Between phone calls, text messages, Snapchats, tweets, and Facebook, there’s no shortage of ways for people to ping you on your smartphone. Into this cattle car of digital communicators comes design firm Ideo with ChitChat, a new voice messaging app for iOS that is one part voice mail, one part Snapchat, and one part walkie-talkie, all with a minimum of visual cruft.
The idea behind ChitChat is fairly straightforward. The easiest way to send a message to someone on a mobile device is still through voice, but making a phone call to a friend places a demand upon their immediacy, or that person’s ability to talk to you right then, right there, with no information about how long the conversation will last or what it will be about. In an always-on, mobile-first era where a thousand information streams at once are constantly vying for our attentions, demanding someone’s immediacy just seems increasingly uncouth and boorish. And voicemail doesn’t solve the problem, because it just defers immediacy: getting a voicemail implies someone wants you to call them back.
This is a problem even smartphone makers are beginning to recognize. In iOS 8, Apple will allow users to send voice recordings to friends through the Messages app. But while those messages stick around until they are manually deleted, ChitChat’s self-destruct after you listen to them, making your conversation a bit more ephemeral. Voice messages can be deferred to a more convenient or private time. It’s the equivalent of having a conversation on a two-way radio that you can pause.
Coming from Ideo, ChitChat is, of course, beautifully designed. The entire interface is made up of bubbles, made up of your conversations. To send a ChitChat to an existing user, all you have to do is hold down the bubble and talk; release, and the message is whisked into the digital ether and sent to your friend. There’s no history: when you listen to a ChitChat, it’s deleted. You only have one chance to hear it.
You can also send ChitChats to your iPhone contacts, although they will only receive a text message inviting them to install the app. The ring of each ChitChat bubble even changes color to let you know if your friend has heard all your messages, or is currently in the process of sending one. ChitChat even supports group messaging.
ChitChat is beautiful and easy to use, and unlike many messaging apps, the interactions are intimate enough that the service doesn’t need to reach critical mass for it to be useful. As long as you have a single person in your life that you want to send little voice messages to throughout the day, ChitChat has a place on your smartphone.
ChitChat can be downloaded for free from the App Store here.