WhatsApp Move Over, FireChat is Here for Apple Products


For people who need something more refreshing than chatting with friends, and like talking to strangers, move over WhatsApp, because a messaging app called FireChat is the latest rage among users of Apple products. Any Apple product –iPhone, iPad or even an iPod touch — can use FireChat effectively.

At first, it looks just like the many other messaging apps that crowd the instant messaging market. However, FireChat has two major reasons for being, quite likely, one of the best apps ever introduced.

One, it does not need the internet to connect. Two, a FireChat user can talk to random people about just anything under the sun and when the app is closed, the entire conversation is deleted!

Within a week of its being launched on the App Store, the app has been downloaded more than 100,000 times a day, with the user base growing by 57 users for every fifty seconds. Since its launch in March, the app is at the top of the charts in almost a dozen countries. Whether it means WhatsApp will have to move over to make way for new novelty apps remains to be seen but FireChat is already massively popular among Apple product users.

How does it work?

The FireChat uses the Multiper Connectivity Framework, a feature in iOS 7, which helps to connect an Apple device with another without the use of the internet. It works as follows: the app helps to create a network of its own with another device via the help of two, smart connected machines that communicate with their own wireless signals or Bluetooth to talk to one another.

This is also how the conversation disappears the minute the app is closed. Everything is exchanged peer-to-peer and deleted instantaneously when the app is closed. Apple’s Airdrop feature essentially works this way too.

Interestingly, this technology, better known as mesh networking, is nothing new. It has been around for decades and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have been using it for the military. It was just not commonly used in consumer applications.

OpenGarden, the creators of the app, said their aim to create such an app was to introduce the mesh technology to the people and convince them to use this technology. The app, its creators say can also be of importance in a time of connectivity shortages and communication blocks that occur due to natural disasters or social media crackdowns.

Moving on to how the app itself works: when a user opens FireChat, he or she is directed to the default ‘Everyone’ chat room. This chat room is very, very interesting and probably one of the major reasons why this app is such a success. Everything from spam, insults, random thoughts popping into other users’ minds and internet acronyms is being discussed here. In FireChat, the same thing is never seen twice and neither are the groups of people same. The conversations are happening so fast that if a user was to merely blink, he or she would miss out on part of the conversation.

A user can ask the most outrageous of questions and get answers from anonymous people or give random opinions. There is no fear that anything will be saved in history – unless, of course, if someone takes a screenshot of the discussion and saves that!

One of the reviews of FireChat sums up the experience quite accurately. It states that passive experience of the app is like testing one’s own attention span as the conversation moves at such a rapid pace. Eventually, a user would feel irritated and want to close the app for lack of interest in the mindless ramblings of strangers. It actually takes personal involvement of the user to really understand the true experience of FireChat. “Ask a question … and you begin to feel a bit of an adrenaline rush.”

The one major failing of FireChat is…

Unfortunately, as good as the app sounds to while away time when alone or bored, because the app grew so fast, Open Garden had to set a cap on the ‘Everyone’ chat room, limiting them to a user’s home country.

Speaking on its various features, OpenGarden’s Sales and Marketing Chief, Christophe Daligault said that ‘FireChat Nearby’ works really well within 30 feet from the user. He said this distance can go up to a 100 feet but there are no guarantees to that. For the FireChat Everyone, at some point an internet would be needed.

Moreover, at any given time, only 80 users can chat in the ‘Everyone’ chat room. Since the creators of the app wanted its users to be actively engaged with one another, FireChat has an automatic cap in it, which lets each group of randomly organized users hit 80, before it is closed off. Every time a user enters the chat room, a new group is to be found.

The future of FireChat

FireChat will continue to see upgrades in the future. For one, photo-sharing for ‘Everyone’ chat rooms is in the pipeline but the firm will approach this cautiously given the fact that the app is free. Photo-sharing is already available in the ‘Nearby’ mode.

Meanwhile, an Android version of FireChat is said to be coming out in some weeks following the success of the app on iOS. Daligault said that he has launched 14 apps on iOS but “I’ve never seen anything like this.” He said that even though the app has not done too well in the US, it has been ranked among the top three positions in several nations since its launch, which includes Australia, Belgium, China, Germany, Israel and Taiwan.

The popularity of the app on Apple products highlights that people like talking to strangers anonymously and FireChat is here to stay. Maybe, WhatsApp should move over? Daligault does not believe so. He says the main purpose of the app is to prove that mesh networking is both valuable and viable and therefore, FireChat is meant for group chats essentially. Daligault did say that one-on-one chatting options may be on the cards but FireChat has no intentions of replacing WhatsApp.

By Faryal Najeeb

Time Magazine