Messaging Apps

September 06, 2011

Text messaging (Short Message Service or SMS) is one of the most commonly used mediums of communication, especially among teenagers. Although it has been a long time since people started using this service, they had to live with limitations such as a fixed number of allowed characters, inability to send photos, and not being able to form chat groups with more than one recipient.

Then messaging evolved and became the so-called MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service). However, the high cost and difficulty of activation did not let it become as popular as SMS. Now, with the advent of Internet and our always connected smart-phones, services that let you communicate with your family and friends easily with short messages have appeared. The only difference is that they take advantage of the permanent Internet connection in order to break free from the limitations of SMS.

These alternative messaging services offer a variety of features across different platforms, and each has its own advantages. But ultimately, it is the user who decides what suits him better. For example, BlackBerry is one of the first to provide such a service through BlackBerry Messaging (BBM), which enables you to stay connected with other BlackBerry owners through their PIN codes.

It is clear that the disadvantage of this service is the limitation of being able to message only BlackBerry users. Although there are intentions to extend the BBM service to other phones, I doubt that it will happen soon or be provided free of charge, especially when you see how many teenagers are glued to their BlackBerry only for the messaging service.

iMessage is a service similar to BBM, which will become available next month for all iPhone and iPod touch users when they update their operating system to iOS 5. It allows two devices connected to the Internet to send and receive messages via their phone number, or e-mail address in the case of the iPod touch.

All the features of iMessage are the same as those offered in similar apps, but what I liked most about it is that it will be integrated into the short messages app. When you send a message to someone who has iMessage, it will be sent via the Internet as an iMessage, but can be sent as a normal text message if the recipient does not have iMessage.

All the services I have mentioned offer a variety of features, but their limitation to a single platform gave others the opportunity to explore a wider area. One of the most popular of these services is WhatsApp, which has followed the success of the popular game Angry Birds. It started with the iPhone and then became available on all other platforms such as Android, Nokia and BlackBerry.

Of the most beautiful features of this service is that when you download the application to your device, it will scan your contacts (after your permission) and check who uses the service among your friends. This makes it easy to start communicating without a PIN code, as is the case with the BlackBerry, for example.

Pingchat is like WhatsApp in its support for all devices except the Nokia, but it depends on the PIN system, which is similar to the BlackBerry when you add someone to your list. There is currently a wave of similar programmes and services including textPlus, Disco, which was bought by Google, and GroupME, acquired by Skype, which also indicates the interest of big companies in this field. In addition, we must not forget the messenger app of Facebook, which helps you to communicate with your friends on the popular social networking website.

Many major companies have now started to break into this arena. Samsung recently announced a similar service called chatON, which will be available on their phones and tablets. Not only that, the company promises to provide the service on competing devices such as the iPhone and BlackBerry too, which will help to make it more popular.

I have tried most of these messaging services and found WhatsApp the most user friendly of all, mainly because of its simplicity. Although the benefits and features offered by these messaging services are many, we cannot rely upon them completely because of their dependence on an Internet connection, which may not always be available. In comparison, an SMS can be sent or received at any time.

Mohammed al Asmar is a technologist and web solutions developer. He has been working for more than ten years in different roles in ICT.