Best Messaging Apps 2013

There are hundreds of messaging apps available in the iTunes and Google Play app stores. The market for messaging apps is a really crowded space and for users it is increasingly difficult to get an overview of the best apps available. Here is our take on the best messaging apps in 2013 for various categories:

Best Instant Messaging App

1. Whatsapp
2. Line
3. Kik

Reason: Whatsapp is a fast and comprehensive instant messaging app. While the app has some weaknesses (e.g. when used for extensive group messaging and sharing), Whatsapp is very performant and available across all platforms.

Best Group Messaging App

1. Grouptime
2. Band
3. Groupme

Reason: Grouptime continuously keeps innovating and regularly launches new features to offer users the best group messaging and sharing experience. Grouptime is a powerful but still easy to use app, and comes with strong privacy protection.

Best Special Messaging App

1. Snapchat
2. Voxer
3. DingDong

Reason: Snapchat is great for ephermal messaging of photos, and has been one of the most popular apps among teens in 2013. If it is of wider use for the mainstream remains to be seen, but it has probably been the most hyped messaging app of the year.

Best Private Messaging App

1. Grouptime
2. Wickr
3. Silent Circle

Reason: Grouptime is a German company with strong data protection and privacy terms. Besides messages are not only encrypted, but in addition user data gets anonymized and no address books are stored. With this comprehensive set of features Grouptime has the lead over competitors from the USA.

Best Business Messaging App

1. Teamwire
2. Tigertext
3. Slack

Reason: Teamwire is a new enterprise messaging app with a very compelling feature set – personal and group messages, status updates for your teams, video messages, calendar sharing, file exchange, and more. The app is fast and easy to use, and besides very secure.

Messaging Apps for Couples

Today I want to write a short post about messaging apps for couples. For modern-day couples these kind of messaging apps can be advantageous. Especially in situations where a spouse travels for work, or where the couple is in a long distance relationship.

A Private Space for Couples to Share

The most famous couple messaging apps are Avocado, Between and Couple. Another one called FeelMe is currently in the making. All these apps provide a private space for couples to share messages, photos, voice mails and videos. The advantage compared to classical texting is that you have dedicated app for your spouse, which you only have to open and can start texting right away (without searching for her/him). Some couples value a dedicated app where private moments and the history of their messaging texts are kept.

Between App for Couples

Special Features for Couples in Long Distance Relationships

However, since the benefits above alone might not be enough for some, most of these apps also offer shared to-do lists, sketches, albums and calendars. Further, apps like Couple and Avocado even offer “touch” features, showing when the other person is touching the phone. This should make the other person feel closer, even when she/he might be thousands of miles away due to a long distance relationship.

All couples apps above have a pretty nice design and user interface. If you are in search of a private messaging app for your spouse, try them out, and see which one best fits your need.

How Messaging Apps Are Becoming The New Social Networks

While the media mainly discusses the strong growth and influence of social media, many people fail to realize a far bigger trend: The incredible growth of messaging apps, and how they are increasingly replacing traditional social networks.

Many messaging apps are strongly growing and have more than 100 millions users

Each mobile messaging app like WeChat, Line, Whatsapp, Kakao Talk and Viber has 100 million or even more users. Besides there are a lot of smaller and often more specialized players like Grouptime, Kik, Snapchat, etc. All of them not only seem to be strongly growing, but also rise at a much higher rate than the big social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Co.

The daily usage of messaging apps is among the highest of all mobile apps. Users open their messaging apps several times a day, and often send hundred messages or more. Compare that with social networks: They are still without doubt a place of regular visits, however, more for content browsing and entertainment (and killing boredom as some say). The intensive communication with close friends and family, something social networks were used for in the past, is handled increasingly by messaging apps. And if you believe the latest studies, the usage of social networks is clearly on the decline.

Group chats replace social networks for sharing with family and friends

While instant messaging apps have been primarily used for 1-to-1 conversations, some of them have started to offer simple group chat features. People quickly have found out that, in addition to straight forward communication and coordination, these group chats are great for quick photo sharing with family and friends. Especially because group chats are so easy to set up and completely private, they offer the right environment for private sharing without the complicated settings on social networks.

Some newer messaging apps like Grouptime now completely concentrate on group messaging and private sharing. You can share with one-click with personal groups like family and friends. The messaging inbox works with posts with nice, large photos like a social network, but in real-time like a messaging app. It is basically a real-time private social network.

Other apps like Line offer a status feed like on Facebook. Well, in this case there are no privacy controls, and it is not different than your well-known social network, so the benefit is quite limited. However, it shows how some messaging apps further enter the social networking realm.

Sharing of digital content with messaging apps gets better and better

Messaging apps don’t stop with group photo sharing. All content sharing features are widely improved: Users now can easily exchange whereabouts via location databases, videos, voice messages, calendar dates, website links and even YouTube videos. Furthermore, some apps allow you to share multiple content items and photos at once (Grouptime is a good example again).

In the future it is expected that even more content types can be shared, and also the integration in various third party apps and services will become common. In regard to innovative features, messaging apps have already taken the lead. Basically, all functions (including “liking”) of social networks and much more will be possible with the leading messaging apps.

Private sharing is strongly on the rise and far larger than public sharing

A recent study estimates that sharing via Facebook and Twitter is only the tip of the iceberg, and private sharing via instant messaging and email nowadays accounts for ca. 70% of all sharing. With the unstoppable rise of mobile messaging apps these figures will be outdated soon, and Facebook and Twitter will be further challenged. Even Mark Zuckerberg noted in a recent article, that sharing with smaller, private groups is the biggest trend Facebook is seeing.

How the social networking giants will react is unclear, but one thing is sure: Messaging apps will be the primary way to easily, privately and securely share with family and friends.

Best Content Sharing with Messaging Apps

The more popular messaging apps become, the more they become personal and private social networks (like Grouptime). Users privately share photos, moments, links, voice messages, locations, videos, calendar dates, etc. with family and close friends. That raises the question, which messaging apps are the best for content sharing. The capabilities of the various messaging apps actually strongly vary depending on the content type:

Exchanging and sharing photos

In addition to sending text messages, sharing photos is probably the most prominent uses case with messaging apps. Nowadays all popular messaging apps enable users to easily exchange single photos. The newer and better apps allow users to send multiple photos at once (Grouptime, Line, Kakao Talk).

Grouptime displays the photos in large and without bubbles in the chat, so users can view them nicely and directly without the need to open single photos. If several friends post their photos to a chat, this creates a great album of an event or a party, and it is great to easily exchange photos with friends.

Some apps enable users to add a caption (description) to a photo. Good examples are group messaging apps like Grouptime, Touch, Groupme.

Location sharing

Messaging apps are pretty good for private location sharing. You simply select your location, and send it to selected contacts or a group of friends. Since finding one’s location with the GPS or network stations is not very accurate (sometimes it is half a mile/kilometer away from the real position), some messaging apps offer a selection of locations around the position user. These messaging apps use location databases like Foursquare or Google Places to offer a wide selection of venues. With Whatsapp or Grouptime the user can simply choose the location where she is at (e.g. shop or restaurant), and send it – automatically including the address – to her friends. This is also great for giving directions.

Location sharing with Grouptime

Location sharing with Grouptime

Contact sharing

Not a very prominent use case, but for those of you, who regularly need to exchange contacts from your address book, check out ChatOn or Line.

Sharing moments

In general, messaging apps are not really made for sharing moments. The bubble style chats are mainly good for texting. There are some messaging apps, that have started walls or news feeds for sharing similar to Facebook. However, you always share publicly with everybody.

If you look for an app where you can privately share moments with selected people from your contacts, maybe Grouptime is something for you. Unlike other group messaging apps, Grouptime works with instant posts like a private social network. For sharing moments with private groups like family and close friends the app is pretty awesome.

Sending voice messages

Exchanging voice messages is mostly a standard feature of messaging apps in these days. Power users have turned to specialized apps like Voxer, which operate more like a walkie-talkie.

Calendar sharing

Currently there are only two messaging apps that enable users to share dates from their calendar: Grouptime and ChatOn. We prefer Grouptime, because the group messaging and sharing capabilities are better to exchange dates.

Link sharing

Nearly all messaging apps detect links in chats. However, most of them don’t offer any functionality around sharing links. If you want a preview of links or YouTube videos (like in social networks like Facebook), try Grouptime.

Group sharing of links with Grouptime

Group sharing of links with Grouptime

The future of content sharing

In the near future the content sharing with messaging apps will offer better functionality and more content types (documents, drawings, music, etc.). In addition, we will see better integration into 3rd party services. Some of these upcoming features have already become visible in very basic versions in a few messaging apps. Still, this is just the beginning of content sharing with messaging apps.

Private Messaging and Sharing Apps

In general people seem to become more and more privacy aware. While a couple of years ago social media and its related public sharing were a major trend, nowadays a kind of reverse trend has emerged. On the one hand people seem less comfortable with sharing everything with their hundreds of followers and friends on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, but complicated privacy settings make more private sharing a nuisance. And on the other hand people seem more worried what happens with their content and data, and how it might be used by these networks without their consent. Thus in order to stay in control of their privacy, people increasingly turn to messaging apps which can make it quite easy to privately share. There are some good examples of how messaging apps can help people to protect their privacy, and also some issues to be aware of.

“Self-destructing” Content

I guess an extreme example of privacy protection with a messaging app is Snapchat, which is mainly used for photo sharing. The sender determines how long a photo is visible for the recipient (the maximum viewing time is 10 seconds), and afterwards the photo is not viewable anymore. The app is a big hit among teens, who use the app for sometimes doubtful use cases, which are also referred to “sexting”. Having said that, while sharing “self-destructing” images seems to do a job, for sharing everything else (text messages, locations, links, etc.) the app is useless. Besides the user interface is very basic, and people who look for beautiful design will be rather turned off. Facebook already cloned Snapchat with the app “Poke”. However, Facebook is probably not the right choice when it comes to privacy. We generally expect that “self-destructing” content will become a feature of messaging apps and social networks. So for those of you who don’t need this right away, simply wait a couple of months and your messaging app of choice will probably include such a feature.

Private Sharing and Group Messaging

Most messaging apps (e.g. Whatsapp, Line, WeChat, ChatOn, FB Messenger) have group chats by now, which more and more people also use for private sharing with groups. Well, group chats are pretty useful for coordinating, but for private sharing they are far from perfect. First, the chats with the bubble style are not clearly laid out and can be confusing, especially when it comes to sharing content like photos, links and locations. And second, setting up and inviting people to a group is still too complicated and not really adequate for personal sharing. Our preferred solution for private group sharing is an app called Grouptime, which is a private social network that combines group messaging and classical social network sharing. With its beautiful and simple to use interface, the app makes it actually really easy to personally share all kinds of content with the people you choose. Besides grouptime allows you to share multiple photos at once, and displays large images of contents like locations, links and photos. Due to a recent blog post it seems that privacy protection is very important to Grouptime. So if your looking for an app to privately share with family and close friends, and haven’t tried Grouptime, check it out.

No Advertising

This is more a side note, but an important one: Messaging apps that include advertisements, normally need to analyze and mine user data for better targeting of ads. So if your privacy is important to you, make sure to choose a messaging app with a business model that does not rely on advertising.

European Provider

We would choose an European messaging app (e.g. Grouptime, Moped, Threema, Yuilop, MySMS, etc.), simply because Europe has by far the best law enforcement and civil rights when it comes to privacy and data protection. Especially the US-based services were not always the best examples when it came to security and privacy protection in recent years….not to mention the lack of privacy laws in the US.

Encrypted Communication

While for many users encryption is not a must-have feature (who wants to spy on me anyway?), nowadays it is often a standard practice among messaging apps to encrypt the communication (e.g. via https) as well as a users data. If this is a must-have feature for private sharing for you, simply check with your messaging app of choice. The required information is normally available directly on a providers website.

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.

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.