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.
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.
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.
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.
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.