Part of the excitement associated with the growth of the internet was messaging applications. Over the years we have seen many messaging applications such as MSN Messenger (later Windows Live Messenger, soon to be replaced by Skype), Yahoo Messenger, ICQ, AIM, MIRC and Google’s own GTalk or Google Talk. You could talk to people one on one, or join chat rooms. Mobile phones started off with the SMS service, which allowed you to do the same, though the medium has always been restricted to text and a length of 160 characters. Yes, we have MMS, but this requires a data plan and availability as well as often ends up being very expensive. As a result, web based messaging apps are very popular on smart phones.
Android phones pack in Google’s Talk as their own default messaging app. While this works well, somehow it has not been accepted as the default messaging app. It allows you both video and audio chat options on top of text chat. You can also send files. There may be a few reasons behind it’s lack of popularity. The straight forward interface maybe one, but the fact that it is not directly available on iPhones might be a big factor. Nonetheless, as important as it was to mention it, we follow up with a few alternatives to Google Talk.
Probably the most popular cross-platform app, available on Android, iPhones, Blackberry, Symbian, Windows Phone and Nokia S40. The setup is very simple. It just looks into your phone directory and adds anyone who is using Whatsapp. There is the restriction that one Whatsapp ID works on one device, per phone number. However, this is not too much of a limitation. The service allows you to send messages or attach files which can be sent. While it does not allow audio or video, the simplicity and the easy set up of the service makes it a very popular one. It also allows you to have group conversations.
Skype is one of the most popular VOIP tools out there. It allows people to communicate via text, audio and video, and also allows you to make phone calls to any land line or mobile number. It even allows you to send texts. A very popular business tool, it is also available on all formats. In fact, Windows Live Messenger is about to retire, and all the contacts will be available via Skype. All you need to do is sign up using your Windows Live Messenger and you are good to go. All these features make it a must have for most people.
The messaging option on Facebook is now available as a separate app. This allows you to send Facebook chat style messages to people on your Facebook. Obviously, to use this, you need to have a Facebook id, and people who you want to talk to in your Facebook contacts list. You can attach photos, images from the internet (search powered by BING) or recorded voice. The service, in our experience, tends to be sluggish sometimes.
Kik is another messenger which is getting fairly popular, specially among the younger people. It allows an extra bunch of apps that let you expand the functionality, such as video and audio. There is the ability to chat with people at random, and that is where some of the hazards lie. However, the internet is full of such services, so while a lot of parents are scared of having Kik on their kids’ phones, it is quite popular. It promises a fast service and allows you to search through your contacts and add people who already have Kik in your phone. Much like Blackberry messenger, this also allows you to know if your message has been sent, delivered, and read.
There is a class of apps that can be found which may or may not use their own service to connect you to different people. What they do is allow you to connect to various other services you may have signed up to, such as MSN, Yahoo, Google, ICQ, My Space, Facebook, etc. Such apps have been around since the days before phones became smart, and allow the user one easy app to deal with all their contacts. Following are a few such apps:
Now to cover another app, which allows you to sign into more than one service using the same app. This is messaging for power users, i.e. students! Nimbuzz is one of such apps, and it allows you to add your Windows Live, Facebook, Google and Yahoo Messenger contacts to one app. Using Push, it allows you to get messages instantly, and allows for audio and video chat. It also allows group chats. It also allows you to set up Chat Buddies which almost works a bit like apps on Facebook or bots even. They can help you set reminders, tell your horoscope, or update on your team’s score. An idea that has been tried a lot, but hasn’t really hit off in the messaging world. This is also cross-platform, which means once setup, you do not need to keep setting it up on different devices. Much like Skype, it also allows you to make phone calls cheaply to numbers around the world.
Another app that comes with a promise of loads of features is IM+. It comes both as a free version as well as a PRO version which allows you Skype chat (is an in-app purchase in the free version), is ad-free and keeps a history. Other than that, it supports a long list of messaging services which it allows you to use such as Facebook, MSN, Yahoo, Google, etc. This app comes packed in with features such as multiple accounts per service, various notification messages/sounds, privacy by setting passwords, etc. The SHAPE team, which have produced this app, also seem to be very keen to reply to any complaints found in the review section of the Play Store. Definitely one of the most popular apps for multi-messaging on Android Play Store.
Trillian was one of the first multi-messaging apps on the horizon, back in the days of Windows 98. This allows you to sign in to your IM services such Google, Yahoo and MSN, as well as Skype and Facebook. This means that it covers all aspects of chatting services you would require as a user. Since this also exists for your desktop, you can keep one setting and it will automatically stay for all your devices. While the ad-supported version is free, there is a $20/year or $60/lifetime subscription fee you can use which allows you to store your conversations history in the cloud, be totally ad-free and adds extra features. Overall this app is quite satisfactory, but don’t think we’ll be subscribing to the $20/year cost.
Some of the ones that are not as popular, but still high in use are: