It's not often that a jaded veteran like me falls in love with an app. But it happened this week with a new app called Chirp. It's based on one of those rare technologies like HTTP or XML that at first seems trifling, but ends up changing everything. To oversimplify, Chirp uses sound to transmit words, pictures, and URLs from one phone to another. It's called Chirp, because its data transmission sounds like a robotic bird.
First, I'll tell you how Chirp works. Then I'll tell you why I think this bird has wings and could change how we all share data.
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How Chirp works
Chirp was created by a company called Animal Systems, which was a spinoff company by eggheads in the Computer Science Department at the University College London. The current version is for iOS only, but an Android version is coming soon. Here's how it works: To use Chirp, you open the app, and ask the recipient of your choice -- it could be one person or 10,000 people -- to open the app as well. You can take a picture with your phone, or choose a picture from your phone's camera roll. Alternatively, you can enter a note, or a website URL.
Chirp gives you a yellow button. Just press it, and a two-second chirp sends your content to everyone else within earshot. Your words or your picture pop up on their screens a second or two after the chirp sounds. But the data doesn't itself travel via sound. What happens is that the chirp sound contains two proprietary protocols -- an audio protocol and a network protocol.
Basically, the app first uploads your content to the cloud, then generates a code for the content, and converts that code into sound. It sends the sound, which is received by the other person's app, and then decodes it. It's basically an Internet link, which downloads the words or text from the cloud to their device.
It works offline, so you can send the chirp without a connection, and receive it without a connection, too. Later, when you connect, you'll get the picture or text. Surprisingly, it even functions in noisy environments because the app is optimized to listen for exactly the kinds of tones generated by the app.
Chirp is just one application of Animal Systems' technology. The technology could be used in an enormous number of other ways. And Animal Systems says it's hatching an API so developers can incorporate the technology into other products.