Rounds: group video chat with up to 12 of your friends
My son is at that age where he’s curious how me and his mom met and kept in touch. I explained that we met in college a long time ago and things bonded. Being both from 2 cities 300+ kilometers away (no need to convert this to miles, if you’re from US just consider this a synonym for “far away”) it was a challenge to keep in touch during holiday breaks. I told him that I had to walk for 1 hour each Saturday evening to call his mom from a public phone. Then we’d speak for a few minutes on the phone, then back home, another week and again the routine continued all through the holiday. Later when bulky mobile phones became affordable, we’d still have challenges finding spots with signal so usually the highest tree in the backyard solved that.
His response was a sincere That’s so sad dad, so sad. I really feel pity for you. Long-distance conversations are only a tap away these days and above all they can be free too. So on some level I agree with him, technology has gotten us so far, yet I still rejoice at the thought of my gadget-free childhood.
Keeping in touch with friends and family is what defines a healthy relationship. Sure, ideally all conversations would be in person but that’s practically impossible. Enter video calling. There are dozens of apps that allow you to use your smartphone and have a video chat with your close ones (for some reason in my mind “video chat” has a sexy resonance, so I’ll use “video calls” from now on). Out of personal experience (with video call apps that is) I can tell you that few apps are really worth trying. ROUNDS is one of them.
In early 2008 Israeli entrepreneurs Dany Fishel, Ilan Leibovich and Dimitry Shestek created GixOO, a social entertainment platform. It offered real-time cross platform video communications and the first product released using it was 6Rounds. Just like Facebook was originally called TheFacebook, 6Rounds later became just Rounds. And just like Facebook at one point (roughly 4 years after launch), Rounds has a userbase of 25 million users, growth fueled by the ~$22 million investment from venture capitalists.
The initial version of Rounds was focused on speed-dating. Basically through its interactive games the app helped possible future couples break the ice and awkwardness of first virtual dates. Soon after the app evolved and became a communication platform that helps worldwide users break the distance barrier.
Rounds is cross-platform which basically means you can have a video call from an Android phone with someone else that’s on iOS. I believe adopting the cross-platform path added to its success. Once it’s on your phone, it is a breeze to add friends and talk with them, you just need to connect your Facebook account. The requirement to sign-in via Facebook is a way to ensure that you call/talk only with people you had a pre-existent friendship condition. Initially the app allowed calling other users randomly, however given that around 10% of its user-base consisted of teens under 25 years, they decided to increase user privacy and require either Facebook/Whatsapp integration or being a mobile contact. It might have hurt a bit in user numbers on the short term, but on the long term it helped.
After you connect your Facebook account you’ll be able to invite your friends to Rounds or already connect with those that use the app. Once connected you’ll be able to text users or video call them, even start a group video chat with up to 12 of your friends (an entire football team or a big family). During my tests I noticed that the voice is crisp clear, video quality is great (via WiFi with no lagging) and you can also have fun.
This is where Rounds innovated, as during a call you can have fun with your interlocutor(s). You can play a game from several fun ones available (a Tetris look-alike, Chess, Checkers, …) or browse the internet in duo (useful on group shopping), watch YouTube videos together & other possibilities. Rounds goes beyond regular communication by integrating the live interaction. And it catches on, had a blast testing this with my son, he enjoyed especially the live face morphing effects you can apply. Rounds goes beyond your smartphone as it recently started supporting smartwatches too. So when you get a call from another contact in your Rounds, you’ll be able to answer/decline the call right from your wrist via the Android Wear notifications.
There are a lot of communication apps available, but few can match Rounds in terms of features (plus I believe they’re the first to introduce live interaction with your peers – i.e. gaming) – Skype for Android lost me a long time ago due to frequent crashing, so Rounds might be that replacement.
- Video Everything. The core feature of Rounds is now the video call option. Powered by Vidyo, it allows you to simply start a video chat with one of your existing friends. The quality is crisp clear and it works well over 3G, 4G / LTE and Wi-Fi. So if you have a good phone plan (or close-by WiFi) you can start video calls for free with other friends all over the world. Have a sister in another country? Use Rounds and save on international. Have a brother across the world? Video calls via Rounds solves that. Is your mother in law in another country? Well, lucky you then, just tell her international calls are expensive. Where Rounds differentiates from the competition is the group video part. You can have a video call with up to 11 other friends at once. If you have a large family that might be something good. Guess that could work for business video chats as well – though this means your boss should be your friend via Facebook, not good unless your boss is the sexy dentist played by Jennifer Aniston in Horrible Bosses.
- Play Games. That’s something unusual for a communications app, but Rounds lets you play games with your friends during the call/chat session. I’ve been raised in a family where communication was monosyllabic (imagine The Croods) and that remains a habit until this day when I talk with my sister. So with Rounds I can call her, exchange our usual 50 words and then play. Sure that’s one way to use the gamification of video conversations, but you can also use it just to have a bit of fun with your friends. And since this started as a dating app, the gaming part helped break the ice. You can play Jungle Bungle (sort of like Candy Crush), Sky Tumble (a simpler Tetris), PenPals (Draw Something clone), the usual Chess/Checkers/Backgammon and a bunch more.
- Have Fun. Aside playing games, during a conversation you can also have fun. Not the kind of fun you have when video chatting with your wife/girlfriend after 1 month since she went working in another town, but the kind of fun where you share common interest visually. I feel I have to be more
explicitprecise. Together with your collocutor you can watch videos together (from YouTube), browse the web to buy a present for your mutual friend, take snapshots and share photos together, scribble/draw and a lot more. You can even listen to music or start a group karaoke. And yes, you can also draw a mustache (virtually) over the image of your friend.
- Wear Integration. If you own an Android smartwatch (they’re still working on Wear’s hipster brother, Apple) you can answer Rounds calls right from your wrist. You can see who is calling and decide if you’ll answer or decline that right from the watch notification.
- Cross-platform Support. Rounds is on iOS and Android, so you can call your friends that have an iPhone even if you own the (better) Samsung Galaxy. Still no Windows Mobile version, but that might be due to its tiny market share. Rounds is also available as Rounds Live, an extension you can install on your browser (i.e. Chrome) and have a video chat session with your friends while watching together a live show, sport events or having joint shopping.
- Social Integration. You can only log-in if you have a Facebook account, but the upside is that you can connect instantly with your existing friends that use Rounds – if they don’t, you can opt to invite them. Don’t worry, you can access mobile contacts too. A small inconvenience is that you won’t be able to switch between different Rounds/Facebook account, so a bit tricky if you have a shared tablet and you don’t want to call your wife’s friends (or maybe you do).
- Chats & Calls. When it comes to chatting you can have a more impersonal (than video) conversation with your friends. You can include lots of emoticons, from the eternal heart to the practical beer mug, so this is good for any chatting occasion. Oh and obviously that you can also have regular voice calls with the option to put the conversation on speaker.
If you’re looking for a video chat app, Rounds is a good choice. If you’re looking for a group video chat app, Rounds is an excellent choice. I like how you can do much more than simply talking and my son was particularly amused by the Instagram-like effects you can apply in real-time to your video chat partner. You can choose Rounds with confidence because it is growing and growing fast – judging by the $$$ infused recently through venture capital, I’d say we’ll soon see some incredible growth.
So how about you, have you tried Rounds yet, any comments? If you haven’t, use the links below and do yourself a favor, you won’t be disappointed.