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.

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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.