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.

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Facebook Messenger 2.0 for iPhone

Facebook just unveiled a major update for its Messenger for iOS. The Facebook Messenger version 2.0 makes it compatible with iOS6 and iPhone 5, and introduces a couple of new features.

The new version 2.0 of Facebook Messenger for iOS enables users to swipe left, to immediately see which friends are online and available for messaging. Friends can be made favorites to appear at the top of the friend list for quick access. Just like the web interface, you can see who in your thread has viewed your message and when she read it. I guess, some people will see this feature as an advantage while others will believe its an intrusion into their privacy.

The design of the chats has been changed to typical chat bubbles, making conversations look more like text message exchanges than email. Facebook Messenger also offers a list of emoticons that are compatible with Facebook Messenger for those who like reliving the good old instant messaging days.

Generally we like the simple and clean user interface of the new Facebook Messenger 2.0. Besides the app is pretty fast and works stable so far. However, this version moves the Facebook Messenger more into a good texting alternative and tries to position itself as a leading 1:1 instant messaging app (like Whatsapp, Kik Messenger and ChatOn), but makes it less good for group messaging and sharing (where we see dedicated apps like Grouptime in the lead).

You can download the new version for free from iTunes.

Easy Photo Sharing with Messaging Apps

Photo sharing has become a standard use case for messaging apps. If you want to privately share photos with family and friends, messaging apps are increasingly used for quick and easy photo sharing. While the large social networks like Facebook and Twitter are great for more public broadcasting selected images, messaging apps offer a great environment for a private and more personal exchange of photos with selected people and groups. Today I want to briefly discuss what features are required for good photo sharing and what the messaging market currently offers:

Sharing Multiple Photos at Once

Nowadays nearly all better messaging apps for iPhone and Android enable users to send a single image (from an album or directly taken). All popular messaging apps like Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Kik Messenger, etc. offer this feature, which is fine for quickly exchanging pics with single users. However, especially if you want to share several photos at once, sending single messages in a row can become tiring, and getting several push notifications in a row on the receiving end can be quite annoying. Grouptime recently launched an awesome feature and now allows users to send multiple photos (up to 10 pics) at once. This is great for two reasons: First, several images can be quickly shared at once, and second, the images are shown in a row and make nice photo story in the chat.

Grouptime: Easily Exchange Multiple Images at Once

Captions of Photos

Another feature required for good photo sharing are captions. Captions allow users to add a description to photos, without having to send an additional message. So far the only messaging apps offering captions seem to be Grouptime, TextMe and PingMe.

Large Photos in Chat

Most messaging apps simply display a photo in a small speech bubble like everything else in a chat. For photo sharing this is not really appropriate because the images kind of loose their beauty. Pics should be presented as large as possible in the chat. Some messaging apps have understood this, and now show beautiful, large photos in the chats. A good example of this is again Grouptime (see screenshot below).

Grouptime Shows Large Photos in Chat

Group Messaging Makes Things Easier

Of course to easily distribute photos to several people at once, messaging apps should offer at least simple group chats. Thereby you avoid having to share the same content over and over again in 1-to-1 chats. Besides, the more sophisticated the group messaging and sharing capabilities of messaging apps are, the more powerful the photo sharing with a messaging app gets. Messaging apps that allow you to define groups for e.g. family, friends, etc. make it very easy to share pics with selected individuals with one click. I guess, that is the easiest way to quickly share and exchange photos with family and friends. The messaging app with the best group messaging and sharing capabilities is Grouptime. Other apps with good group chats are Whatsapp, GroupMe and ChatOn.

Summary

Overall the photo sharing features of messaging apps are quite good. Grouptime is already a very good messaging app for photo sharing, and offers to exchange several images at once. This feels as if you are sending complete photo albums. If the innovation in regard to photo sharing with the messaging apps continues, soon there will be no need for special photo sharing apps anymore.

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.

New Messaging Apps and Important Updates

In this post I want to give an overview of newly launched or updated messaging apps for Android and iPhone. The current market leaders among messaging apps innovate rather slowly (which might be related to their huge platform reach). While most competitors simply copy the messaging features and sometimes the complete UI of market leaders, the innovation in the instant messaging space only comes from some new or majorly overhauled apps. Even if texting, chatting and instant messaging are mainstream market applications nowadays, there is still room for differentiation, innovation and improvement, but the good examples are rare. Let’s look at some recently launched and updated messaging apps:

grouptime (www.grouptime.com)

grouptime – a private social networking app for great group messaging and sharing

grouptime is a good example how someone tries to innovate and create a differentiated offering among messaging apps. I guess, one unique thing about grouptime is, that this free messaging app works with instant posts. Thus you can post status updates, group messages, photos, locations and much more to individuals and groups you choose. Basically the goal of grouptime is to offer users a real-time, private social network to instantly and privately share with family and friends. The app comes with some cool features like sharing multiple photos at once (which is great to exchange pics with a group of friends), sending links with previews (like in social networks) and share locations from Foursquare’s venues database (with cafes, bars, restaurants, shops, etc.).

The focus of grouptime is clearly to offer a great group messaging and sharing app. It is less for 1-to-1 instant messaging, chatting and texting. However, even for classic 1-to-1 communication the messaging app can be very interesting, if users look for an application to start different threads for different topics (like an email).

Whatsapp (www.whatsapp.com)

Whatsapp – the market leader among messaging apps

Whatsapp is the market leader of messaging apps and available for all major mobile operating systems. Probably only SMS and email send more daily messages than Whatsapp. The last updates of Whatsapp have been rather incremental: Mainly group chats have been improved with more features and an increased size of maximum chat members (still I think for group messaging other apps like e.g. grouptime are far superior). One of the biggest news is, that users are now finally able to upload profile pics. Overall, the speed of innovation of the market leader  in messaging apps remains slow, and all recently added features were no surprises at all.

The question is, if Whatsapp is working on a bigger release. Most competitors have launched calling and video chat features to their messaging apps, and it would be a logical step for Whatsapp to enter that space, too. At the same Whatsapp’s security issues remain its weakness: No hashing of numbers, no text encryption, no SSL transmittance, etc. The user’s privacy should be better protected by a leading messaging app. However, these are no easy issues to solve and huge migration problems: Whatsapp has hundreds of million users and many different mobile operating systems to deal with. Before Whatsapp solves these issues, we might see a new player in the messaging space.

Text Me 2 (go-text.me)

Text Me 2 – a newly launched messaging app combining texting and calls

Text Me 2 is a recently relaunched messaging app that unifies texting and calling/video chats. The app is available for iPhone and Android. While you can send normal text messages (SMS) to any mobile phone number, you can as well chat for free with other users who also have the app. Calling and video chats are cheap, but not for free, and the app comes with ads. Most other features and ways to exchange digital content are pretty much the standard functionality among messaging apps.

The interesting thing about the app is its clean and simple UI. Something Whatsapp and other messaging apps could take inspiration from. Basically all irrelevant screens have been deleted or moved to the settings. In addition, it is easy to swipe between screens and directly access the most important functions.

Viber (www.viber.com)

Viber – instant messaging and calling

Viber is basically the Skype for mobile phones, and available for most mobile operating systems (iPhone, Android, Windows, etc.). Interestingly in the recent updates of the app, better texting and group messaging features were added. Still, the focus of the app remains the calling capability. So when it comes to exchanging digital content the app is pretty weak. The design of the UI has also been slightly updated and the tabs remind one more of Instagram now. However, that is about it.

ChatOn (www.chaton.com)

ChatON – Samsungs’s instant messaging service

With ChatOn Samsung launched a messaging app that tries to challenge Whatsapp. The updates for the app in the recent months regularly added new features. By now I hardly now a messaging app that allows to attach more content types than ChatOn. The app allows even to send animated messages/drawings and attach files. Besides it is the only messaging app in addition to grouptime that enables users to easily exchange calendar dates. For 1-to-1 instant messaging and chatting with friends, ChatOn is a good app. And I also find the UI of ChatOn more reduced and better than Whatsapp. So overall, ChatOn is on a pretty good way.

Tu Me (www.tumeapp.com)

Tu Me – a messaging app with calling capability and an interesting UI approach

Tu Me is Telefonica’s Whatsapp challenger. From a functionality and UI point the app levels pretty much the standard among messaging apps these days. However, there are two exceptions:

  1. The chat UI takes inspiration from Path. The user taps a single button, and then several options pop up for the user to choose from. While this looks nice at first, I question the usability of that approach, because the user needs more clicks to get to the desired action.
  2. The messaging app comes with free calling capability. A user can call other users, who are also using the app, for free.

I doubt that these two features are enough to make the app stand out in the crowded messaging apps space. Besides the app is yet a bit buggy (but this is quite normal for a new app). Also it will be interesting to see how Telefonica plans to monetize the app.

Summary

As we can see most messaging apps move into the same direction, and only some players (like e.g. grouptime) try to innovate and differentiate their apps. If the slow pace of innovation of the market leaders will be enough to keep the competition at  distance, remains to be seen.

To get a better understanding of the competitive landscape and trends, in one of the next posts I will take a closer look at important trends among leading messaging apps.