25 March 2020
As people stay home to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus, many are using video calling services to stay connected to the outside world.
Today we examine some of the top technology tools designed to help improve communication for learning, work and social life.
One of the most widely used video calling services is Zoom Cloud Meeting, which has many good features for both education and business. Zoom is currently listed as the most popular free app in Apple's App Store by industry data reporting company App Annie. Downloads of the app have risen sharply in recent weeks, as shutdowns of businesses, schools and transportation grew.
Zoom can be used on a computer or mobile device to hold high quality one-on-one video or voice calls or video conferences involving groups.
The company offers a "basic" free service that permits unlimited one-on-one meetings and group meetings of up to 100 people. The basic service limits group meetings to 40 minutes. Zoom also offers private messaging between users and groups, screen sharing and the ability to record meetings.
Zoom provides suggestions on its website for people seeking to use the service to improve work activities at home, as well as educational ideas for teachers, schools and parents. The app receives high ratings in the Apple and Google Play stores for video quality and technical reliability.
Another very similar service is Microsoft-owned Skype, which began in 2003 as an early example of free voice, video and messaging technology over the internet. Skype can be used on computers or mobile devices to make high quality video and voice calls for individuals and groups. It also includes messaging, personal and group chat and screen sharing.
The service is free for Skype-to-Skype calls worldwide. But users have to pay for some services, such as calling a landline or mobile phone or sending text messages.
One of the most popular services for remote workers is Slack, which offers video and voice calls and messaging. The free version permits one-on-one video and voice calls between team members. There is a cost for calls involving additional team members and other services. Slack also offers special programs to support educational organizations and student groups.
Other popular video calling services for home-based workers include Microsoft Teams and Google's Hangouts Meet. Both offer a series of powerful tools to link employees to company systems and co-workers. The downside of these services is that they are designed to be used with other Microsoft and Google products.
On the personal side, Facebook Messenger has become one of the most popular apps for video calls by users of the social media service. In fact, Facebook data shared with the news website CNET showed a 70 percent jump last week in people using Messenger to take part in group video calls.
In addition, the number of voice and video calls on Facebook's WhatsApp service more than doubled year-over-year in places most affected by the virus, CNET reported. Groups of up to four people can connect through video on WhatsApp.
Apple's FaceTime is another way to easily connect with friends and family, as long as all users have Apple devices. Video calls can be one-on-one or involve groups of up to 32 people.
For Android device users, there is Google Duo, which can also be used to hold individual and group video calls.
For more of a group "video party" experience, there is an app called Houseparty, which is available for both Apple and Android users, as well as on computers. Houseparty is not new, but downloads of the app recently saw a huge increase to about 210,000 per day, the French Press Agency AFP reported.
Houseparty has become popular with homebound people who are used to going out with family and friends to restaurants and bars. The app brings people together to socialize as if they were out together - sometimes with alcohol, music, dancing and games.
One user of the app based in the United States, Amaya Howard, told AFP the video meetup is one way to relax and take a break from non-stop coronavirus news – at least temporarily.
"The idea came about of doing a happy hour - we just get on the app and just drink wine and talk," Howard said. "Mostly it's about a lot of randomness, but occasionally someone will say, 'I just can't believe how crazy what's going on is.'"
I'm Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on online sources. Hai Do was the editor.
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Words in This Story
feature – n. a typical quality or important part of something
screen – n. a flat area on an electronic device where images can be seen
reliability – n. ability to be trusted or believed
chat – n. an informal talk with someone
relax – v. to become happy and comfortable because nothing is worrying you
random – adj. done or chosen without any plan or system
occasionally – adv. not happening often