chain of devices to extend the reach of a local network. If this works, a FireChat user sitting in the right-field bleachers of a baseball game would be able to text with a friend on the other side of the stadium if enough other iPhone users in the ballpark also are on FireChat.
This extended range will be available immediately on FireChat's Android app because Open Garden released a mesh networking app for that operating system nearly two years ago.
FireChat's iPhone app piggybacks on an often overlooked feature called the Multipeer Connectivity Framework that Apple Inc. included in its latest mobile operating system, iOS 7, released last September. Apple says more than 80 percent of people using its mobile devices rely on iOS 7.
For now, Android phones and iPhones with the FireChat app won't be able to engage in off-the-grid conversation. Open Garden, though, believes it will eventually be able to make mesh networking work on phones running on different operating systems.
As the mesh networking software improved, Benoliel realized Open Garden needed to come up with application to demonstrate what the technology could do. In that practical sense, FireChat is similar to the word processing and spreadsheet programs that Microsoft released decades ago to help broaden the appeal of its Windows operating system for personal computers, said Christophe Daligault, Open Garden's marketing chief.
FireChat's development was driven by the popularity of other mobile messaging apps such as Snapchat and WhatsApp that enabled smartphone users to text and send pictures to their friends and family without having to pay smartphone carriers.
Like texts and photos sent on Snapchat, nothing transmitted through FireChat is saved. All content evaporates once the app is closed. FireChat also allows all its users to remain anonymous, another feature that is becoming popular on a variety of mobile messaging apps, such as Wickr and Rumr.
There still aren't enough people using FireChat to ensure users will find someone nearby to message. To pique people's interest in the app, FireChat offers an "everyone" option that allows users to enter a digital chat room with up to 80 other random users located in the same country. This option requires a Wi-Fi or cellular connection.
Dailigault concedes FireChat's chat room isn't as high-minded as mesh networking.
"We are finding a lot of people are using it when they are just looking for something to do for a few minutes," Dailigault said. "Some of the discussions there