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FireChat is a new way to chat "off the grid" but caution is advised

FireChat (free) is one of the new generation of apps that lets you communicate to nearby iOS devices without Internet or mobile phone coverage. It shows you other people who are local to you, say on the same camping trip, and you can chat or share images using Apple's Multipeer Connectivity Framework, which can use WiFi or Bluetooth to connect two or more devices. You'll have to be able to run AirDrop to get it all to work, and that includes all iPhone 5 models, the fourth-generation iPad, the iPad mini, and fifth-generation iPod touch models. My older iPad would not work at all.

The app also lets you use standard Internet connectivity to participate in a running conversation with FireChat users anywhere in the world.

There are no logins or accounts required, and no setup. Everything is open, and that is the blessing and the curse of this app. You have no way to filter who contacts you, so at a venue like a basketball game you could be deluged with abuse. The range of the app is about 30 feet.

When I selected 'everywhere' from the menu, which makes FireChat not local, I saw hundreds of racist remarks, silly comments about the Malaysian Air incident, and just vile insults. If that's the freedom of the Internet, most people won't be interested.

The idea of FireChat is good, set up a quick ad-hoc network for an event and chat away with no setup or complicated configuration. But the global chat needs an off button, and I think for even the local chats you should be able to filter out abusers.

As it stands, FireChat is a clever idea undermined by the very openness it touts as an advantage. I watched as conversations in FireChat got really ugly quickly. FireChat isn't a universal app. As stated above, it needs newer hardware that can run AirDrop. FireChat is optimized for the iPhone 5 and requires iOS 7 or greater to run.

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