12 Apps That Help You Stay Connected While Social Distancing

updated Mar 20, 2020
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Credit: Elissa Crowe

At this point, it’s still too early to tell when the novel coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak will begin to slow down, which means that Americans might remain in quarantine for the foreseeable future. And even though social distancing is the safest way to help stop the spread of the virus, it can be easy to feel isolated when you’re in self-isolation—especially when it seems like there’s no clear end to this in sight.

Fortunately, living in an age of digital connectedness can ease some of those pains, and there are plenty of great apps out there that can help you keep up with your loved ones, even if you can’t physically be with them right now. With most of them free and easy to use on any device, you’ll be able to bond with your favorite people in ways you likely never have before—all from the comfort of your own couch. Here are some of the best apps for creating digital hangouts when you’re stuck at home.


Apple users already know that it’s easy to stay connected using FaceTime, the free app that allows up to 32 users to connect via video or audio calls using their iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. It’s user-friendly enough that you can check in with your tech-savvy, iPad-loving grandma, and seeing loved ones face-to-face might just be the best medicine for those trying to self-quarantine and stay healthy.

Marco Polo

Marco Polo is similar to FaceTime but works for both Android and iOS users, letting you record video messages for your most beloved. Since it’s not live, you can exchange messages at your leisure, and they’re stored in the cloud forever, so they won’t disappear after a certain amount of time. Fun filters and voice effects help up the ante, so you can really get silly while you’re staying home and hanging in.


Airtime is a social platform that lets you watch videos with your friends while you chat, all on one screen. By setting up a room and inviting your friends, you can then add the content of your choice (including YouTube videos, Soundcloud songs, select TV shows and movies, and even memes) and get your friends’ takes in real time.

Netflix Party

If your favorite quarantine activity involves hours spent bingeing your favorite movies and TV shows—but you’re sorely missing your friends by your side—Netflix has got you covered.  Netflix Party is a Google Chrome extension that lets you sync up your account with other Netflix users, so you can watch the movie or show of your choosing while using the in-app group chat function. It’s free as long as you’ve got a Netflix account and the Google Chrome browser installed on your device.


Perhaps known for being a top video conferencing for business calls and meetings, Zoom is a great option for large gatherings—up to 1,000 video participants and 10,000 viewers can be in a single session, so you can host a cocktail party or game night with literally everyone you know. It’s free up to 40 minutes, and prices range up to $19.99 per month depending on how often you use it.


One of the original video messaging apps, Skype is still a solid choice for those looking to stay in touch with loved ones near and far. With capabilities for up to 50 people in a single chat, you can call landlines for a nominal fee ($2.99 per month) but it’s free for basic video and instant messaging chats to help stay close to the ones you love.


Houseparty is a video chatting app that mimics the feel of a small, intimate gathering with a handful of your closest pals—even if you’re hundreds or thousands of miles apart. By using a split-screen feature, up to eight participants can chat face-to-face, and it’s free and easy to download for both iOS and Android devices.


If you’re obsessed with sharing selfies that disappear faster than you can say “rainbow tongue filter,” you’re probably still a huge Snapchat fan. But one of the lesser-known features of the celeb-favorite app is the free quick video call function, which lets you check in with friends from far away to say hi, before going back to your marathon movie session or diving back into your favorite book. 


Perhaps the best known option for those with international family and friends, WhatsApp includes text messaging, audio, and video call functions that syncs with Android devices, Apple devices, and Windows PCs for free, secure messaging no matter where in the world you are. The group chats let you share messages, photos, and videos with up to 256 people at the same time, so you’ll never feel FOMO even if you’re miles and miles away from those you love most.


ShareTube is another great way to have a YouTube viewing party with friends and family while you’re separated. This one is free to use if you’ve got a desktop computer—just create a room and then invite friends to join, where you can share videos to watch together while using the text function to chat. You can create video playlists to keep the party going as long as you want.

Google Hangouts

Google users already know how easy it is to stay connected with Google Hangouts, which not only features group text chats for up to 150 people, along with video and voice chats. You can share your screen, making this an ideal choice if you and your gang are looking to take up a new skill while hunkering down at home…or if you just want to enjoy some wine and snacks while hosting a virtual happy hour, that’s cool too.


Going to an actual rave might not be your idea of a good time even in your pre-quarantine days, but the Rave app means you can party in your PJs without a cover charge or being packed like sardines on a crowded dance floor. Available on both iOS and Android devices, Rave lets you sync video content from YouTube, Vimeo, Reddit, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Viki with friends in real time, sharing your thoughts via the text and voice call functions. Music lovers can also act as a RaveDJ, creating playlists so you can enjoy in-home karaoke parties or just dance it out to your favorite songs—a truly perfect way to release a little energy and combat quarantine-induced boredom all at once.