Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mobile Messenger Services Are A Mess

The IM sector is red hot again these days, as people turn to these services to replace the ridiculously overpriced SMS services offered by the carriers. RIM have managed to do this very successfully with their BBM messaging service, despite the fact that BBM is limited to Blackberry devices. For many, this is the number one reason to purchase a Blackberry. In the teen market this is currently the phone of choice.

Seeing the success that RIM has had with this strategy, Google and Apple have rushed to bring similar products to market.

Google's strategy is a bit confusing. Google Chat (or is it Google Talk?) has been developed into a great IM package that works across desktop and mobile, and includes video, SMS, group chat and more. Then along comes the Google+ mobile app and now we have Huddle, a very simple group chat app, built into the G+ app. Now I'm not technical, but why didn't Google just incorporate their existing IM package? Huddle has now been updated to include photo sharing, and simultaneously changed its name to Messenger. The problem with this service is that it's mobile only. For me, turning away from my desktop, with it's large ergonomic keyboard, to reply to a message on my phone, with it's tiny keyboard, is very frustrating. It makes no sense at all!

In early October (hopefully) Apple will release iOS5 into the wild, and one of the new features is iMesenger. I believe it will work across mobile and desktop, but will unfortunately be limited to Apple devices, which makes it pretty useless. I understand that the strategy is to turn each iPhone user into a salesperson: "Get an iPhone like mine and we can chat for free!" It hasn't worked with Facetime, and it won't work here. Really Apple, am I only allowed to be friends with people that also use Apple products? C'mon!

I'm not a Facebook fan, but at least they got this right. Well almost. Facebook Messenger works in the browser and in their mobile app, and now Facebook have launched a separate Messenger app for smartphones, which is a great idea, as you don't have to open the main app first. Are you listening Google? The problem: you can only chat with people you have friended on Facebook. I don't want all my work colleagues following my social activities on Facebook, but it would be useful if I could text them!

A number of startups have also attempted to gain some traction in this sector. Beluga was gaining in popularity, but Facebook bought them out, and created their Messenger service. Whatsapp has a big following, and it's not OS specific, but there is no desktop version available, so it's mobile only.

So what's the answer? Currently, I use Google Talk/Chat, Google+ Messenger, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, and when iOS5 comes out I'll also use iMessenger. With my Blackberry carrying friends I feel a bit left out, and have to hope they use Whatsapp. Of course, in an emergency, good old SMS is still available, but I would love to be able to move away from SMS entirely. Until one of these companies can build all this functionality into one app, I'm forced to keep using a combination, depending on whom I'm chatting with. What a mess!

And who owns the rights to the Messenger name anyway?

Thanks for reading.