Find nearby friends with Sonar, now on Android

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By Pete Davison Comment

Sonar is a location-aware social networking app for mobile devices. The app has been available for iOS for a while now, but has recently launched on Android devices, bringing the service to a wider audience.

This app was tested on a Motorola Xoom tablet running Android 4.0.4. No major issues were encountered.

Sonar is designed to complement existing services (including Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and LinkedIn) rather than attempt to establish its own mobile-social network. This is perhaps wise, as despite the fact more and more mobile-only networks appear on a seemingly daily basis, users are still, for the most part, locked in to more established cross-platform services. This isn’t to say Sonar doesn’t have its own identity, however — but providing its own discrete experience is not necessarily its primary goal.

Sonar’s main use is to locate friends or nearby people the user might know. It does this by polling all the social networks the user connects to the app and then using location data to point people in the direction of nearby people as well as providing an alternative means to connect with more far-off friends.

Upon starting the app for the first time, Sonar retrieves the user’s current location and displays a list of “future friends” in the nearby area. Users are able to share short status messages via Sonar at any time, and these are broadcast publicly to anyone within range. Real names are used where possible, allowing people to potentially make real-life connections through these broadcast messages — examples could include impromptu meetings of local professionals in a particular sector, work outings where not everyone has each other’s number or social network details, or simply a means for people to find new friends.

Once a person has been located, the user can make use of the app’s Google Maps connectivity to see exactly where they are and go and find them. If the user also has publicly-visible social networking accounts visible, it’s also possible to browse information like their recent Twitter feed. If both users have connected their Twitter accounts to the app, it’s possible to share a short “I found you!” message, allowing for a potential connection. A “fake friend” known as Andy Roid also has its location spoofed near to the user’s location, allowing them for a “test run” of the social features as they see fit.

Once users are connected with one another via social networks, they show up in each others’ “friends” lists and at this point gain the capability to message each other directly with Sonar. Messages are subsequently stored in the “inbox” section of the app alongside an activity feed showing what nearby friends are up to. Friends who are far away do not reveal their specific map location to the user, but may still be messaged.

Sonar is a simple app, but it does what it does in a straightforward and effective manner. Its usefulness depends entirely on how many other local users there are in the vicinity (or whether a user is able to convince their “real-life” network of friends to download and use the app) but, assuming there is some takeup in the local area, it works as an effective means of connecting people with one another and allowing for the coordination of local events. Its functionality is, overall, a little limited — the ability to create more in-depth profiles or at least pull additional information from other social networks would be beneficial, for example — but in not trying to do too much at once it remains an elegant app with a clear function, and the addition of Android support now means it can find an even wider, cross-platform audience than before.

The iOS version of Sonar is currently ranked No. 176 in the Social Networking apps category of the App Store leaderboards. The recent release on Android means that there are not yet any download figures to review, but check back shortly to follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.