There are a lot of instant messaging apps out there for Android and iOS, none of which differentiate themselves in any hugely significant way. The most interesting is Apple's revitalised iMessage, set to launch in iOS 10 alongside the new iPhone 7. A new cross-platform app from a Brisbane startup called Amity, though, promises the lion's share of iMessage's glossy new features along with real-time features that only activate when two (or more) participants are actively chatting.
Amity is brand new, barely a week old. It's still in beta on Android, with the small eight-person-strong team starting first on iOS and building features into Android as they go. But the bootstrapped team has spent two years developing it, and that's evident from the diverse set of features it already has.
All the regular unified messaging features are there — you can have one-on-one or group chats, send photos or video or voice snippets, share your location, and so on. Those aren't unique, even though the layout makes it easily understandable in the same way that Apple's iMessage has always boasted. You can even request photos or locations, halfway between a loving thought and MSN Messenger's goddamn annoying 'nudge' feature from the earlier days of the 'net.
But if Amity had a hook, something to draw you in, it would be its various Live Mode extras. When two people are in the same chat window, Amity lets you throw up a high-five that your chat partner can tap to complete — or they can leave you hanging, if you high-fived without good reason. (You can high-five yourself, though — which is just about the best thing ever.)
Other Live Mode hooks also take (sometimes heavy) inspiration from various other apps and funnel them into a single app. Like Periscope, you can unleash a stream of live emoji that float to the top of the screen. Like Snapchat's memories, you can jump through your history to quickly find any link or photo or document that you've ever shared. All these work one-on-one or in groups, too.
There's only one thing that might work against Amity, and that's the fact that it doesn't boast any integrated encryption out of the box. With the good work done by Edward Snowden in making people aware of being monitored by the powers that be, and the guys at Open Whisper Systems at providing a chat platform that is secure, it seems like a potential oversight — but one that's possible to overcome.
Without the peace of mind that comes from built-in secure messaging features, Amity might quickly become overshadowed by the rising success of from-the-ground-up encrypted apps like Signal, or the massive inertia of mature services like iMessage and Whatsapp. But Amity is new and the team has built an impressive and widely featured app — we're excited to see where it might go. [Amity — iOS / Android]