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A step for couples and a leap in social messaging

  • Review of long distance social apps
  • Best and worst of instant messaging
  • Quality of video call apps need to be stepped up
Written by Jessica Tekin
26/04/2012

In a world where technology eliminates distance between two people, many applications on the market aim to eliminate distance between two hearts. Distance can play a large role in straining the relationship between two people, and so technology has tried to help ease this added worry with a range of different social media applications focused on bringing people together. From couples to international business, the ease, reliability and interaction that applications can provide to a user can ease social loneliness and can make a person feel closer to home with a touch and swipe of a finger.

As a person in a long distance relationship, remaining social and communicative has been an important factor to maintain our healthy connection with one another. Granted, without smartphones, there are some options available. E-mails are somewhat of a rarity as they contain as much emotion and personality as the person’s writing style (my boyfriend is an English major so I am lucky on that front.) Phone calls are too expensive to make internationally, video calls even more so. Outside of physically travelling overseas, and writing letters by hand, there aren’t many options available in communicating to your love one.

Behold: the power of the smartphone.

Living 14,000kms away from my boyfriend for increasing periods of time is a drag at the best of times. However, after personally using and experiencing some varied applications, some relieve and some leave much to be desired- and I have a list of them here for you after using my boyfriend as a technological guinea pig. ‘Shut up Jess, tell them I’m a terminator.’ A terminator guinea pig.

Pair.

The newest application on the market, the program aims to bring a couple closer together socially when they can’t geographically. It’s an application that is both innovative in its choice of interactions, and its ease of use. The biggest key to Pair is exclusivity. One major part of Pair is that you can only be paired with one single person at a time (sorry, polygamous folks.) You are effectively connected with one another and it bars any sort of communication from anyone outside of your own Pair- both a rather creepy and affectionate feeling that no one can communicate or Thumbkiss your better half. ‘Looks like there’s no adultery here.’

Its popularity lies within its feature’s central theme- memory. Pair recognises that a lot of couples need to be reminded to do things, and that reminding one another of different tasks saves a lot of time and arguing in the long run. Some of its great features include a one-button press (that I personally abuse) that produces a thinking bubble that aptly says ‘thinking of you.’ My boyfriend appreciates the fact that it lists our anniversary and my birthday, meaning that he now never needs to forget (nor has any excuse) to forget intrinsic personal times and dates that are meaningful to most relationships.

Another is that of shared tasks, where you can create a to-do list with your partner and tick off each task as it needs to be done. I am not too sure what kind of tasks you would list on there in a long-distance relationship (our list right now is composed of ‘Make out!’ and ‘Kick your butt in MarioKart!') but it will be handy on the go for shopping lists, postal errands, family commitments and the like. Granted, these could be achieved through a txt message, but feeling the ever satisfying tick of a task being done feels pretty great.

As far as romanticism goes, Pair is one of the first applications that we have used that tries to create an intimate moment through to screen to you. Titled ‘Thumbkiss,’ it’s effectively pressing your finger on the screen and your partner’s phone seeing your spiral fingertip against theirs, before pressing down in a snap motion and ‘kissing’ one another. It’s cute, it’s jolly, and it’s a completely unnecessary part of the application but we dig it.

Of course, it’s still generally whimsical to entice forms of interactivity. You can doodle drawings together, partake in photos and videos together in a shared screen, and is smart enough to archive all of your multimedia interactions for later laughs and face-palming.

Unfortunately it’s only available through the iOS network right now, but with its gaining popularity it shouldn’t be too long until it’s adapted into the android network. Integrating a wide physical interface for couples to communicate, Pair is one of the biggest steps in a couples-focused application that eliminates the need to use several apps to achieve differing forms of communication between two people. Brilliant.

Skype.

An older, but still one of the most favourite applications and programs across all systems- Skype. Created in 2003, this video calling program is one of the most popular on Windows and Apple, and is equally so across all smartphones. So, why is it popular on a multitude of devices?

My opinion is the amazing foundation that it has laid in the computing world. I’ll say it right off- Skype on a PC (and my boyfriend confirms it’s an equally glorious thing through a Mac) is perfect. You are immediately logged in on your computer’s boot-up and it’s happy to hum away and remain silent and undisruptive while you’re completing other tasks. It’s smooth, gives you a list of emoticons, if your message doesn’t go through you’re informed straight away. Everything is completely user-friendly, informative, and using Skype on a PC is an enjoyable experience.

On a smartphone, it’s the exact opposite. I think I’ve grown an entire set of wrinkles due to the lag and waiting time for a message to boot up. It fails to refresh itself half the time, meaning that it fails to show a new message- either that or it fails to open up completely. One thing that I must commend Skype on is that it’s on the ball with its push notifications- it never fails to inform me when I have an incoming message or call into the phone.. it’s just frustrating when you cannot open up the application without your whole phone crashing.

Despite the numerous glitches that you encounter every other call, it’s user friendly. Its interface is smooth and straightforward- it’s organized like an address book, with each of your contacts listed alphabetically. You simply click on the persons’ avatar or name (the font is also of a large and convenient size,) wherein a popup appears with three options: audio call, video call, and instant message.

Instant messaging is definitely not recommended on Skype. Not only is there lagging in sending messages, there’s even lag between typing on the keyboard and it appearing on the screen as you touch it in. After a few lines, it’s incredibly frustrating. Video call quality varies- while there are very rarely any issues with accepting or making calls, I’m now more familiar with my boyfriend’s face in 8-bit than real life due to the terrible video quality. Despite that, there doesn’t seem to be a direct correlation between the quality of the video and that of audio- they both seem to run separately. Audio calls can also vary in stability, but on the whole Skype is usually who I turn to first to make a quick call online to him.

One of the best features of Skype is that it has a wide range of scripts that explain the reasons why the call quality has significantly dropped, and provides some solutions to the problems. I could never think of using my laptop without Skype, but normally once a week I want to throw my iPhone into a brick wall in frustration because of it. It’s disappointing that they can’t seem to provide the same call quality to phone internet users that’s available to those on PC, and I genuinely hope that their infrastructure is upgraded soon to assist this because it’s a shame to see it otherwise.

 

Touch.

Lastly, Touch. Touch is the stepping stone between Skype and Pair- it incorporates the best of both applications and has always been stable. My boyfriend downloaded it on a whim (there were a lot of X-Men’s Rogue puns when he first showed me the application) after stumbling on it through the applications store, and we rarely use anything else for messaging. It’s 100% reliable for messaging, starts up quickly, and its push notifications aren’t obstructive compared to Skype’s previous center-text box notifications.

It doesn’t have the superfluous technology that Pair has, however it doesn’t have the same calling capabilities that Skype presents. Once again, it runs rather like Skype- a list of your contacts alphabetically on the startup page, without any sort of information regarding them being online or off. It also displays the last 2 messages sent to each contact, which is extremely handy if you’re needing a reminder of what you last said or if you’re needing to take something important down without needing to enter into the actual conversation itself.

Touch has 3 options. Message, camera and emoticons. Pretty straight forward. I’ve never experienced any sort of lag with their messaging system, and the photo’s upload speed even within a terrible internet connection is bearable. They have literally incorporated KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) into their design- and it works. It would be much more feasible for them as a company to include some kind of calling software (I would completely remove Skype in a heartbeat) but for a quick direct message without the need for doodles or notes of love, it works. It gets the job done quick, fast, and simple- and when you don’t have time and want to share and receive interaction instantaneously without any extra fluff, Touch is one of the best messaging applications available.

Facetime.

If you’re only looking to make videocalls online, Facetime is an Apple designed program that combines the convenience of video calls with complete stability (that is a struggle to find on Skype at the best of times.) It’s a clean interface and constantly runs in the background of your phone use- whenever someone makes a video call to you on Facetime, it’s immediately forwarded like a normal mobile call but with audio. It’s smart, it’s user friendly, but its exclusivity is rather reductive.

Unless you’re an owner of an iPhone 4 (or later) you have no ability to use Facetime. Same goes for your contacts- unless they have an iPhone 4 device then using it as a constant social tool is impossible across a broad spectrum of demographics and people. It’s needless to say that it will never be on the Android network either (so there goes your non-hipster friends as callable people) so it seems that the quality and stability of its service is lost because everyone either forgets about it or simply cannot use it. Hopefully an application rather than a network-exclusive program will be able to come out with the goods soon- if it does, it’ll be a big contender against Skype and smaller video-calling applications.

While it is cheaper and much more sustainable to run programs on an internet service than a standard telephone line internationally, the amount of applications on the market which try to entice a couple are phenomenal. Disregarding social media applications, dating apps alone have reached a six figure number for people looking for love on the internet. While online dating remains a double edged sword for a lot of people, developers have also recognised that with a steady increase of people finding each other across the world has also led for them to have a need to curb their social appetites. An appetite that is, coincidentally, completely marketable to us all regardless of our social relationships and geography, and will only grow more and more hungry in time.

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