of sales and marketing at FireChat developer Open Garden. "This demonstrates that you don't need the Internet for everything."

FireChat users not only can chat, but share photos with either one person or a group. No need to log into using Facebook or your email. Just create a unique username. The app was created with privacy in mind as well so you don't even need a password! "Many apps provide great person-to-person communications," Daligault noted. "At the same time, there are growing concerns for privacy and perhaps general Facebook fatigue. So this seems like the best way to bring a new way to communicate to the iPhone."Open Garden also assures users that the app has very little effect on battery life. 

According to Daligault, the app is quickly growing with popularity with around 1.4 sign-ups per second. "FireChat seems to keep on exploding in countries when it hits the sweet spot in terms of density," he said. "It has reached the top 10 amongst social networking apps in more than 80 countries, ahead of Facebook and WhatsApp. Right now it is No. 1 in Spain, for example."

While the developers eventually plan on adding more features, they are currently focusing on removing bugs and getting the word out on how the app works. For now, the app is limited to the iPhone, but they're working on an iPad app, and those interested in an Android version can sign up to be notified.