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Tribe Mixes The Best Of Text And Video Chat

Tribe is a mobile-only messenger that you can control with a single finger like a video chat walkie talkie.

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Although it's the most dominant form of communication in the mobile age, text messaging isn't particularly convenient. We put up with typing on our tiny, error-prone keyboards because it beats the alternative: intrusive phone or video calls that can neither be put off nor segmented into bite-sized messages like text can.

Tribe is a messaging app for iOS and Android that's the best of both text and video messaging. It has all the immediacy of FaceTime, with the asynchronous, take-it-when-you-want-it quality of text messaging. And because it works like a face cam walkie-talkie for your smartphone, it's easier to use than both. As one Twitter user colorfully noted, it's as if Snapchat and Periscope made a baby.

To start recording a short video message to a friend in Tribe, you press your finger on a contact; to send, you take your finger off the screen. It goes into their Tribe inbox, and they can then watch it when they have a moment. The contact screen in Tribe takes some tricks from Windows' Metro UI: it's a tile-based grid of your most common contacts, with a little digital compact mirror in the lower corner of the screen, showing your webcam view. The most recent messages from your Tribe show as animated previews, which you can tap to view. By default, Tribe wants you to send short video messages, but you can also send audio only messages (you turn off the webcam by tapping on the digital compact mirror), or even self-destructing text messages which disappear after 24 hours.

What sets Tribe apart from other messaging apps is how it feels utterly native to mobile, in a way that iMessage or WhatsApp doesn't. You hold down on a contact's tile to send a message; you tap a contact to see her latest incoming Tribe message. To search for a contact, you drag down from the top of the Tribe home screen, which scrolls through your address book automatically. And so on. Nearly everything in Tribe has been designed so that the app can be used with one hand. Even adding a new contact is as easy as entering your smartphone's security code, thanks to a fantastic system in which contacts share pins, not usernames.

That was by intent. "We built Tribe because we thought that mobile messaging started as a copycat of desktop messaging apps," says Tribe CEO Cyril Paglino. That was great initially, because you could reach your contacts from everywhere, but it also meant that mobile messaging apps inherited the UIs of the desktop apps that preceded them, just in a compromised form. Tribe was created with the idea of approaching messaging UIs from a truly mobile-first perspective.

It's an approach that seems to be paying off. Millions of messages have been sent using Tribe since it launched in 2015, and momentum is building: for the past few months, the app's user base has consistently grown by 10% week-over-week. Paglino says new features are in the works, too, but only if the team can figure out how to integrate them while staying true to the simplicity at the core of the Tribe design ethos.

"Even though they start simple, cool products tend to become complex over time," say Paglino, introducing cognitive load and driving users away. That's a mistake Tribe is eager to avoid. No matter how powerful it becomes, Tribe wants to be the simplest mobile messenger out there, forever. Download Tribe here.

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