Voxer: What iMessage Should Be

The iPhone has a bunch of features that most folks never make use of. For instance, many never make use of the built in iOS emoticons. This is mainly because you have to jump through a few hoops to activate the little pictures, but once you do you'll have them for as long as you own your phone.

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There are a lot of seldom used features that, truth be told, Apple could do a better job of promoting. A grand example of this is the Voice Memos app. Here we have a simple tool for creating and managing voice memos. People don't use it often because, well...it's a voice memo app. Few besides doctors and lawyers can make any real use of voice memos, right?

Not so! It only takes a bit of imagination to find a zillion uses for voice memos. Studying a language? Record yourself to see how you sound and improve your diction. In a hurry and need to get that phone number from that drop-dead gorgeous girl in the cafe? Have her speak it to your phone. Is there a random engine noise in your car that disappears whenever you take it into the mechanic? Hunt that sound down with your phone and prove to the mechanic you're not crazy.

I could go on, but you get the idea. My favorite use of voice memos is to record my thoughts and send them off to my friends and family. My daughter gets a voice message each morning. It's better than a phone call because my voice is recorded in relative high fidelity, especially when compared to a standard phone call, and it doesn't require that she answers right away, or even be near her phone when I talk to her. The message sits patiently in her SMS/MMS window or inbox until she's ready to hear it. I like that a lot.

What would be cooler still if voice messages were somehow incorporated in my phone so that if my daughter is listening she can reply immediately, and maybe combine real time texting and other media so I can send voice messages, photos, movies, and speak phone-like all through one app.

The folks who developed Voxer were likely thinking along those lines, and what they've created is pretty darn cool.

Voxer Walkie-Talkie PTT is a mouthful of a name, but it accurately describes what this app's primary functions are. Like those walkie-talkies we had as kids, you can push the "Talk" button and send a voice message to any one or to a group of your Voxer using friends. The difference is that you select who you talk to initially instead of leaving it up to fate and the intensity of sunspot activity. But Voxer is much more than that.


Think of Voxer as iMessage on steroids. You can hold a real-time push-to-talk conversation, delayed response conversations, text, and send pix and movies all through the same app. Find a friend by email and send him of her a message.

It's easy, just press the "hold and talk" area at the bottom of the Voxer screen and start yammering. When you're done, just release. Your message is sent immediately via WiFi or your cellular data service. If the person you aimed you message at has his or her phone handy (with Voxer loaded, of course) they'll get a notification. Hang around for their reply and you can chat it up verbally in almost real time.

If your chat mate can't or won't chat at that moment, no worries. The message you sent will hang around, just like a text message, waiting for the party to listen. That's the feature I like most. Phone calls require immediate responses, but a Voxer call does not. I like that.

VoxerHere's a list of active Voxer chats

You can add up to 5 people to a Voxer call. It's kind of like a controlled party line where everyone gets a chance to speak. Furthermore, you can block and refuse calls. And there are privacy settings so that only those who know your email address can contact you. I like that too.

Sound quality, while not nearly as good as a straight up voice message, is not bad at all, and I'd say its better than what you get with most phone calls. I have noticed a few times when the app garbles what was said and you wind up asking the other person to repeat. The quality of your message is largely dependent on the quality of your connection, according to the folks who make Voxer. They also attempt to reduce the size of the resulting voice file so as to keep Voxer's data use footprint as small as possible.

VoxerEasily mix voice, text, photos, and movie in the same chat session

If there's a downside to Voxer it is the fact that it relies on an Internet connection to work, which means it will make use of your anemic data plan. It would be nice, for instance, if there was a switch and a bit of logic that lets Voxer work only when connected to a hot spot. Any message sent to you while not on WiFi would be held at the server until you connected. I could even see that as being a paid-for service, as long as it were cheap.

Voxer is free, which is why I'm featuring it in Free on iTunes. You have to have yet another account to use it, but you can let it use your Facebook account if you want. I'd rather it take my iTunes account instead, but you can register with any email account for it to work.

VoxerI can add 4 more to this chat session

I like Voxer so much that I think Apple should buy them and incorporate Voxer into iMessage. That would totally rock because Voxer has an Android version as well, and this would expand Apple's iMessage reach dramatically and actually make that app something people would want to use.

Push to talk voice, text, video, and photo messaging all in one usable app. Give it shot, I think you'll like Voxer too.

And that's a wrap for this week. More free stuff next week, right here on Free on iTunes.