A few weeks ago the app Firechat hit the iOS app store and is one of the first to use Apple’s Multipeer Connectivity Framework. This feature, which is available on any iPhone that has the AirDrop capability, allows users to directly connect to each other with no cell phone data or wifi required.
Why is this a big deal?
For starters, it takes the middleman of wireless carriers and data plans out of the picture. The message you’re sending doesn’t go to some cell phone tower first and then to your recipient. For privacy advocates, this is a huge win in light of recent data mining activities by the NSA. If another device has the app and is within 30 feet of your current location you can connect directly to it and start a conversation.
But it doesn’t stop there. Firechat is at its best when it’s part of a larger mesh network. Let’s say you are able to connect to one user 20 feet away from you. That user has someone they are connected to who is 30 feet away from them. You can now talk directly to the third user using the device in between as a relay.
This is supposed to be Firechat’s calling card. The ability to create a private mesh network that doesn’t involve data or wifi and is as big as the number of people who have the app installed. However, due to the relative newness of the app I was unable to directly connect to anyone around me as no one else had it. Which brings into the play the app’s other main feature. “Everyone” mode.
By default you’re placed into Everyone mode upon opening the app. Using your phone’s data you are then placed in a chat room with 79 other random individuals from around the world to talk about...well, whatever you wish to talk about. In my time with the app the conversation was the typical online chat room banter of A/S/L and crude jokes, but this is to be expected.
As of now, Firechat’s usefulness is minimal if you’re not in a location where other people have it. But, this is an interesting new take on messaging that makes sense when a group of friends are at a concert and cell phone signals are on the fritz. Or if you’d like to strike up a conversation and meet someone new at the same place you’re at.
The potential for this app to be a new communication tool is great and if enough users buy into it may be a challenger to Facebook Messanger or Snapchat. We’ll see in the near future if Firechat can acquire the user base to become a major player in the messaging sphere.