Phone calls and voicemail are things of the past. Now we have Skype, text messaging, Twitter, and Facebook. In all their popularity, though, these services don’t manage to modernize voicemail, they just eliminate it. That makes sense: most people don’t even care about that feature of their phones anyway.
A Different Kind of Minimalism
With most Mac apps, minimalism is defined as a basic user interface with a slim set of features. Not with Pling. This is the kind of app that jumps out at you with a contrasting appearance. The menu bar app doesn’t use any fancy animations to open, but it still manages to surprise you with its dark theme and sparing use of color.
Pling uses an orange and black theme as its main attraction. The dock icon is a gradient that goes from a subtle yellow to a light orange; the menu bar icon is a much more delicate gradient of orange with a grey center. Then there are the chat bubbles, which aren’t anything special. Comprised of stretched ovals, they nearly take up the width of the app.
The problem here is that there is no need to be so redundant in one-on-one chats. When there are just two participants, why display their names beside each message? Furthering that thought, why is there a time signature? Things would look a lot better if it was only shown upon hover.
Overall, the interface doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of OS X. This can be said for my other menu bar apps
It’s Incredibly Quick
Sending and receiving messages in this app requires very little bandwidth, so you can use it even on slower WiFi connections. When I send messages, the delivery is almost instantaneous. It’s the same when someone is recording one for me. Since Pling shows you when someone is recording (using a little “…” at the bottom of the message history) you will know how long it takes to receive the message. For me it was less than two seconds, even on audio that was nearly a minute long.
Conversing is Easy, But Somewhat Confusing
So, say you want to send a message to your friend. You open the app, click the + button, add him to the conversation, click and hold to record, and then wait for it to transfer. That seems like a bit much just to say a few words. If you look at it another way, saying a lot of words is even harder. You’ll need to hold your mouse button down the whole time, and that doesn’t sound appealing.
I don’t understand why there are no keyboard shortcuts in the app. If not those, how about some favorite contacts? Quick dial is a popular feature on traditional mobile phones and I’m sure people would use it here.
What It Needs
I discussed the qualities of this app in depth with Johnny Winter, the editor at Mactuts+. We came to the conclusion that there’s a lot of work to be done on the app before we would want to use it in our daily lives. The menu bar icon, for example, is in color. Since all the rest of mine are black and white, I’d like to keep the trend going, but there’s not an option for it. In fact, there are no preferences at all. The settings window only lets you log out and edit your account, and the latter is on a webpage.
Since we the app didn’t fare as well as we’d hoped, we drew up a list of things it needs.
- The dock icon is always visible and there’s not a button to hide it. Since it’s a menu bar app, this shouldn’t be the case.
- An audible cue letting you know when the recording has started would be nice.
- You can import your contacts once, but after that the app doesn’t refresh them, so any new email addresses you’ve added won’t show up.
- You get a notification that someone has sent you a message, but it’s with the in-app notifications. Why not use the more user-friendly Notification Center?
- When you receive a message, you can play it in the background while you continue work, but when it’s finished there’s no prompt to reply. I’d like to at least see a global shortcut for this, if not an automatic reply (with an option to switch it on and off).
- Setting an avatar is complicated. You must open the app, click the settings icon, and select Edit Profile. You will then be redirected to a webpage where you can upload an image. Why can’t it just be integrated?
The Idea is Still Great
Pling is by no means a complete disaster. It’s quite the opposite, actually. I like what the developers have done with the idea of voice messaging. Since there’s support for group messaging, it’s practical to use Pling for collaboration with a team, or just to quickly talk with a friend.
Now, we know Pling fulfills its purpose in a decent manner. Is it realistic? No, not really. I don’t see myself using it every day, and probably not even every week. It’s more of a circumstance app than anything. Like with Clear, it’s cool to see that people are using trackpads for more than just scrolling, but other than that it’s not very useful. As I sit here typing this, I try to think of a proper use for Pling, but most of them are just one-time applications. It’s a shame, really.