Does your company need good internal communication? If yes, how do you go about achieving it? There’s Skype and Google Talk, but neither of these are very efficient at group conversations, and a lot of communication in a company must be received and understood by a group of people. Inviting everyone to a Skype chat is laborious, and on Google Talk — forget about it.
However, a third option allows easy group conversations with minimal effort. This application is called HipChat.
What is HipChat?
HipChat is a relatively new ‘up and coming’ form of business communication. The target market is businesses and formal groups. Think of it as a beautified and enhanced IRC service; just like in IRC, administrators create discussion rooms in which users can chat to each other. The administrator has to invite new users to these rooms in order for them to be used, helping maintain the exclusive and private feel of the conversations which take place.
The reason for HipChat’s popularity is that it is cross-platform and very easy to maintain. The desktop versions run on Adobe AIR, so Linux, Mac and Windows can all talk to each other without issue. This is very useful for a company that runs different services and operating systems, since nobody is left out.
The first time you load HipChat you are asked for a username and password. If you press Menu > Settings and scroll down to the bottom of the list, you can tick ‘Save Password’ to stop you having to enter it each time you load the app.
Once fully loaded and synchronised, you should find yourself in the ‘lobby’ area. Here you can see the discussion rooms that are available to you, as well as all the registered users in your company. The Android version of HipChat shares the simple layout and colour scheme of the computer version (see screenshots below). Everything is neat, easily understood and manageable.
On the left is the list of Rooms and Users available to me. On the right is a half-scrolled list of users.
The screenshot below is the desktop version of HipChat, you can immediately see the similarities and which aspects have been brought across to the Android version.
As far as I can make out, everything that the desktop version can do, the Android version replicates on a smaller scale. Whilst using HipChat on my phone I certainly didn’t notice or feel like anything was missing or neglected. The application is minimalist but nice on the eyes; smooth-flowing and pleasant to use.
The chatting process itself resembles IRC tremendously, as you can see in these screenshots. All messages are given a timestamp so you can work out the rate of conversation, and a simple grid seperates names from messages. If required, one-to-one messages can be sent to a specific person – useful if something private needs to be discussed, or if you don’t want to clog up the public discussion area.
Something I am always fond of in an application like this is the ability for it to run in the background. Pressing the Home button or toggling back to another application will leave HipChat operational in the background. If your name is mentioned in a chatroom or you are messaged directly, the icon will change colour to notify you. Pull the notification panel down from the top of the screen, tap HipChat, and you are right in there. Not only are the notifications and quick resume convenient, they are also time-savers.
You can toggle the types of alerts you receive through HipChat’s settings. Within HipChat, press the Menu key, then tap Settings. At the top you should see “Push Notifications (C2DM)”. Toggle the tickboxes to reflect how you wish to be notified. Underneath these settings you can select whether or not to also receive audio and vibration alerts. Beneath this is the ‘Save Password’ toggle I mentioned earlier, and a ‘Logout when inactive’ toggle (this helps to save on battery).
You won't forget HipChat is running in the background. It keeps itself announced in your notifications.
HipChat is not a drain on the battery! Definitely not a noticeable one. The reason for this is that HipChat uses ‘Cloud To Device Messaging’ (C2DM) technology to alert you of messages. Instead of your phone constantly talking to a server to check for new messages (which would drain the battery), the HipChat server sends the messages straight to your phone, and receiving data takes an insignificant amount of power compared to sending it.
Pick Up Where You Left Off
If you leave the conversation or lose your internet signal, HipChat talks to the server on startup and grabs all of the conversation history that you missed. It then merges this with the portions of the conversation which you saw, meaning you can scroll back and check on what you missed without even noticing your phone lost contact with the server.
Use It in Landscape
Every part of HipChat will go into landscape mode if you tilt your phone sideways. This means that if you have a phone with a big screen (like the HTC Desire HD) you will be able to see more conversation and users at the same time.
Quick and Easy Signing Out
Press your phone’s Menu button, then tap Sign Out. That’s it. A process which is simple, quick, and definitely doesn’t involve a load of hassle like other applications (e.g Skype).
If you log into HipChat from your phone, the desktop counterpart is automatically signed out. When you get back to the office you have to sign in again. This isn’t much of a niggle if you have your password saved, but would soon become one if you worked somewhere in which having programs remember passwords is forbidden, or where the machines get regular preference wipes or formatting.
Another low point is that there are no real graphics at all. Zilch. I think some people may grow tired of the simple black text and white background. I am sure it wouldn’t hurt HipChat to include a little more decoration than just shading the title bars.
Why Is This Application Significant?
Businesses who already utilise HipChat can prod their employees to run this on their phones — and if they do, then everyone is always available to chat to each other if something crops up. Plus a gentle ‘beep’ from HipChat is far more polite and gentle on an already shattered businessman than a phone call.
The application runs on iPhones too, so regardless of whether your colleagues show off Desire HDs, Evo 4Gs, or iPhone 4s, you are all connected.
The Android application itself is free to download. If your company does not use HipChat then they will need to subscribe, which costs from $9/month. Companies who already do use HipChat needn’t pay any additional charge for the Android application; just install it, log in, and then you are good to go.
This is a great companion to the desktop version of HipChat and helps you stay connected with your colleagues while on the move. The application is lightweight and not a drain on your phone’s battery or resources. It is also pleasantly laid out and easy to use. If you use HipChat regularly on a computer then I recommend you extend your online availability by running this application on your phone.
I give HipChat 9/10, due to its efficiency, stability and user-friendly nature. I knocked one mark off for the very basic interface. It may be extremely efficient, but of course some users will want more than the same grids and text day-in-day-out. There are not even any settings to toggle to a slightly higher graphical level.
However 9/10 means I think is a very good application! If your company uses HipChat for internal communication, this Android application is definitely worth getting.