The second coming of the walkie-talkie
Last week, teens everywhere (and at least one man in his 40s) squeed over the release of the latest Snapchat update, which pinned a shiny 2.0 onto its Chat feature.
It’s a pretty cool update. From the get-go, the Snapchat experience has felt a lot more about the snapping than the chatting, an imbalance that 2.0 attempts to correct by blurring the distinctions between the many ways we chat. And while the triad of text, voice, and video are now standard features across most chat applications, the design of Chat 2.0 on Snapchat seems geared toward eroding our resistance to toggling between those choices, and ultimately integrating them all into the same conversation.
But like everything else that Snapchat has offered up (from its self-destructing snaps to its wildly popular Stories feature), using Chat requires a fair amount of mental rewiring — especially for us old-timers whose chat habits were forged on flip-phones and over SMS. The fact that I’m the oldest one in the room (on my friends list) says it clearly enough: It’s not for everyone.
For those unbudgingly uncharmed by the aggressive idiosyncrasy of Snapchat, there are a number of alternative apps revamping chat along similar lines by drawing a connection to a far more familiar forerunner: the walkie-talkie.
The dominance of WeChat across Asia has meant a massive surge in “push-to-talk” services everywhere except the United States — despite it being widely available across platforms. Roger is a new chat app that strips down to the singular purpose of exchanging short bits (or long stretches) of spoken conversation.
A conversation spoken and sent in chunks may sound jarring; and that your message sends as soon as you stop recording (no preview, no ad nauseam retakes) may sound scary; and that everything you send self-deletes in 48 hours may feel like a loss of control. But Roger’s insistence on the voice as medium has some unique side effects.
For one thing, all of those musical nuances and tonal shades we surrendered to texting so long ago (despite our best emojis) are refreshingly restored. For another, Roger’s single button interface makes voice messaging feel like no big deal — natural, even. And for another, it’s just nice to hear someone’s voice. If nothing else, download it so you can stop texting your mother. She is your mother!
Common to all of these 10-4 2.0 apps is that they are built for speed, but Punch goes a step further by taking over the increasingly coveted turf of your lockscreen. Apps like Yo! And LokLok have toyed around with the connective potential of lockscreen micromessaging for the past few years, but Punch vastly opens the possibilities of things you can do without ever punching in your pesky passcode. (Six digits now? I groan at you Apple.)
Punch lets you send short audio and video clips direct from one locked screen to another. Video and audio messages can play automatically, no tap required. If your phone is muted, Punch will even (attempt to) convert those audio messages to text. Conversely, when set to Drive Mode, Punch will read incoming messages and notifications aloud to you.
You can also instantly send maps of your current location, form group chats for easy plan-making on the fly, and (whew!) send stupid “emoji sounds” for those times when your own voice isn’t quite silly sounding enough.
My favorite entry into the nu-chat fray is Tribe, an “experiential messaging” app that most evokes the walkie-talkie by relying entirely on the thumb. Tribe’s colorful patchwork home screen functions as both a friends list and a primary interface. Simply press a friend’s square and instantly you’re recording video (from either camera), or just audio. Once you release, off it goes.
This feature alone prompted my husband to promptly delete the app, but once you accustom yourself to Tribe’s fearless immediacy (it helps that messages delete themselves as soon as they’re opened), it’s actually quite fun, freeing, and intuitive. Tribe is also a great facilitator of group chats (far and away better than any group text I’ve ever been corralled into). And its one-thumb design makes it a perfect solution for chronic walking-texters (and the people who loathe them).