FireChat – An Instant Messaging App That Works Without Internet Connection [iOS]

From time to time, there are new mobile apps that hit the media and get everyone excited either because they were bought by a computing giant like Google or Yahoo!, or because they are not that special but manage to become very popular, like Flappy Bird.

There is a third scenario where a truly innovative app comes into the market and makes some breakthrough in the Tech world. This is the case of FireChat, an iOS app that has recently hit Apple’s App Store. Why? Because it is the beginning of a new generation of communicators, promising to provide communications between phones without needing an Internet connection or any other data connection. Let’s take a deeper look at how it works.

Wireless mesh networks are a recent and emerging technology, which promises to revolutionize the way we connect with each other, as they can easily (and wirelessly) connect entire cities using inexpensive and existing technology. Usually they work through a series of wired access points or wireless hotspots that connect users. In this type of network, the connection is spread through several wireless mesh nodes that communicate between them to share the connection across larger areas.

firechat-mesh

These nodes are small radio transmitters working just like a wireless router, and they use the common WiFi standards 802.11a, b and g to communicate with each other and the users. The nodes are programmed so that the information travels from the point A to B in the shortest and quickest way possible, in a process known as dynamic routing.

The greatest advantage of the mesh technology is that it truly is wireless: opposite of what happens with regular “wireless” networks, which still need to be wired to the Internet which is not a requirement in this technology.

FireChat not only takes advantage of this technology, but it also takes advantage of the fact that Apple integrated the support of mesh networks in iOS 7, allowing for many different iPhones and iPads to connect between them. This connection can be established through WiFi (but, again, with no Internet connection in the process) or Bluetooth, in order to exchange messages, to share an Internet connection that one of them might have or even to share photos, videos and other files, just as normally done through Apple’s AirDrop technology. Users have the option to share content with other specific users or to everyone on the local network.

firechat-screens

With FireChat, you can communicate with others with Instant Messaging and share files from an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch and see what people around you are chatting about. As I explained before, it works even without an Internet or other mobile connection, making it perfect for communicating everywhere (obviously, “everywhere” where mesh technology is available). It is also a very easy-to-use app, as it does not require any kind of login or password, and does not place any significant impact on your battery’s life.

The app itself has a neat design, actually very similar to the native messaging platform from iOS. When you open the app, you are randomly added to the “Everyone” section – on FireChat’s first days, this “Everyone” section was unlimited in terms of users, but Open Garden (the company behind it) had to put a cap limiting the users to 80 for each group. So, when you enter “Everyone”, the app adds you to a random group of people near you and, if and when that group reaches a total of 80 users, that group is automatically closed.

firechat-everyone

Given that FireChat is an anonymous and ephemeral chatting service, you should not expect to have, at least in bigger groups, great talks and discussions, and the more you use it, the more this feature might start to seem useless. However, in the case of natural disasters, great accidents or meltdowns of the other social media and apps, FireChat and all the technology supporting it might prove to be vital and, really, the only chance to communicate. This app can change the way we communicate, not the communication itself – and that is surely not its goal.

FireChat is free to download from the App Store. If you have any of the Apple devices I mentioned above, be sure to give it a try.