When was the last time you walked up to a random stranger at the airport waiting area and struck a new conversation? Or perhaps during that bus journey or with someone during your last flight? Most of the times we are so occupied with our mobile devices that we hardly acknowledge the world around us. Even if we feel like talking to a stranger and striking a conversation, we are unsure whether the other person would reciprocate.
Even in flights, we spend time tinkering with our smartphones in flight mode. During our recent visit to HongKong for the RISE conference, we came across two startups that are trying to enable conversations via their chatting apps specifically designed for such situations. These apps won’t take your device away from you but will help you socialise with strangers nearby. Neither of the apps require a data connection so when you are disconnected from the social media feed and messaging apps, you can try to discover interesting people near you.
‘Social Networks are built around friends, AirTalk around strangers’ is what their promo-flyer says.
Airtalk is an app by Tokyo based OFF Line Corporation that would let you talk to strangers when you happen to be near them. This is an exciting proposition which adds a new dimension to the whole concept of proximity based chatting apps. You don’t have to look up for people or add friends to your network to have a conversation. If there are people around you using AirTalk, simply leave a message and maybe you will be able to start a conversation around some interesting topic. The messages are backed-up on cloud and the profile builder offers the option of integrating with Twitter account which allows the messages to be shared with twitter followers as well.
With AirTalk you can communicate with people within 100m radius without an active internet or data connection – If they do have an iOS device. You can record users who pass each other in a 3km radius and search for other users as well as their posts. The app has a very slick interface and has an intuitive design which makes the overall user experience a great one. Having said that, currently there is little or no awareness of the app in South-East Asia including India and its major user-base seems to be from Japan.
We believe that with some refinements, the app has a great potential for travellers in countries such as India where internet penetration and consistency of data connection continue to be a challenge. Imagine, going to the rain-forests in Coorg for a hike or probably going to areas where there is no 3G connectivity at all. An app like AirTalk can help you to stay connected with your fellow hikers and exchange messages even if there’s no cellular or a data connection.
Another startup that offers an app for connecting with people during flights or at the airportis FlightChat. Designed by Giinger Pte Ltd. in Singapore, FlightChat enables you to trigger chat with people who are on the same app and stay anonymous at the sametime.
FlightChat’s single line description says “Bored while travelling? FLIGHTMODE ON? CHAT ON A PLANE FOR FREE !”
Unlike AirTalk, FlightChat is available to download for Android as well as iOS platform. To start a conversation, you can join an existing group or start a new one. You can create your avatar and during a private chat, you can choose to reveal your identity. User discovery is not just limited to your flight when you are offline but you can discover new users before reaching the airport using an internet connection. To add more fun, they have added some mini games that you can play with other travellers while waiting to board your flight. To make sure that you can stay connected with your new friends after the flight as well, the app synchronises the chats once you are back on-ground.
Both these apps use connectivity options like Wi-FI or Bluetooth PAN to connect with other app users. While the idea is interesting, such apps require a strong community outreach program to gain initial traction and adoption beyond their countries of origin. For such apps, the growth rate usually goes up as more users join for obvious reasons. They need to target wide geographical areas and make it relevant to travellers.
We don’t see the app being downloaded by users who don’t fly or travel frequently. To make sure they have the app(s) when they do travel, the developers might have to explore the option of adding other features that are relevant to such people. FireChat is a similar app when it comes to basic functionality but they are trying to target a different segment of users with a very different marketing message.
These apps are very fresh in the market at the moment and will take a while to build up momentum. We might see them adding more innovative features to lure more users. We would love to hear more use-cases of such apps from you in comments below.
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