What do the likes of Google Hangouts, Microsoft’s Skype, OoVoo, and even Facebook Messenger have that Apple’s FaceTime doesn’t? If your answer is support for group video chat, then you’re absolutely right. But if a recent rumor is to be believed, this answer won’t hold for much longer. According to a new report, the next major version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 11, is set to finally introduce support for group video chat in FaceTime. Of course, we won’t get to find out for certain until the release of iOS 11 in the fall, or at least until Apple announces the new features in the software at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June. Fortunately, people who are looking to video-chat with friends need not wait even just a minute, given that there are already a great many group video chat apps to choose from on iOS. These include, most prominently, the official iOS apps of the aforementioned FaceTime competitors. But there’s one group video chat app that, while not so high-profile, is nonetheless something that you’d do well to check out as an interesting alternative to “group FaceTime.” The app in question is Houseparty, which is notably developed by the makers of a once-popular video sharing app.
Where did it come from?
You might not have heard of Houseparty, which was officially launched just last fall, but you’ve probably heard of its spiritual predecessor, Meerkat, which was shut down at around the same time. That’s right: The makers of Houseparty are the same folks behind the now-defunct live-video streaming app that was quite popular until the spotlight was stolen from it by Facebook Live and Twitter’s Periscope.
You might not have heard of Houseparty, but you've probably heard of its spiritual successor, Meerkat
Come to think of it, that Houseparty and Meerkat were created by the same people is not much of a stretch. After all, both apps are concerned with video sharing. It’s in their respective takes on the how and why of video sharing that they considerably differ. Meerkat was about streaming public live video broadcasts to many viewers, strangers as well as familiars. Houseparty, however, is about participating in private video chats with friends (up to seven of them, to be exact).
What’s the difference?
Now you might be wondering: If Houseparty offers group video chats, why not just use any of the more popular video chat apps like OoVoo and Skype?
Well, let’s start with the name. The app’s name is derived, of course, from “house party,” a type of gathering where groups of people meet up at the host’s residence to hang out and have fun. Houseparty is kind of like that, allowing groups of people to go online — or to use the app’s phrase, be “in the house” — and video-chat in so-called “rooms” with a laid-back atmosphere and without any obligations whatsoever.
Most other group video chat apps are used for specific purposes at specific times, like an OoVoo session to catch up with old friends or Skype meetings to discuss important matters with colleagues. More often than not, these chats are prearranged — the participants are informed and their attendance confirmed in advance. But Houseparty begs to differ in its championing of spontaneity and even inactivity in group video chats.
You see, in Houseparty, rooms are persistent virtual spaces that you can simply pop into and out of whenever you feel like it throughout the day. You are not compelled, either to enter or to leave, by the conventions and expectations otherwise attendant on group video chats.
You don’t even have to actually do anything while you’re in a room in Houseparty. In other apps, you’re supposed to accomplish something, whether it’s finalizing vacation plans or congratulating a friend on the birth of her baby. But in Houseparty, you can just lean back and chill, talk and laugh about whatever, stare at one another, go about your own business, or even do absolutely nothing. Anything goes.
And nothing else matters to Houseparty other than letting you participate in group video chats with your friends. This is evidenced by the app’s no-frills interface, which is little more than a camera screen that automatically splits to show the video feeds of up to eight participants. There are no texts and photos, no comments and likes, no masks and filters, no bells and whistles. Just an interface dedicated to free and easy group video chat.
How do you get the party started?
You can download Houseparty, which is optimized for iPhone and iPod touch, from the App Store for free.
After installing Houseparty on your iOS device, set up the app by signing up for an account. Enter your phone number and allow access to your contacts so that the app can show who among your friends are already using the app. If you’re not comfortable doing that, don’t worry: You can still connect with friends as long as you know their Houseparty usernames and invite friends to use the app via text message.
Once you’re in a room, you can opt to lock it to prevent others from entering it. If you don’t, your friends can simply hop in. Oh, and friends of any participants can join the party, too, enabling you to expand your circle of friends as you meet new people — like in a house party IRL.
Real-life house parties are usually associated with the young crowds. True to its name, Houseparty is evidently designed to appeal to the same demographic, from its tongue-in-cheek logo and tagline (a red solo cup, “Your friends on tap”) to its amusing use of emoji (e.g., a waving hand for calling the attention of friends who are online aka “in the house”). And the strategy seems to be working, with more than half of the app’s users being under the age of 24.
Anyway, young or old, if you don’t want to be late to the group video chat party, check out Houseparty now.