Blackberry Messenger for iOS and Android – Too Late To Market

The Blackberry Messenger (BBM) was originally the first big messaging app on smartphones. It came pre-installed on all Blackberry devices, and was a key sales proposition for business users as well as for many consumers. Basically 4-6 years ago the BBM had the success  that Whatsapp, Line, Kakao Talk and WeChat have nowadays. Some 60-80 million people once regularly used the BBM. A week ago the BBM for iPhone and Android was finally launched.

Basic Messaging App Requiring A Blackberry ID

Generally, it is a fairly basic messaging app and similar to the popular apps out there. One difference is that it doesn’t connect users by syncing the address book contacts. BBM mainly works with the Blackberry ID, and thus is probably mainly for users with Blackberry friends. Since the Blackberry platform is on the decline though, the demand will probably be limited.

BBM for iPhone

Digital Content Sharing And Design Need Improvement 

In addition to simple chats, users can set up group chats. The groups are pretty much standard, except that you also can create events. So they are a bit like Facebook Groups. As digital content you can send voice (push-to-talk) messaging and photos. However, so far there are no videos or stickers. Besides things like calendar or contact sharing which would be compelling to business users of the BBM are missing.

The user interface is pretty straight forward, but they could have reduced and simplified the number of tabs. As well from a design perspective,  there are definitely prettier messaging apps available.

The Messaging Market Is 2-3 Years Ahead

This iOS and Android version seems like a first launch effort and so far there is nothing groundbreaking. In comparison to the leading messaging apps the BBM looks a bit old. Apps like the new BBM were state-of-the-art in the market about 2-3 years ago. Now most apps move into better personalization, stronger self expression and advanced content sharing with games, music and much more to come. Overall, the launch of the BBM comes too late.

New Messaging Apps and Current Trends

The first wave of messaging apps on smartphones had mainly one goal: To replace texting/SMS and offer better messaging at much lower cost. The instant messaging apps started with sending simple text messages, and then soon added the ability to exchange photos and other digital content, as well as nice features like delivered receipts. Nowadays, many messaging apps are far superior to texting/SMS, and several even offer group chats. To better understand, what the next wave of messaging apps will improve, it makes sense to have a closer look at current trends in the messaging space.

Stickers, Fun and Personal Messaging

Stickers have probably been the biggest trend among messaging apps for the last couple of months. In addition to the classical emoticons (emoji), stickers offer users an additional way to express themselves – referring to the questionable quote: “a sticker says more than a 1000 words”. Most major providers (e.g. Line, Viber, Kakao Talk, ChatON) have added stickers of all sorts: Comic figures, cartoons, art, popular brands, etc. These stickers are often available in packages, and in many cases they cost between $1 and $2. Stickers have become a substantial source of revenue for messaging apps – especially for the Asian providers, which generate millions of dollars with stickers.

Another way to make texting more fun and personal is the introduction of custom fonts. If a message can be sent in a custom font like a handwriting, marker, news or comic type, it enables the user to better express themselves and gives the message a personal note. Furthermore, with custom themes or backgrounds users can receive kind of a “mobile postcard”. The first messaging app that introduced custom fonts and themes for more personal messaging was Grouptime, but other providers seem to start to follow.

Single Purpose Messaging Apps

Snapchat was one of the first popular single purpose messaging apps. Snapchat allowed users to send photos only, and assured that they are deleted on the recipients device automatically. Recently, some other apps have tried to be successful with the single purpose approach as well: DingDong focuses on location sharing only and GIF Chat enables users to exchange animated GIFs only. The success of the single purpose messaging apps remains to be seen. If they offer differentiated functionality or a use case that cannot be easily replicated by the leading messaging apps, they have a chance to establish a niche for their product. However, e.g. a standard location sharing feature alone is probably not enough to make such a simple app attractive for a broader set of users.

GIF Chat

Better Group Messaging and Sharing

While group chats are a standard by now, the users are often not satisfied with standard group chat functionality anymore: For sharing of photos with friends, group chats are easy to set up, but are not visually nice and don’t provide quick feedback mechanisms. Even if group chats are easy to set up, if you regularly start group chats with the same people, there should be simpler ways to add recipients or save distribution lists. Or, if users start different topics within the same chat, the communication can get confusing. These are just some of many examples, where better group messaging functionality is required.

Thus, some providers are now offering sophisticated group messaging and sharing solutions for family and friends (e.g. Grouptime, Line Band).  Some of these apps really work like the combination of an instant messaging app and a private social network: There is real-time communication with push notifications, but the group messages are presented in a nice visual feed, even with the ability to like content. Once you have tried it, you will see how superior this is to traditional group chats.

Stronger Security and Privacy

Due to the latest PRISM and NSA affair, more and more users are worried about their privacy and demand stronger security features from messaging apps. As a result, several secure messaging apps have been announced (e.g. Hemlis, Whistle). However, since end-to-end security and complete privacy protection are complicated topics, it remains to be seen how secure and good these apps will be initially (UPDATE: At least Whistle seems not to be secure in its current version). In the meantime we expect the providers of established messaging services (at least the better ones) to improve their security and privacy features. From our point of view, security and strong data protection should be a standard for messaging apps, and not a feature.

Gaming and Public Chat Forums

Especially the Asian messaging providers have started to introduce games, third party services and public chat forums in their apps. This is basically the Facebook strategy: Building a platform for all apps and services, and trying to offer the user everything in one app. Users, who love games and public interest forums, will find a benefit from this approach. Still, for many users these apps will become to complex and cluttered with features, and they will prefer the more simple, focussed and let’s say traditional messaging apps.

Business Messaging Apps

For the business communication with colleagues and teams, messaging apps are becoming more and more important. Of course businesses could use traditional instant messaging apps like Skype, ICQ, etc. or the newer versions of Whatsapp, Viber, Line and Co., but often a dedicated messaging app for business communication has advantages.

Desktop and Mobile Apps Offered

Most business messaging apps not only offer mobile apps for iPhone and Android, but a desktop client to enable easy access to your messages. This is generally great, but requires a good synchronization mechanism between the various clients and the server. Besides push notifications for new messages need to be delivered reliably.

Since some of the business messaging apps have their origin on the desktop, reliable push notifications and synchronization are often not certain. So if you select a provider, make sure to test these features beforehand.

Video Communication and File Sharing

Business messaging apps enables users to have 1-to-1 and group chats. Several apps also feature persistent chat rooms for individual projects, teams or entire departments. In order to serve more of your business communication needs, some of these messaging apps offer the ability to share files, and some even enable video meetings for small teams.

Strong Security and Privacy Required

Nearly all business messaging apps use an SSL encryption for the transmission of the messages, and promote the security of their services as being as safe as a bank. However, be aware that there still can be strong differences in the security and privacy features of the various providers. Depending on the level of security you need, you might want to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is only the transmission of the messages encrypted, or are the messages themselves encrypted as well?
  2. Are the messages stored encrypted on the server? And can the provider read the messages?
  3. Do user accounts and profiles get anonymized, so their privacy is fully protected? And if not, what user data gets stored?
  4. How regularly does the provider backup data, and on the other hand delete delivered messages from the server?
  5. Is the data stored in the USA (where it can be easily accessed by government agencies), in Europe (where data protection is much stronger) or elsewhere?
  6. From what country is the provider of the business messaging app, and what are the underlying data protection laws?

Relatively Young Market

Yet, there are not many dedicated and capable business messaging apps available. Several providers have started out with desktop and web apps and then extended into mobile (e.g. the business messaging services YammerHallHipChat and OneTeam). In addition, some new providers with a focus on mobile are about to launch: GoComm will focus on messaging for mobile workforces, and Teamwire will offer secure enterprise group messaging for instant, personal and private messaging with teams and colleagues.

Overall, it is still a relatively young market and it will be interesting to see, how business messaging apps will simplify and improve the communication as well as help to grow the productivity of a workplace.

The Messaging App Clones of Mobile Network Operators

The billions of dollars of revenues of mobile network operators from SMS have been strongly declining in the last 2-3 years. Especially in European and Asian countries where flat rates for texting are less common, users have quickly adopted over-the-top (OTT) messaging apps to avoid costs. As of today far more messages are sent with Whatsapp, Line, Kakao Talk, Viber, etc. than by traditional texting/SMS of mobile network operators.

Clones of leading messaging apps

Trying to counteract this trend many mobile network operators have launched their own messaging apps in recent months. Telefonica launched TuMe, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom started to offer Joyn, and this week Swisscom followed with iO. There are several more examples like these. All of these messaging apps have one thing in common: They are more or less clones of the leading messaging apps.

These clones should basically replace your standard messaging app on your mobile device and offer some additional features. With the mobile network operator apps you can send text messages and exchange single photos. Some of them feature location attachments and voice messages as well as simple group chats. VOIP calls and video chats are also available on some of these apps.

Currently minor performance and no new features

From a user interface and design perspective TuMe and iO look solid, while Joyn shows a very basic and text-centric design. From a performance perspective most of them are still buggy and not the fastest messaging apps. However, the apps are still pretty new and over time this will hopefully change.

TuMe App

Joyn App

Initially free of charge with additional features coming at cost

The apps are a free download. The usage of messaging features should be free of charge, but this could depend on your tariff and on the mobile network operator (so if you decide to use one of the apps, make sure you check). VOIP and video chat features should be expected to come at a cost sooner or later.

Overall, the messaging apps of mobile network operators offer nothing new or special. With the current performance and features of these apps, there are no reasons for users to switch. Further, the innovation in the instant messaging space is still expected from the market leaders. And the clones will only follow the herd.

Google Hangouts – Another Standard Messaging App

Google recently launched Hangouts for iOS and Android as a replacement for Google Talk and several other messaging projects. To keep it short: Except for the group video chat feature, the app is more or less like every other mainstream messaging app.

Google Hangouts App

Standard messaging app with simple and clean interface

Hangouts has a simple and clean interface. If you know how to use your texting app or are familar with Whatsapp, Line, Skype, etc., the UI will be straightforward for you. The new Hangout screen with the large photos of your favorite contacts is nice.

In addition to text, so far users can only exchange photos. However, it is quite likely that other digital contents like locations, voice messages, video, contacts, etc. will be available in the future (if Hangouts wants to gain a minimal market share only, they will need these features…most of their major competitors have them).

Group chats with video feature

Like most messaging apps nowadays Hangouts offers group chats. However, unlike other messaging apps Hangouts also features video group chats where you can chat with up to 10 friends.

The current versions for iPhone and Android have several bugs and performance issues (e.g. video chat crashes the app, and also the audio seems delayed quite often). Overall, except for the video chat maybe, we don’t see a need to use Hangouts. There are too many other similar, but currently better performing messaging apps out there.

Why Instant Messaging Apps Are Replacing Classical Texting

With trillions of SMS messages sent every year, texting has been the standard way to exchange messages with friends and family on mobile phones for the last 20 years. However, currently “texting” as the messaging market leader is being disrupted and under strong attack by instant messaging apps. Many smartphone users are currently switching from classical text/SMS messages to newer instant messaging apps. The reasons for this replacement are pretty obvious:

Cheaper

Instant messaging apps use the data network of your smartphone to send messages cost-free via the internet. All you need is a data network for internet surfing, which most users have included already in their mobile network operator tariff or have available via public or private WiFi networks.

Thus sending messages with instant messaging apps is completely free of charge. For teenagers and young adults, who often send 100 messages per day, and previously had to pay $0,05-0,20 per message, this means huge savings.

Better

Instant messaging apps nowadays work the same way as texting (users receive a push notification on their smartphone for new messages), but offer users far more functionality.

While classical texting allows users to send simple text messages, exchanging photos is often not without difficulties. Instant messaging apps on the other hand allow users to easily exchange all kind of digital contents with friends: Photos, videos, links, locations and voice messages are pretty much the standard among some of the better services (e.g. Whatsapp, Kik Messenger, ChatOn, KakaoTalk, TextMe, MiTalk). Some even allow you to send dates from your calendar, simple drawings, locations from comprehensive data bases, multiple photos at once, etc.

Some instant messaging apps even have great group messaging capabilities. Users are able to easily set up group chats with family or friends. These can be used to plan and coordinate activities of groups or privately share digital content (e.g. Grouptime).

Besides instant messaging apps show users, if their messages were received and if recipients are online.

More innovative

Instant messaging apps innovate in very short cycles. The competition is hard, and thus service providers regularly improve their apps and launch new features. This is obviously a change from the texting world, where the lack of competition hardly forced the mobile network operators to innovate at all in 20 years time.

Best Group Chats in Messaging Apps

Today I want to write about the best group chats in messaging apps on iOS (iPhone) and Android. After last years group messaging trend most messaging apps have implemented at least simple group chats into their applications on mobile devices. Some messaging apps even offer great group sharing features on smartphones, and start to challenge social networks. Let’s take a look:

1. Grouptime (www.grouptime.com)

Grouptime – best group chat and sharing for mobile devices

With the focus on group messaging and sharing, Grouptime offers an easy to use and powerful group chat. You can start group chats very easily by simply entering the recipients, and sending your message. So you don’t even need a title for your message or set up a group.

The free messaging app actually operates with instant posts similar to social networks like Facebook and Twitter. The great thing about this approach, is that you can easily start different group chats (even with the same people) for different topics. In addition, if you want you can define your own group (more like a distribution list) for e.g. your family or best friends, and start group chats with one-click.

Since Grouptime allows you to send digital content like photos, links with previews, locations, voice messages, calendar dates, etc., this group messaging app is not only great for group chats, but for private group sharing as well. So, for example, you can attach and send multiple photos at once…I guess there is hardly a messaging app that makes group photo sharing easier.

Finally, the reduced and clean user interface of this group messaging app and the large content previews, make Grouptime the No.1 recommended app for group chats and sharing.

2. Whatsapp (www.whatsapp.com)

Whatsapp – simple group chats available

Whatsapp has been offering group chats for about a year now, and is slowly increasing the allowed maximum size of groups as well as adding features. Basically the group chats in Whatsapp are ok for simple chatting, and work like you would expect it from an instant messaging app. First, you need to set up your group by defining a name/title and selecting the group members. Second, you access that group, and can start chatting. Generally, there are use cases for these kind of group chats, however the limitations of this approach become clearly visible the more you use it:

If you have several group chats, sometimes it becomes hard to differentiate the groups. Then you always have to search for the groups among all the open chats. And the biggest problem is, that sometimes my friends have given their groups the same or similar names. So right now for example I have three groups “Best friends”.

If I want to share photos or my location with some selected contacts, I don’t want to have to set up a new group chat…this is just too complicated. Besides I find groups inappropriate for personal sharing.

And last, the speech bubbles, information tags and features make the group chats in Whatsapp too cluttered and a bit confusing. Also the content is only displayed in small previews. This is ok for 1:1 instant messaging apps, but for great group chats and sharing there are more beautiful and well-arranged user interfaces for iPhone and Android devices.

3. GroupMe

GroupMe is a dedicated group messaging app like Grouptime. However, GroupMe is more complicated and limited in use. The set up of group chats works the same way like on Whatsapp, and the messaging app has exactly the same flaws as described above with Whatsapp. I won’t judge the design of the app, but I can say for sure that some tabs in the app are not really required. And for those worried about their privacy, the mix of private and public groups might be of concern.

GroupMe – ok for group texting

A benefit of GroupMe is that it also works for group texting via SMS. On the one hand this is good because you can reach people without the app, and group chat in classical texting style. On the other hand this easily leads to confusion: Did the other person get my text message? What happens when I share content like photos or my location…do these things work in group texting as well?

Like Whatsapp, GroupMe is ok for simple group chats. Though, when you want easy and powerful group messaging and sharing, this messaging app is not the best service available.

4. ChatOn

Again the group chats in ChatOn have the same weaknesses as in Whatsapp (see above). With one exception, however: The group chats in this messaging app are quicker to set up.

5. iMessage

The group chat feature of iMessage, only works if other people also have an iOS device and have iMessage activated. Otherwise iMessage just sends a broadcast message (same message to several users) via SMS, and group chats are not possible (but sometimes you don’t know what it will be, before you press “Send”). Needless to say, this can be confusing for users (you always need to know or check who also has iMessage), and makes the group chat functionality and reach of iMessage very limited.

Summary

Overall, most group chats in messaging apps work similar. Only some messaging have group chats that are easy to set up, and offer great usability and powerful group sharing beyond simple group chats.

For good group chats I would recommend Grouptime. This messaging app is currently the best group messaging and sharing service available in the market.

Messaging Apps Trends and Innovations

As announced in my last post, today I want to take a closer look at important trends and innovation among messaging apps for iPhone and Android. If you analyze the competitive landscape of instant messaging apps, you will see that most apps innovate and move in a similar direction. Many apps are simply copying the market leaders and then there is not at lot of innovation. However, there are some pretty interesting innovations differentiating at least some instant messaging apps from the mainstream. Anyway here are the current trends among messaging apps:

Group Messaging and Group Chats

Last year the popular group messaging trend started with apps like Beluga (acquired by Facebook and is now the Facebook Messenger) and GroupMe (acquired by Skype). By now most messaging apps offer at least group chats. Sometimes the group chats could be easier to set up, and often the existing functionality and user interface of an instant messaging app are simply not enough for good group messaging. I believe the group messaging trend is still young and we will see more innovation in that space. Grouptime for example is a relatively new group messaging app that behaves like a private social network, and combines instant messaging and group sharing. With an app like Grouptime you can already easily group chat and share with private groups.

Better Photo Sharing

Photo sharing with messaging apps is a very common and popular use case. Several apps now give users an overview of all the shared photos in a chat (e.g. Whatsapp, ChatON). To enable users to more easily share photos, messaging apps like Grouptime allow users to select and send multiple photos at once. This approach not only saves time, but more importantly shows the shared photos in a beautiful, nearly full-screen photo story view in the chat. Thus this is a great way to quickly share the photos from a party or event with friends and family, without the need to create a dedicated album on Facebook or a photo sharing app.

Enhanced Attachments

The attachments you can send and exchange with instant messaging apps on iPhone and Android are becoming more enhanced and comprehensive. So several messaging apps allow you to send new types of attachments like files, calendar dates, animations and locations from extensive third party databases (e.g. Foursquare or Google Maps). File sharing seems not very popular so far. Location sharing and calendar sharing of dates (with Grouptime or ChatON) however, are becoming interesting use cases. Some messaging apps (e.g. Moped) have started to integrate third party services like dropbox. The user interest in these kind of services remains to be seen.

Grouptime location sharing with an extensive venues database

Calling, Walkie-Talkie and VOIP Capabilities

Many messaging apps currently add calling, video chat and walkie-talkie capabilities. Users can thus simply call other users who are also using the app. Sometimes the connection is unstable, and often users require a WiFi-connection for a good quality transmittance…especially for video calls. Prominent examples for instant messaging apps with calling features are Viber, TuMe, TextMe and Kakao Talk, while Voxer is currently the most popular walkie-talkie app.

Differentiated Messaging Inbox Design

Most messaging apps simply have an inbox with rows for the different chats and always showing the last message. This is pretty much the standard design for the inbox. Some newer messaging apps are taking ideas from social networks and make the message inbox more visual. Grouptime for example has instant posts for real-time group messaging and sharing. So Grouptime will show you posts with photo and link previews in the inbox like a you are used to it from social networks. Another advantage of this approach is, that you can start new messaging threads for different topics. Another app, Touch, mixes shared photos and chats in the inbox. I find this approach a bit confusing, but maybe other users like it.

Simplicity

The better messaging apps for Android and iPhone try to get rid of unnecessary screens and tabs. Simplicity is key for ease of use, and many apps have just one core screen. All unimportant stuff should be hidden in settings or in tabular sidebars. Good examples for simplistic messaging apps following this trend are Kik Messenger, TuMe and Grouptime (especially for group messaging and sharing). Some examples for rather complicated user interfaces or unrequired tabs are PingMe, eBuddy XMS, AppMe and even Whatsapp.

Outlook

Generally I expect more messaging apps to innovate around the user interface in the next months. Also the attachments and group messaging will be further improved, and we will see more an more integrations into third party services. Besides it is quite likely that some messaging apps are going to target specific user segments and industries. The messaging market is so competitive, that differentiation and target user focus is the only way to success – for the user and the messaging app.