Best Messaging Apps 2013

There are hundreds of messaging apps available in the iTunes and Google Play app stores. The market for messaging apps is a really crowded space and for users it is increasingly difficult to get an overview of the best apps available. Here is our take on the best messaging apps in 2013 for various categories:

Best Instant Messaging App

1. Whatsapp
2. Line
3. Kik

Reason: Whatsapp is a fast and comprehensive instant messaging app. While the app has some weaknesses (e.g. when used for extensive group messaging and sharing), Whatsapp is very performant and available across all platforms.

Best Group Messaging App

1. Grouptime
2. Band
3. Groupme

Reason: Grouptime continuously keeps innovating and regularly launches new features to offer users the best group messaging and sharing experience. Grouptime is a powerful but still easy to use app, and comes with strong privacy protection.

Best Special Messaging App

1. Snapchat
2. Voxer
3. DingDong

Reason: Snapchat is great for ephermal messaging of photos, and has been one of the most popular apps among teens in 2013. If it is of wider use for the mainstream remains to be seen, but it has probably been the most hyped messaging app of the year.

Best Private Messaging App

1. Grouptime
2. Wickr
3. Silent Circle

Reason: Grouptime is a German company with strong data protection and privacy terms. Besides messages are not only encrypted, but in addition user data gets anonymized and no address books are stored. With this comprehensive set of features Grouptime has the lead over competitors from the USA.

Best Business Messaging App

1. Teamwire
2. Tigertext
3. Slack

Reason: Teamwire is a new enterprise messaging app with a very compelling feature set – personal and group messages, status updates for your teams, video messages, calendar sharing, file exchange, and more. The app is fast and easy to use, and besides very secure.

Top 10 Questions To Select A Secure And Private Messaging App

Couple of weeks ago we came across important questions for selecting secure messaging apps for businesses. Many people have asked us, what consumers should take care of when selecting a private and secure messaging app? Ideally a provider of a messaging app should answer all the following questions with YES. Here we go:

1. Is the transmission of the messages and all communications between the app and the server protected with an SSL encryption?

2. Are the messages and content end-to-end encrypted? Meaning: Only the sender and the receiver of a message can read it (this is quite important)?

3. Are the messages stored in a completely encrypted form on the server?

4. Is the provider not able to read the messages on the server?

5. Does the provider completely anonymize user accounts, messaging logs and profiles, and thus fully protect the privacy of users?

6. Your address book data is only stored on your device, and not stored on the servers of the provider?

7. The messaging app provider has a strong privacy policy, and does not sell or trade user data?

8. Is there a regular backup of the data on the server?

9. Is all data stored on servers outside of the USA (where it cannot be easily accessed by US government agencies)?

10. Is the provider of the messaging app based outside of the USA (again: thus cannot be easily accessed by US government agencies)?

A lot of messaging apps claim to be completely safe and encrypted. However, there are huge differences between providers as you can tell by this questionnaire. Not a lot of apps can answer all questions with YES. You will have to judge by yourself, what questions and topics are most important for you, and thus select a private and secure messaging app for your needs.

Messaging Apps for Couples

Today I want to write a short post about messaging apps for couples. For modern-day couples these kind of messaging apps can be advantageous. Especially in situations where a spouse travels for work, or where the couple is in a long distance relationship.

A Private Space for Couples to Share

The most famous couple messaging apps are Avocado, Between and Couple. Another one called FeelMe is currently in the making. All these apps provide a private space for couples to share messages, photos, voice mails and videos. The advantage compared to classical texting is that you have dedicated app for your spouse, which you only have to open and can start texting right away (without searching for her/him). Some couples value a dedicated app where private moments and the history of their messaging texts are kept.

Between App for Couples

Special Features for Couples in Long Distance Relationships

However, since the benefits above alone might not be enough for some, most of these apps also offer shared to-do lists, sketches, albums and calendars. Further, apps like Couple and Avocado even offer “touch” features, showing when the other person is touching the phone. This should make the other person feel closer, even when she/he might be thousands of miles away due to a long distance relationship.

All couples apps above have a pretty nice design and user interface. If you are in search of a private messaging app for your spouse, try them out, and see which one best fits your need.

How PRISM Affects Messaging Apps

As a consequence of the PRISM scandal many users are worried about the protection of their privacy, and how safely service providers handle their data.

Probably most user data of messaging apps can be monitored

It seems that if you are not a USA citizen, the government and its agencies have less restrictions in regard to what data they can monitor. If you are a citizen of the USA, there seem to be more restrictions on how they can access your data.

Generally it is likely that the agencies get quicker access to companies based in the USA. In other countries legal hurdles will prevent a quick and direct access to a user’s data.

While reliable information is hardly available, not only big companies like Facebook, Sykpe, Google, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, etc. are affected by PRISM, but probably as well many smaller service providers including the ones offering messaging apps and services.

Privacy and data protection unlikely with messaging app providers from the USA

Thus, most messaging app providers from the USA could well be affected by PRISM. And just to remember, some of them often haven’t had a history of being secure.

Overall, from a privacy perspective this can be worrying. It is not that the normal user has something to hide, but that her content and data might be monitored and stored somewhere without her knowledge.

Messaging services with end-to-end encryption from other countries beneficial 

Of course, people could turn to encrypt their messages, but many of the messaging apps offering encryption are not easy to use or not performant enough to be competitive. iMessage and Facetime are some of the exceptions which are said to be end-to-end encrypted. However, if Apple really has no master key to unlock your data, remains an open question.

If you are worried about your privacy, it is maybe worth taking a look at European messaging providers (for more info please read our secure and private sharing article). Some European countries like Germany have pretty strong law with regard to privacy and data protection. This could well be a safe harbor.

Best Content Sharing with Messaging Apps

The more popular messaging apps become, the more they become personal and private social networks (like Grouptime). Users privately share photos, moments, links, voice messages, locations, videos, calendar dates, etc. with family and close friends. That raises the question, which messaging apps are the best for content sharing. The capabilities of the various messaging apps actually strongly vary depending on the content type:

Exchanging and sharing photos

In addition to sending text messages, sharing photos is probably the most prominent uses case with messaging apps. Nowadays all popular messaging apps enable users to easily exchange single photos. The newer and better apps allow users to send multiple photos at once (Grouptime, Line, Kakao Talk).

Grouptime displays the photos in large and without bubbles in the chat, so users can view them nicely and directly without the need to open single photos. If several friends post their photos to a chat, this creates a great album of an event or a party, and it is great to easily exchange photos with friends.

Some apps enable users to add a caption (description) to a photo. Good examples are group messaging apps like Grouptime, Touch, Groupme.

Location sharing

Messaging apps are pretty good for private location sharing. You simply select your location, and send it to selected contacts or a group of friends. Since finding one’s location with the GPS or network stations is not very accurate (sometimes it is half a mile/kilometer away from the real position), some messaging apps offer a selection of locations around the position user. These messaging apps use location databases like Foursquare or Google Places to offer a wide selection of venues. With Whatsapp or Grouptime the user can simply choose the location where she is at (e.g. shop or restaurant), and send it – automatically including the address – to her friends. This is also great for giving directions.

Location sharing with Grouptime

Location sharing with Grouptime

Contact sharing

Not a very prominent use case, but for those of you, who regularly need to exchange contacts from your address book, check out ChatOn or Line.

Sharing moments

In general, messaging apps are not really made for sharing moments. The bubble style chats are mainly good for texting. There are some messaging apps, that have started walls or news feeds for sharing similar to Facebook. However, you always share publicly with everybody.

If you look for an app where you can privately share moments with selected people from your contacts, maybe Grouptime is something for you. Unlike other group messaging apps, Grouptime works with instant posts like a private social network. For sharing moments with private groups like family and close friends the app is pretty awesome.

Sending voice messages

Exchanging voice messages is mostly a standard feature of messaging apps in these days. Power users have turned to specialized apps like Voxer, which operate more like a walkie-talkie.

Calendar sharing

Currently there are only two messaging apps that enable users to share dates from their calendar: Grouptime and ChatOn. We prefer Grouptime, because the group messaging and sharing capabilities are better to exchange dates.

Link sharing

Nearly all messaging apps detect links in chats. However, most of them don’t offer any functionality around sharing links. If you want a preview of links or YouTube videos (like in social networks like Facebook), try Grouptime.

Group sharing of links with Grouptime

Group sharing of links with Grouptime

The future of content sharing

In the near future the content sharing with messaging apps will offer better functionality and more content types (documents, drawings, music, etc.). In addition, we will see better integration into 3rd party services. Some of these upcoming features have already become visible in very basic versions in a few messaging apps. Still, this is just the beginning of content sharing with messaging apps.

Private Messaging and Sharing Apps

In general people seem to become more and more privacy aware. While a couple of years ago social media and its related public sharing were a major trend, nowadays a kind of reverse trend has emerged. On the one hand people seem less comfortable with sharing everything with their hundreds of followers and friends on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, but complicated privacy settings make more private sharing a nuisance. And on the other hand people seem more worried what happens with their content and data, and how it might be used by these networks without their consent. Thus in order to stay in control of their privacy, people increasingly turn to messaging apps which can make it quite easy to privately share. There are some good examples of how messaging apps can help people to protect their privacy, and also some issues to be aware of.

“Self-destructing” Content

I guess an extreme example of privacy protection with a messaging app is Snapchat, which is mainly used for photo sharing. The sender determines how long a photo is visible for the recipient (the maximum viewing time is 10 seconds), and afterwards the photo is not viewable anymore. The app is a big hit among teens, who use the app for sometimes doubtful use cases, which are also referred to “sexting”. Having said that, while sharing “self-destructing” images seems to do a job, for sharing everything else (text messages, locations, links, etc.) the app is useless. Besides the user interface is very basic, and people who look for beautiful design will be rather turned off. Facebook already cloned Snapchat with the app “Poke”. However, Facebook is probably not the right choice when it comes to privacy. We generally expect that “self-destructing” content will become a feature of messaging apps and social networks. So for those of you who don’t need this right away, simply wait a couple of months and your messaging app of choice will probably include such a feature.

Private Sharing and Group Messaging

Most messaging apps (e.g. Whatsapp, Line, WeChat, ChatOn, FB Messenger) have group chats by now, which more and more people also use for private sharing with groups. Well, group chats are pretty useful for coordinating, but for private sharing they are far from perfect. First, the chats with the bubble style are not clearly laid out and can be confusing, especially when it comes to sharing content like photos, links and locations. And second, setting up and inviting people to a group is still too complicated and not really adequate for personal sharing. Our preferred solution for private group sharing is an app called Grouptime, which is a private social network that combines group messaging and classical social network sharing. With its beautiful and simple to use interface, the app makes it actually really easy to personally share all kinds of content with the people you choose. Besides grouptime allows you to share multiple photos at once, and displays large images of contents like locations, links and photos. Due to a recent blog post it seems that privacy protection is very important to Grouptime. So if your looking for an app to privately share with family and close friends, and haven’t tried Grouptime, check it out.

No Advertising

This is more a side note, but an important one: Messaging apps that include advertisements, normally need to analyze and mine user data for better targeting of ads. So if your privacy is important to you, make sure to choose a messaging app with a business model that does not rely on advertising.

European Provider

We would choose an European messaging app (e.g. Grouptime, Moped, Threema, Yuilop, MySMS, etc.), simply because Europe has by far the best law enforcement and civil rights when it comes to privacy and data protection. Especially the US-based services were not always the best examples when it came to security and privacy protection in recent years….not to mention the lack of privacy laws in the US.

Encrypted Communication

While for many users encryption is not a must-have feature (who wants to spy on me anyway?), nowadays it is often a standard practice among messaging apps to encrypt the communication (e.g. via https) as well as a users data. If this is a must-have feature for private sharing for you, simply check with your messaging app of choice. The required information is normally available directly on a providers website.

Private and Secure Messaging Apps

Privacy, data protection and secure communication are always hot topics in the instant messaging and social networking world. Sometimes the issues at hand are greatly exaggerated by the media, however, quite often messaging apps have security and privacy flaws which users should be aware of. There aren’t many messaging apps which serve as a good example of how to protect as user’s privacy and personal data. That’s why today I want to take a closer look which messaging apps offer secure communication.

Market leader of messaging apps does not serve as a good example

One of the market leading messaging apps, Whatsapp, is definitely not a good example when it comes to protecting a users privacy. Whatsapp has had several security issues in the past. For years on most devices a user’s personal data, content and address book have been transmitted to the server unencrypted. Whatsapp has used HTTPS, but then has sent messages and content unencrypted, and even your ID visible in plain text. Thus in Wi-Fi networks it has been very easy for others to intercept a user’s data and to follow conversations. Actually there is even an Android app called “Whatsapp Sniffer” which allows to easily scan other people’s conversations in the same Wi-Fi. Only recently Whatsapp said to have closed these encryption issues. However, with millions of clients and different version out in the market, it will take a longer time till the existing security issues are really closed. And it remains to be seen if this encryption is a save one at all. Besides Whatsapp is an American company whose privacy and data protection enforcements are generally weak. From a market leading messaging app with millions of users I would have expected a better security and privacy concept.

European messaging apps better for privacy and data protection

Actually for better privacy and data protection it might be worth looking at European messaging apps, which have much stronger legal requirements in regard to protecting a user’s data. So far a good example is Grouptime from Germany. The Germans have some of the strongest data protection legislation in the world, and regular investigate and challenge the policies and practices of Facebook, Google and the like. Grouptime seems to completely anonymize your personal data and use secure encryption and transmission methods. In addition, the messaging app aims to provide an easy to use private messaging and sharing service by default, so the app has a simple privacy concept by design where no complicated settings are required. For further details read one of Grouptime‘s last blog posts how they protect your privacy and data.

Facebook Messenger and iMessage seem to have flaws 

One would think that Apple’s iMessage is generally safe. The recent SMS spoofing issues show that privacy flaws currently exist, and also there have been some other smaller security issues with iMessage in the past. I guess, since iMessage and iCloud are rather new services, these issues will be solved by Apple soon. And one of the good things of iMessage is, that data is transmitted encrypted. However, the question for me is, to what degree my messaging data is really anonymized in Apple’s iCloud? Probably it isn’t encrypted on iCloud.

The Facebook Messenger is also not a good reference for a secure and private messaging app. Well, Facebook alone has already enough flaws when it comes to privacy and data protection. Recently though, it became apparent that Facebook seems to regularly scan your messages for specific keywords.

There are lots of other messaging apps out there. In general, I would say that smaller messaging apps are more likely to have security flaws, that are yet undetected, and that European providers offer better data protection (like e.g. Grouptime). Anyway, SSL encryption (https) should be a standard for messaging apps to provide privacy and security for their users. I will do some more research, and will follow up with more news on that topic in the near term.