|Top Android IM apps|
Wednesday, 22 February 2012 11:00
Palesa Sibeko gives us the lowdown on the Android mobile instant messaging offering.
The mobile instant messaging (IM) market has boomed in the past few years, saving money for millions of mobile users around the world for being accessible on-the-go.
I've never been a fan of any RIM products, but no one can dispute BlackBerry Messenger's (BBM) significant impact on mobile communication and the way South Africans have embraced it.
There was a time when I got disapproving stares for not having a BB PIN, as though it were legal requirement. For Android users, there are plenty of mobile IM app options, many of which I use at the same time. I’ve outlined some of the more popular choices in SA.
WhatsApp has had a huge impact in the mobile IM space, breaking down platform restrictions of the likes of BBM, to support other smartphone platforms, namely Android, BB OS, Symbian and iOS. User accounts are tied to phone numbers so contacts on a persons address book with the same app are added automatically. This is a great feature if you haven't kept certain contact numbers just so they can be ignored when they call. Now they're even closer! The first year of use is free, thereafter a $0.99/year is payable to use the service.
Google's long-standing messaging service Google Talk needs no introduction. It's naturally the default messaging app that ships with most Android phones. Features are pretty straightforward: text, voice and video messaging and it’s easy to use. With the advent of Google Plus, people added in Circles may also be added as contacts without necessarily knowing their email addresses. The fact that it's tied to a Google Account means that it can run on multiple devices and platforms at the same time, which works quite well for me. Chat history is stored at a central place and can be searched later in Gmail. If you're not running from the law, this is excellent!
Plus Messenger is perhaps worth a mention although it really is the GTalk story all over again. This app comes part and parcel with Google Plus for Android.
MXit has been around for yonks and has become the largest social network in South Africa. At a time when SMS was the de-facto standard for messaging, MXit offered an attractive low-cost alternative that was immediately favoured by the youth. Unlike most of its competitors, MXit is rich with content such as gaming and various information portals from brands. It looks as though they're also expanding their mobile payment solutions. Their Android app is noticeably better looking than its Java counterparts and quite similar to the iOS version. It's easy to navigate but perhaps a bit dull on the eyes.
Viber and Skype
Some mobile IMs are not strictly but probably better known for their more data-greedy functions (voice/video) rather than text messaging, which is the case for Skype and Viber. They both work as you would expect and do a pretty bang-up job at it; however, Skype seems to be a battery hog so I don’t keep it running continuously.
At the end of last year I received a burst of messages from friends (who clearly don’t know me well) asking me to join Live Profile, which I mistook for Windows Live Messenger. You can't blame me; the name sounds dangerously close to the long-standing Microsoft service, perhaps intentionally. The similarity to BBM in functionality and even UI is uncanny. Contacts are assigned PINs reminiscent of, you guessed it, BBM. I'm not a big fan but it certainly has an audience at between one and five million downloads on Android Market.
New kid on the block, locally developed ZiNG supports multiple platforms: Java Basic/Advanced, Android, iOS, and BB OS with Windows Phone support planned for future. It has content areas called Zones to which users can subscribe to, pretty much a similar fashion as Facebook. Like WhatsApp and Viber, contact identities are added by phone numbers. The enterprise solution has yet to be revealed and other proposed game changing features, so we'll just have to wait and see.
In future mobile IMs will at the very least be cross-platform to reach as many people as possible (feature phones will be with us for a long time still) and light on resources/battery consumption. The likes of ZiNG and MXit extend beyond the strict IM space by offering rich content to their users, a model that may be adopted by others in future.
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