The Messaging App Clones of Mobile Network Operators

The billions of dollars of revenues of mobile network operators from SMS have been strongly declining in the last 2-3 years. Especially in European and Asian countries where flat rates for texting are less common, users have quickly adopted over-the-top (OTT) messaging apps to avoid costs. As of today far more messages are sent with Whatsapp, Line, Kakao Talk, Viber, etc. than by traditional texting/SMS of mobile network operators.

Clones of leading messaging apps

Trying to counteract this trend many mobile network operators have launched their own messaging apps in recent months. Telefonica launched TuMe, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom started to offer Joyn, and this week Swisscom followed with iO. There are several more examples like these. All of these messaging apps have one thing in common: They are more or less clones of the leading messaging apps.

These clones should basically replace your standard messaging app on your mobile device and offer some additional features. With the mobile network operator apps you can send text messages and exchange single photos. Some of them feature location attachments and voice messages as well as simple group chats. VOIP calls and video chats are also available on some of these apps.

Currently minor performance and no new features

From a user interface and design perspective TuMe and iO look solid, while Joyn shows a very basic and text-centric design. From a performance perspective most of them are still buggy and not the fastest messaging apps. However, the apps are still pretty new and over time this will hopefully change.

TuMe App

Joyn App

Initially free of charge with additional features coming at cost

The apps are a free download. The usage of messaging features should be free of charge, but this could depend on your tariff and on the mobile network operator (so if you decide to use one of the apps, make sure you check). VOIP and video chat features should be expected to come at a cost sooner or later.

Overall, the messaging apps of mobile network operators offer nothing new or special. With the current performance and features of these apps, there are no reasons for users to switch. Further, the innovation in the instant messaging space is still expected from the market leaders. And the clones will only follow the herd.

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Facebook Home offers persistent messaging with Chat Heads

Last weeks messaging news was definitely the announcement of Facebook Home with its Chat Heads feature. It allows you to instant message with friends, regardless of what app you are already in on your Android phone at any point.

Avatars for quick access to chats

So if you are e.g. browsing the web or playing a game, and are receiving a message from a friend, an avatar will appear on the screen with your friend’s Facebook profile picture. By tapping on it, a messaging window will open, that allows users to chat like in other standard texting or messaging apps.

Facebook Home with Chat Heads Messaging

Facebook Home with Chat Heads Messaging

The advantage from Facebook’s point of view is that you don’t have to switch between apps, and go back to what you have been doing before immediately. So for ongoing conversations this messaging feature provides fast access. The downside of the messaging feature of Facebook Home is, that some users will perceive it as quite intrusive, and won’t let them focus on what they are currently doing.

Privacy and data protection at risk

Besides, with installing “Home” on your Android device you will provide Facebook with even more information for targeting its ads. Facebook will probably not hesitate to collect any information they might redeem necessary for the growth of their business. For users worried about privacy and data protection, Chat Heads is probably not the right messaging app.

Looking at the notification systems of iPhone and Android, which already work quite similar on many devices, we expect standard features and messaging apps like Chat Heads pre-installed by the device makers (e.g. Apple, Samsung, etc.).

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.

Private and Secure Messaging Apps

Privacy, data protection and secure communication are always hot topics in the instant messaging and social networking world. Sometimes the issues at hand are greatly exaggerated by the media, however, quite often messaging apps have security and privacy flaws which users should be aware of. There aren’t many messaging apps which serve as a good example of how to protect as user’s privacy and personal data. That’s why today I want to take a closer look which messaging apps offer secure communication.

Market leader of messaging apps does not serve as a good example

One of the market leading messaging apps, Whatsapp, is definitely not a good example when it comes to protecting a users privacy. Whatsapp has had several security issues in the past. For years on most devices a user’s personal data, content and address book have been transmitted to the server unencrypted. Whatsapp has used HTTPS, but then has sent messages and content unencrypted, and even your ID visible in plain text. Thus in Wi-Fi networks it has been very easy for others to intercept a user’s data and to follow conversations. Actually there is even an Android app called “Whatsapp Sniffer” which allows to easily scan other people’s conversations in the same Wi-Fi. Only recently Whatsapp said to have closed these encryption issues. However, with millions of clients and different version out in the market, it will take a longer time till the existing security issues are really closed. And it remains to be seen if this encryption is a save one at all. Besides Whatsapp is an American company whose privacy and data protection enforcements are generally weak. From a market leading messaging app with millions of users I would have expected a better security and privacy concept.

European messaging apps better for privacy and data protection

Actually for better privacy and data protection it might be worth looking at European messaging apps, which have much stronger legal requirements in regard to protecting a user’s data. So far a good example is Grouptime from Germany. The Germans have some of the strongest data protection legislation in the world, and regular investigate and challenge the policies and practices of Facebook, Google and the like. Grouptime seems to completely anonymize your personal data and use secure encryption and transmission methods. In addition, the messaging app aims to provide an easy to use private messaging and sharing service by default, so the app has a simple privacy concept by design where no complicated settings are required. For further details read one of Grouptime‘s last blog posts how they protect your privacy and data.

Facebook Messenger and iMessage seem to have flaws 

One would think that Apple’s iMessage is generally safe. The recent SMS spoofing issues show that privacy flaws currently exist, and also there have been some other smaller security issues with iMessage in the past. I guess, since iMessage and iCloud are rather new services, these issues will be solved by Apple soon. And one of the good things of iMessage is, that data is transmitted encrypted. However, the question for me is, to what degree my messaging data is really anonymized in Apple’s iCloud? Probably it isn’t encrypted on iCloud.

The Facebook Messenger is also not a good reference for a secure and private messaging app. Well, Facebook alone has already enough flaws when it comes to privacy and data protection. Recently though, it became apparent that Facebook seems to regularly scan your messages for specific keywords.

There are lots of other messaging apps out there. In general, I would say that smaller messaging apps are more likely to have security flaws, that are yet undetected, and that European providers offer better data protection (like e.g. Grouptime). Anyway, SSL encryption (https) should be a standard for messaging apps to provide privacy and security for their users. I will do some more research, and will follow up with more news on that topic in the near term.

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.

Welcome to Best Messaging Apps for Mobile Phones

Hello,

most of you are using a smartphone or mobile device, and most of you are downloading apps from the iTunes App Store or Google Play. There are more and more apps out there and it is hard to keep an overview. For those of you interested in messaging apps, and who love texting, instant messaging and chatting with family and friends, this blog is the right place. My goal is to keep an overview of all the best messaging apps available for iOS and Android, and cover all the trends happening in the messaging space and new messaging apps being launched.

Welcome to my blog!