We're living in an app-culture, which means that your mobile device can easily be deployed as a personal, portable how-to guide, a handy reference in whatever time of need you find yourself, wherever you are -- as long your phone charge remains. What sort of things do humans need such on-the-go help with? Well, flirting. Earlier this month, Bob Tedeschi compiled a list of "apps to help singles flirt their way to romantic attachment" in the New York Times. We were curious. Did these seeming novelty apps actually work in any way other than to incite giggles? Could they indeed help romance spark and burn ahead, full-throttle? Is flirting the old-fashioned way for chumps? We enlisted help from Beth Griffenhagen, author of Haiku for the Single Girl, to test out a few of the new flirting apps on her recent evenings about town. Here's what she found:
Official description: "Ever wanted to catch the attention of that hot guy or girl across the room but felt too shy or nervous? Or perhaps the club you were in was too loud to try out your best chat up lines? If so, iFlirt4u is the iPhone app for you."
What it does: "This app flashes phrases like 'You are cute' across the screen of your phone one word at a time," Griffenhagen explains, "the idea being that if you're in a loud bar it removes the need to yell the same phrase repeatedly as the other person goes 'what'? It includes potentially useful phrases like 'You are hot' and 'Kiss me now,' and makes liberal use of pictures and emoticons in place of words like 'drink,' 'angel,' and 'lips.'"
What's good: "Flash 'I like you' on your phone, see how the person reacts, and if they're not into it just laugh it off as a joke and go back to your friends. It's nice to be able to flirt with a degree of separation -- the phone is essentially serving as an icebreaker, duh," says Griffenhagen. "To that end, this is really best used when you're out in a place that might be loud, but not too loud -- this is a conversation starter, not a conversation replacement."
What's bad: Some of the phrases. "I would never say 'Hey, hot lips' (with a picture of lips in place of the word), or "U R a 10," says Griffenhagen. "And some of the phrases have too many words --'Hi you are cute can I buy you a [picture of a girly looking martini]?' takes a long time to get through when you're flashing one word at a time. Out of 12 possible phrases I'd say 6 of them are worth trying out," she says.
How people reacted: Griffenhagen's guy friends agreed that "although it was cheesy and completely bizarre, if a girl flashed 'You are cute' their way in a bar, they'd probably go talk to her." As for her own test: "I planned to use it at a party that was sure to be loud and crowded, but un/luckily (perhaps because of the tips I got from the other app -- see below) I was on a date that carried over to the party I thought I'd be attending solo. I didn't want to let The Atlantic Wire down, so I flashed 'Kiss me now' on my phone. My date looked confused, even though he'd already kissed me earlier. I laughed and told him I was helping to review these flirting apps. 'Are you writing about this date?' he asked. 'What? Um... no...uh....,' I said, and then I kissed him. After a moment I flashed, 'You are cute,' and we both had a laugh. Maybe not the intended use, but I would call that a success."
Official description: "wikiHow provides the single best guide on how to flirt anywhere. Collaboratively written by 113 volunteer editors, it contains a wealth of life experience, step by step instructions, tips, and warnings neatly packed into one fun app. You should download it right now."
What it does: "This is a flirting how-to app that will guide you through all the steps of successful flirting interactions," says Griffenhagen. "It also gives helpful tips on the do's and don'ts of flirting, and includes an instructional video narrated by a woman with a fake-sounding Australian accent: 'Step 1, lower your expectations!' (I'll say)." However, our expert points out that going into a situation with too many expectations may gear you up for disappointment, and "if you're just flirting to see where it goes and keeping it light, you might be pleasantly surprised. So how do you flirt, once you're prepared to not expect too much? Eye contact, play with your hair, keep it light, they say."
What's good: "The advice seems really obvious, but it's all true and anyone can use a refresher. For a surly bitch such as myself it's good to be reminded that I should 'keep conversation light' and 'play with my hair,' says Griffenhagen. "It advises flirters not to talk about some strange hobby or interest at length unless the other person is really interested and asking a lot of questions, because it is likely you are boring them. Men who are obsessed with the Internet, take note! And, it reminds you to avoid complaining. People in general, take note! But really the advice is quite good: let go of neediness, make jokes without being 'on,' don't play with your phone, and don't flirt at funerals."
What's bad: "It's really corny looking, and the welcome screen says in big letters HOW TO FLIRT so, you know, read in private or at your own risk. I also have to take issue with Tip No. 7, which reads: 'If the person seems unresponsive, there's the possibility that they are on the autism spectrum. Individuals on the autism spectrum usually do not have very good eye contact, talk constantly about their favorite subjects, and are unsure about space.' Did I miss something? Is 'he might have Asperger's' the new 'he's probably gay'? Not cool, wikiHow!"
How people reacted: "I must have been a good flirter: I got a second date even though I teared up talking about civil rights on the first. Score!"
Product description: Axe Auto Romeo is an iPhone App that makes it easy for guys to pay attention to lots of girls, all of the time. It does this by automatically sending personalised messages that pay attention to them on your behalf.
What it does: "This one is just hilarious, and not 100 percent awful," says Griffenhagen. "You choose someone from your contact list and fill out basic info about the person's appearance, where you met, etc. The app drafts a relevant text to the person you've described, and then reminds you to send a text to them from time to time -- once every few hours, on average. You can select your desired tone: 'warm,' 'hot,' or 'steamy,' though I noticed there wasn't always a big difference."
What's good: "Why don't guys text more? It's so easy, and the ladies love it! I think this is best used as a reminder to text a girl that you like to keep her interested. Since you can edit the texts and there are some normal ones like 'Hey, how's your week so far?' it really is not entirely unuseful."
What's bad: "Many of the text messages are awful. I mean, they are really bad," explains our expert. "They also don't have much variation and focus a lot on hair and eye color as their subject. You can enter info on several girls to keep track of all your flirting needs, but mix-ups seem inevitable, and you really don't want to end up playing out the plot of some Disney Channel sitcom. While the app sends reminders to flirt, it doesn't cut you off for flirting too much, which I think is a bad call. Play it cool, Axe Body Spray! It also uses a lot of cheesy, predictable pickup lines."
Sample texts: "I can think of nothing more pleasant than spending an hour in your company" and "Cristine, can you send me a picture of your curves to cheer me up?" (These qualify as "warm.") "Hot" texts included, "Cristine, I must be lost. I thought paradise was further south," and "I love it when I sense your brown eyes looking in my direction." As for "steamy," we got "Cristine, I might not be the best looking guy, but handsome is only a light switch away," and "Cristine, first, I'd like to kiss you passionately on the lips, then, I'll move up to your belly button."
How did people react: Griffenhagen says, "I tried this out on some special ladies and we were all fascinated. Guys, use this at your own risk. Make sure your info on your girl is accurate, and make sure you edit the texts to be less terrible."
Overall our expert recommended trying out the apps, but not depending on them full cloth. "They're cheap or free, and you never know when they might come in handy. Flirt4u would also be great for bachelorette parties," she said. "The wikiHow app is a nice refresher for anyone who wants to improve their flirting game. The others are nice for people who are on the shy side and need a conversation starter, but I wouldn't rely on any of these. Ultimately it's up to you to seal the deal."
And keep in mind, there's no app -- yet -- that compares to good, old-fashioned flirting: "I'm already feeling a little nostalgic for the old days where a guy might do something simple, like say hello and offer to buy me a drink," says Griffenhagen. "Now that is romantic."