Sick Of Swiping? Here’s What The Future Holds For Dating Apps – And Some Of It Actually Sounds Good

Author Emma Hughes on where and how we'll be finding love soon.

Woman using dating app

by Emma Hughes |

Dating apps are here to stay, love them or hate them. It seems many of us are in the latter camp: Tinder recently came near the top of a list of apps most likely to make users unhappy. What, if anything, could make them better?

It’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. My novel No Such Thing As Perfect is about Laura, a woman who’s persuaded to try out Cupid, a new dating start-up that uses everything you’ve ever done online to supposedly find you your perfect match. I was inspired to write it after my then flatmate, a software engineer, came back from working in San Francisco full of stories. It was surely only a matter of time, we used to joke, until dating apps were using our Deliveroo orders and Spotify playlists to match us.

The way dating apps work is certainly changing, with more of them shaking things up in a bid to attract new members in an increasingly saturated marketplace

Luckily, Cupid is fictional. But the way dating apps work is certainly changing, with more of them shaking things up in a bid to attract new members in an increasingly saturated marketplace. What’s on the horizon? And will any of the developments actually lead to more people finding lasting love, great sex and everything in between?

1 Voice samples

Research has proved that voices are key to attraction – intriguingly, the pull of how someone sounds has been shown to operate independently to how they look, which explains why you can be drawn to someone’s photos but turned off as soon as they open their mouth.

Traditionally, the first time you’d hear a match’s voice would be when you said hello outside the bar you’d booked for your blind date. But driven perhaps by the massive uptick in people exchanging voice notes or speaking on the phone before meeting in person during the pandemic, apps are waking up to the power of spoken words – in fact, new apps String and SwoonMe are both voice based, with little to no visual element.

2 Time limits

Call it lockdown lethargy, call it the illusion of infinite choice, but faced with an inbox full of matches it can be difficult to summon the willpower to move from messaging to meeting in real life.

In a bid to prevent missed connections, apps are increasingly taking matters into their own hands by chivvying users along – Hinge, for example, digitally nudges you when it’s your turn to respond. Then there’s brand new app Thursday: it’s only live for 24 hours once a week (yes, you’ve guessed it, on Thursday), so you have a small window to match, message and arrange to meet.

3 More options if you aren't straight and cis

Heterosexuality and the gender binary is baked into dating apps: the first ones were built by men who were overwhelmingly looking to meet women. And while apps such as OkCupid in particular have worked hard to create good user experiences for people of all genders and sexualities, many are still geared towards straight dating (Bumble’s woman-messages-first convention, for instance, is irrelevant when you both identify as female). Thankfully, a new generation of apps where queer women and nonbinary people aren’t an afterthought, like Her and Zoe, are attracting both significant investment and members in droves.

Author Emma Hughes
Author Emma Hughes ©Ola Smit

4 More science... or even less?

The matching algorithms that govern who you’re shown on Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and so on are a closely guarded secret. But researchers generally agree that, with all the variables that come with being human, none of them actually has the edge over good old-fashioned intuition.

One response to this has been to introduce more science to the process – Nanaya, a personality test created by an ex-NASA staffer, claims to 'predict the future of your love life and report personalised data to help you build romantic and social ties': in other words, tell you when you’re likely to meet The One and encourage you to reflect on what might be blocking you from forming connections.

At the other end of the scale is the rise in popularity of deliberately lo-fi apps that are much more like a digital version of wandering into a room full of strangers – look atsex-positive newcomer Feeld, which jams constantly and seems to ignore everything you tell it, and yet has taken the UK’s singles by storm. Forget the pre-date guided meditations and 'virtual night in' ideas offered by bigger apps – all most users want, it seems, is a decent selection of people being honest about who they are and what they’re looking for, so they can make their own minds up.

5 A different look

Up until now, dating apps and sites have had two basic ‘looks’: the catalogue-like format of somewhere like eHarmony or the now-defunct Guardian Soulmates, or the deck-of-cards style of Tinder. Neither is very conducive to romance or crackling chemistry. A glimpse of a possible alternative comes in the form of Lex, a text-focused queer app 'for meeting lovers and friends' that’s been designed to look like a newspaper personals ad section. There’s no swiping or selfies, and it feels more like a social media platform – which is good news all round given how much nicer and more engaging an experience an app like Instagram provides.

No Such Thing As Perfect by Emma Hughes is out now in hardback (Century, £12.99)

READ MORE: I Tried Hinge And This Is Everything I Learnt

Cover shot of No Such Thing As Perfect
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