Recently Updated Messaging Apps

In the last weeks several instant messaging providers launched major updates of their apps. Most apps simply seem to copy other messaging apps or improve the more common features. Some messaging services seem to focus more on certain use cases and try to follow new trends.

Grouptime

Grouptime launched a major update of their iPhone version last week. This app is a good example of a differentiated use case. So if your are looking for a group messaging app where you can privately share with family or best friends with one click, Grouptime will probably the right solution for you. While you can use the app for 1:1 instant messaging, it is obvious that Grouptime concentrates on group messaging and group sharing. The redesigned message inbox of the new version of the app reminds me of a private Facebook feed, and thus their idea of a real-time private social network becomes evident.

The update includes new features, redesigns, performance improvements, iOS6 readiness, and many bug fixes. My impression is, that Grouptime has developed a beautiful, stable and well performing app.

Grouptime - Private Social Network

Group Messaging and Private Sharing with Grouptime

Kik Messenger

Kik introduced “Kik Cards” in their recent app updates. Kik Cards are optional features e.g. to share YouTube videos, find and share images and edit sketches. The advantage of this user interface design is that the app is kept simple. On the other hand some other messaging apps integrate these features simply as part of their attachments, so I am not sold on the idea of Kik Cards. It is probably their way to start monetizing third party services and applications being integrated into their service.

Kik Cards

Whatsapp

Especially in Europe Whatsapp has gotten a lot of bad press and negative feedback from customers, due to the lack of security of the service. For the last 12 months or so the leading instant messaging app has launched various updates to fix these security issues, but almost instantly security experts found new issues. No matter how important these security issues are for the average user of an instant messaging app. Still, it is kind ridiculous that the current market leader in the messaging space doesn’t manage to fix these things entirely.

Whatsapp optimized their iPhone app for iOS6 and included some minor bug fixes in the recent update. Their Android update focused on fixing security issues. Let’s see how many days it takes this time until someone finds a way to break into an account.

Others

Line, Kakao Talk and WeChat – the Whatsapp clones from Japan, South Korea and China repectively – all recently launched updates for their messaging apps. In addition to instant messaging, some of these apps offer VOIP calling, a social network feed like Facebook, integration of third party services and many more features. While all these messaging apps are very popular in Asia, the amount of features make them very cluttered and some users might find them confusing. Personally I am more a fan of messaging apps with a clean design, a clear use case and a simple user interface like Kik and Grouptime.

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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.

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.