July 23, 2012 at 3:36 PM ET
A new iPhone app lets users share links and files wirelessly — but instead of Wi-Fi, NFC or Bluetooth, it uses soundwaves. The phone will "chirp" a short sound clip, quite like a birdsong, in which is encoded the location of a picture or website.
It's made by a British company called Animal Systems, which modeled the app on the way birds and other wild animals communicate. They can get across a simple message to their immediate vicinity quickly and easily, something that smartphones have trouble with; other wireless methods require phones to be synced and aware of each other, and getting files out to multiple people can be a pain.
With Chirp, your friends just need to be within hearing range. Using the app, you upload your picture or link to their cloud hosting service, which assigns it a unique address. Then, when the others are ready and have their app open and listening, you hit a button and your phone will make a musical little noise — in fact, it is the unique address of that file, transposed into sound.
The others receive it immediately and their phones download it from the central server. If they don't have any signal, the app will remember the location and download it later. The BBC has a video of the app in action.
It's convenient in a way, and could be used for promotion within a store as well as sharing between devices; a chirp could contain a coupon or announce a sale, for instance.
The question is whether Chirp can make itself more than a parlor trick; although it is unique, it may not be useful for people who already have a dozen ways of transmitting things to their friends. The fact that everyone must have their phones out and running the app adds friction to the process, as does having to upload your photos to Chirp's own servers instead of, say, Facebook or Instagram.
If you like the idea, you can try it out now for free; it's only on iPhone now, but an Android version is coming. But you'll need a few friends to sign up too, or you'll just be chirping to yourself.
Devin Coldewey is acontributing writer for NBC News. His personal website iscoldewey.cc.