FireChat for iPhone lets you chat off-the-grid, without cellular or Wi-Fi signal

By , Mar 27, 2014

FireChat 1.3 for iOS (iPhone screenshot 001)

FireChat, a new instant messaging application for the iPhone, is kinda of a big deal. You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between it and other messaging apps on the App Store if it weren’t for its particularly unique feature.

FireChat supports off-the-grid communication, a codeword for the ability to exchange instant messages without a cellular or Wi-Fi connection.

What kind of dark magic is this?

FireChat, the brainchild of the crowdsourced firm Open Garden and available free in the App Store, uses the same principles as AirDrop, Apple’s feature that takes advantage of a new iOS 7 technology called Multipeer Connectivity Framework (MCF).

Read on for the full reveal…

When you pull up from the bottom of the screen and enable AirDrop in Control Center, iOS lets you send an image, URL or other piece of content to another AirDrop user directly, no Internet connectivity or iCloud access required whatsoever.

AirDrop requires both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. First, nearby devices are detected via Bluetooth and then data transfers get negotiated and carried out by establishing a direct connection between the two devices’ Wi-Fi antennas, making possible short-range content transfers.

The beauty of AirDrop is that devices participating in data exchange don’t need to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network or be connected to a Wi-Fi network at all.

That’s exactly what FireChat does for you.

FireChat 1.3 for iOS (iPhone screenshot 002)

The app uses the iOS 7 Multipeer Connectivity Framework technology to create an ad-hoc peer-to-peer network between devices in close proximity. Each device becomes a node and messages can be relayed from one node to another anonymously and securely, making possible even long distance messaging without a network signal

Upon creating a screen name, the app presents you with two chat modes: ‘Everyone’, for communicating with any user that can be reached through nodes, and ‘Nearby’ which limits your messaging only to folks within Bluetooth and Wi-Fi range of up to around thirty feet (nine meters) who are also using the app.

And because the Nearby feature doesn’t use an Internet connection – and given you can also send messages anonymously – hackers will have a hard time to eavesdrop on your communication. As for ‘Everyone,’ a maximum distance the app will work within depends on the connected nodes, or devices.

FireChat 1.3 for iOS (iPhone screenshot 004)FireChat 1.3 for iOS (iPhone screenshot 003)

Why would you want to limit your communication to people in your close proximity?

Granted, FireChat is no replacement for Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and other popular messaging apps. Its key appeal lies in the fact that users can easily create ad hoc communities anywhere, without the need for a network signal.

This is quite handy in situations when there’s no cellular/Wi-Fi connectivity – like when on a plane, at the beach or camping – or when networks are congested, which typically happens at crowded venues like concerts, festivals and so forth.

Some of the highlights include:

  • Instantly message anyone around you on iPhone, iPad or iPod touch
  • Chat and share photos with one person or with a group
  • See what people are talking about everywhere, or create conversations that only people near you can join
  • Works even without any Internet connection or any type of mobile coverage
  • “Nearby chat” works best within 30 feet of your location
  • Easy: no Facebook or email login, no password to remember
  • Use it at home or when traveling anywhere in the world
  • No significant impact on battery consumption

From Apple’s description of the Multipeer Connectivity Framework in iOS 7:

The Multipeer Connectivity framework supports the discovery of nearby devices and the direct communication with those devices without requiring Internet connectivity.

The Multipeer Connectivity framework provides support for discovering services provided by nearby iOS devices using infrastructure Wi-Fi networks, peer-to-peer Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth personal area networks and subsequently communicating with those services by sending message-based data, streaming data, and resources (such as files).

 This framework makes it possible to create multipeer sessions easily and to support reliable in-order data transmission and real-time data transmission. With this framework, your app can communicate with nearby devices and seamlessly exchange data.

Apple with iOS 7 has the first major mainstream implementation of wireless mesh networking. This under-appreciated feature could become indispensable in the context of wearable devices, methinks.

To learn more about FireChat, please visit the Open Garden website.

You can download FireChat free in the App Store.

The app requires iOS 7.0 or later.

What do you think of FireChat?

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  • David Watts

    genius. just genius

  • http://mrmodzix.yolasite.com/ MrModZix

    Remind me why I’d want to message someone that’s really close to me? ._.

    • ✪ aidan harris ✪

      Perhaps the person that’s really close to you is deaf and since you may not know sign language it might be easier to just communicate with them through a messaging app such as this one…

    • http://www.idownloadblog.com/author/dujkan Christian Zibreg

      maybe you’re at the movies or at a concert or hiking etc.

      • iThinkergoiMac

        Because we love those people who text during movies…

    • Waleed

      Not just a text. Also you can send and recieve photos and videos :) i’ve tried

      • ✪ aidan harris ✪

        How far can the range stretch. It would be interesting to see how big the mesh network could become and if for example it could extend to an entire area or city (i.e not close to you a big area)

      • Adan

        Read the article, and you will have your answer.

    • Nuno Xavier

      Imagine you’re on the living room watching tv and your more than everything is on the kitchen and you want a beer… There, you’re welcome :)

    • Falk M.

      I’ll give you an example of where it’d come in handy for me personally.
      I’ll attend this year’s Gamescom again, it’s the biggest gaming convention there is and the cellular network is congested like crazy. I shit you not, iMessage is the best you’ll get.
      So when I’m in one of those hour long queues again, I bet you 10 bucks I’ll be able to find some users of this app amongst those tens of thousands of geeky attendees.
      I’ll chat with the folks in my queue, I’ve had lovely chats there, but let’s be honest, sometimes you feel more like texting or maybe even finding people easily who share your other interests, etc etc… Pretty much the reasons why you can have a social life and still gang out in forums or chat rooms.

      The other party being close by, at least at the convention, you can meet up if you feel like it, which is quite fancy.

      • http://mrmodzix.yolasite.com/ MrModZix

        Ah, a good example. Thanks for explaining :).

      • Falk M.

        No problemo… If it wasn’t for Gamescom and similar stuff I wouldn’t find this app remotely as convenient as I do now.
        I’m curious to see how it’ll perform when I need it. Hehe :)

    • Alex Ruski

      it was never said really close to you… nearby ≠ from really close! It’s uses other users of FireChat to increase the range and reach!

  • Adam

    this is awesome, even though i have no use for it and i’m not updated to 7.1

    • Waleed

      It is not limited to 7.1. It is for 7.0 and 7.0 + :)

  • Rowan09

    This is a great application. I remember during 9-11 when towers and almost everything was down, so this can be very helpful in those situations.

  • Waleed

    I would like firechat to support Different Files sending also. As it only supports texts/photos/videos at the moment :(
    It should be like Airdrop.
    As there is no airdrop for iPhone 4 :(

  • http://www.appcast.fm/ Jeff Benjamin

    Great idea. Can’t wait to try this.

  • iThinkergoiMac

    It should be noted that you DO need a WiFi signal for this to work. You need the one generated by your phone and the one receiving it (as well as any in between). I saw the article and really wanted to know how they managed to pull this off with no wireless connectivity at all only to find out that they meant no external WiFi signal.

  • AndroidDogHeatandSteelersFan

    I want to see if this works on the plane!

  • mahe

    So why doesn’t it work if I disable cellular data?

  • Chintan Kankeshwar

    Simply Genius thought put to action..

  • Jonathan

    Wouldn’t it be easier just to walk 1 – 30 feet to talk to him/her?

  • Aliali

    Use airdrop and send notes to each other. That’s what I do on the train lol