It can be difficult keeping up with the sheer number of apps dedicated to helping people connect, socialise and stay in touch, whether it’s across towns, cities, countries or continents. Here are half a dozen that may have passed you by.
Garden is the brainchild of Zander Adell, and works as a personal version of customer relationship management (CRM). It is designed to be less tokenistic than Facebook, where you might think that simply by ‘liking’ an image or comment from a friend you’re staying in touch with them, and it also claims to be less susceptible to illegal data harvesting. Says Adell, “Maintaining a personal relationship that adds value and meaning to your life takes regular and substantive effort. Just like you can’t expect plants in the garden to stay healthy without regularly watering them, you shouldn’t expect your relationships to thrive without putting in the time.”
To this end, you can use the Garden app to set reminders to get in touch with friends and family every week, month, quarter and so on, and it also allows you to make notes on previous conversations you might have had with those people, as well as provide information and alerts for birthdays, anniversaries and so on.
Loved by parents and (probably) loathed by their teenage sons and daughters, the Life360 app is essentially a tracker that lets you create groups and keep tabs on who is where within that group at any given time. It uses the same kind of GPS technology you’ll find in a car’s Sat Nav to locate the positions of people within that group, so if teenage Tommy has decided to head to a burger joint after school rather than come home for dinner as he’s expected to, mum and dad will know about it. While this might all seem a bit Big Brother – or ‘Big Mother’ – it does have other less intrusive applications. So long as everyone has the app, you can organise any group of people in Life360, which is useful for sports teams trying to make the same rendezvous point, or friends getting together on holiday.
An app designed for people who are more than friends, the Couple app enables a private network between two people. They can do all the usual stuff like text, send video messages and photos, but it comes with some unique ‘coupley’ features too. For example, you can ‘live sketch’ together, creating doodles and using cutesy stickers; you can share your timeline and create shared calendars and to-do lists; and you can even interact in real-time with a ‘thumb-kiss’, which might not be quite as satisfying as the real thing, but when you’re apart (and this is an app that’s ideal for couples who have to spend time away from each other) it’s better than nothing.
Just as the proliferation of remote controls for TV, smartbox, DVD, games console, surround system etc. eventually requires management via a master remote (or the liberal use of duct tape), so the same would seem to apply to our different social media applications. Maintaining accounts with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google and so on (not to mention your phone), all entail the duplication of contact details for friends and business contacts. The FullContact app aims to sync these, meaning you don’t have to flick between different accounts to find that all-important missing information. It gets rid of duplicates and fills in gaps where, say, one account has a phone number and another has the address, until it becomes the de facto app for your contacts.
While WhatsApp remains the go-to app for most people when it comes to Wi-Fi messaging and phonecalls, it’s far from being the only – or the best – app on the market for this. Viber is great for free long-distance audio and video calls, providing of course the other person has also downloaded the app. Viber has a great design interface, and its extremely ergonomic when it comes to sending text, audio, video, emoticons – you name it. It also has a doodle function, which lets you pick brush size and colour and draw on the screen to send messages, which is kind of fun.
Another alternative to WhatsApp (or Viber) is WeChat. It originates from China, and has been steadily growing in popularity across Asia, with huge take-up in places like India, Malaysia, Philippines and Mexico, and now has hundreds of millions of users worldwide. Although it functions in much the same way as other messenger apps, the quality of video calls is better, and it comes with some unique features, like ‘message in a bottle’. With this, you drop a message in a virtual bottle and let it drift out to other users who can catch it and respond, ideal if you want to connect with random users globally. Similar to this is the serendipitous ‘Shake’ option – when you shake your phone while using the app, it connects you with other users doing exactly the same thing at that moment in time. To top things off, it also comes with a huge list of emoticons that have a distinctly cool Asian aesthetic to them.