If you're looking for love, it's OK to break up with your computer. The most popular dating sites now offer apps that let you search on the go. Some dating apps are mobile only and others are mobile editions of what were once strictly online sites. Mobile adds an extra fillip to online dating because you can do it anywhere, anytime; the GPS in your mobile device can signal matches that are nearby.
Online dating is a $2 billion industry, with the mobile segment claiming about one-tenth of that but expected to top $400 million by 2018. Much of this revenue comes from the users, of course. While most dating apps download for free, making a connection usually costs. Subscription prices range from about $10 to $60 a month. Is the dough worth it?
We spoke with several online daters of all ages (from 21 to 60-ish) and sexual orientations to learn about their experiences with dating apps.
Not surprisingly, two of the better-known apps, Match.com and OKCupid, were the most commonly used by our respondents. One man who tried both was dissatisfied with the results. "They seemed really random, like the suggestions were only based on location, not on any criteria." He concedes, though, that dating apps require users to be very specific about what they're looking for, "and I wasn't."
As with any online dating service, writing a good profile is key to giving potential connections a clear idea of who you are at the outset. But most profiles are lame, many daters assert. A woman who met her husband on JDate says many of the profiles she saw "sounded like they were written by idiots, even though the men were probably intelligent enough."
Well, OK, writing a good profile is hard. Although most people lie at least a little, the closer you stick to the truth, the more likely you are to find a relationship, according to our informants -- assuming that's what you're looking for. And for the most part, people who become involved with someone through online dating think their money well spent. The converse is equally true.
But as with the lottery, you have to be in it to win it, so here's a look at some of the top mobile dating apps. In the end, only you can determine whether you get what you pay for.
Plenty of Fish (iOS devices, Android, Window 7): Although this dating app/site claims many millions of registered users, we didn't meet any. This app in its most basic form is completely free and earns revenue through ads. A paid upgrade (about $10 a month) dumps the ads, pushes your profile to the fore, and lets you see whether emails were read or deleted. As potential matches are sent your way, you can connect via chat, email, or photo sharing.
Match.com (iOS devices, Android, Blackberry): One of the original dating sites, Match.com counts members who tend to skew a little older and a little more serious. Downloading is free, but a $34.99 monthly subscription is required to view profiles and other content; a discount is available for longer subscriptions. People we interviewed like the Match.com app and think the matches presented often make sense. Several say they were attracted to this dating app because acquaintances had developed serious relationships from proffered connections, which are identified through a proprietary algorithm.
OKCupid (iOS devices, Android ): A comparatively whimsical site, OKCupid is the dating app of choice for the most respondents in our informal survey. One OKCupid user found a relationship through the app while four found new friendships. The app is free to download and supported by advertising. An ad-free upgrade costs $9.95 a month and lets you attach photos to messages and archive searches; another $2 lets you promote yourself, pushing your profile to the top of the queue for 10 minutes. Profiles on OKCupid are extensive and answers to a seemingly endless set of questions feed into the search algorithm. Users are told that the more questions they answer, the better the matches will be.
Skout (iOS devices, Android): This app is unique in that it doesn't connect to an online site but was developed specifically for mobile devices (originally, the iPad). Using GPS technology, users are encouraged to meet people who are nearby right now. Users can chat online, flirt, send private messages, and be alerted when a new match is in the vicinity. Although no one we spoke with had used it, a few had heard of it and report that users tend to be in their 20's and not necessarily looking for relationships.
Zoosk (iOS devices, Android, Facebook): Claiming to have millions of users worldwide, Zoosk is known for its international community. One respondent who travels a lot relies on Zoosk to meet people in France and Turkey and says the dating app's strength lies in meet-ups rather than relationship opportunities. Its integration with Facebook (it started as a dating app on Facebook) makes this easy -- skip the profile writing and just use your Facebook profile. You can amp up the profile by purchasing coins ($5 for 50) or subscribing for $29.95 for one month or $60 for three. Contacting anyone with a "wink" will cost you, though replying to one is free.
Tinder (iOS, Android): Tinder may not be the biggest dating app out there, but it buzzes. Appealing to a younger crowd, this free app is "totally a hook-up site," explains one respondent, who adds that "I don't think you need to put anything but a photo on there." Tinder is a hyper-local app that connects you with people who are available right there and then. If you "like" them and they "like" you, you can chat within the app and connect. Simple as 1-2-3.
|Plenty of Fish||Free||Profile, Messaging, find local people, matching system||No ads, promotion, buy virtual gifts, see whether profile was viewed, ultra-match (advanced matchmaking)||Chatting, messaging, email, winks and flirts|
|Match.com||$34.99 for 1 month (occasional free trial periods)||Creating and viewing profiles, meeting||Extra costs for additional features: personal matchmaker, help from Dr. Phil, etc||Strictly for serious daters, offers anonymous email account, can send winks, Stir has events for singles|
|OKCupid||Free||Profiles, questions, sending and receiving photos, receive recommended matches||Promotion. No ads||Message, chat, send winks, flirt|
|Skout||Free||Creating and viewing profiles, updates on the network||Buy and send gifts, promotion, earn points to unlock premium features||Flirt, friend, chat, message|
|Zoosk||Free||Searching and viewing profiles - can't send a message to a paid member but can reply||Full communication||Winks, chat, message|
|Tinder||Free||Look at pictures of potential matches nearby||None||Like, chat|