BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) is one of the biggest reasons why (a very small set of) people are still sticking to their BlackBerry devices. Apple saw this trend some time ago, and launched iMessage as part of iOS 5 in 2011. It’s almost exactly like BBM, right down to its propriety iOS and OS X-only nature. It’s great if you have lots of friends who own an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, but it’s very limiting otherwise. In what follows, we will be discussing some of the most powerful and popular cross-platform iMessage alternatives for iOS users so they can communicate with their Android, Windows Phone, Symbian and BlackBerry-toting friends for free.
WhatsApp has done for free, internet-based text messaging what Skype did for VoIP. According to one estimate, WhatsApp and similar free texting services have caused over $17 billion in lost revenue for wireless carriers all over the world.
It comes with many of the features you would expect from a strong messaging app: you can send/receive unlimited standard texts, your geographical location, photos, videos, audio clips to one person or a larger group of people.
WhatsApp is officially available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Series 40 and Symbian, with unofficial ports available for forgotten platforms like MeeGo and Maemo. It costs $0.99 up-front on iOS, but users of other platforms can get it for free for the first year, after which they have to pay $0.99/year for using the service.
Note that WhatsApp for iOS does go free from time to time, so even if it isn’t right now, you might want to keep an eye on it (especially around the holidays).
Viber is easily among the top 3 VoIP apps for mobile platforms with over 140 million active users. It comes with all the features of WhatsApp – one-to-one messaging, group chat, send/receive unlimited photos, share location etc. – plus it allows free Viber-to-Viber voice calls. Almost everyone in my family – with relatives spread all over the world in countries like Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, US, Canada – uses Viber for keeping in touch. It works on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, with limited messaging-only features available on other platforms like BlackBerry OS, Symbian and Bada OS.
It’s free, it’s fast, and, for those of you who prefer calling over texting, has outstanding voice quality even over slower connections. Highly recommended!
ChatON by Samsung
Samsung, too, has noticed the potential of internet messaging apps. They released ChatON earlier this year with a few extra, not-available-on-other-services messaging features like being able to send/receive hand-drawn messages, animations, contact info, calendar entries, the ability to rank people in your list based on how regularly you interact with them, and even write on other people’s profile’s using “Buddies Say”. One big, very important feature that differentiates ChatON with other messaging apps is the ability to use the service from your browser, meaning it essentially supports all desktop and mobile platforms with a capable browser.
This is, of course, in addition to your usual features of having one to one chats / group chats, the ability to send / receive photos, videos, audio clips, and location. Each conversation has its own “Trunk” which stores all shared media for easy access.
Despite support for so many platforms, it is far behind WhatsApp and Viber in terms of registered and active users. You should still check it out, though. Maybe your circle of friends uses ChatON.
On the previously mentioned texting services, you regularly come across situations where someone you want to contact doesn’t have a smartphone or just aren’t signed up for that particular service.
This isn’t the case with Facebook. It’s extraordinarily rare for me to meet a person who doesn’t have a Facebook account these days. Combine Facebook’s 1 billion plus registered users with powerful, native apps on iOS, Android, Windows Phone and a desktop / mobile website, and you get the most popular messaging platform in the world.
Facebook has a special “Messenger” app for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows that is focused on sending and receiving of private messages. You can chat, send/receive photos and location info with one person at a time or in very large groups if you want to.
In a recently released update, Messenger lifted the requirement of having to login to your Facebook account for using the service. You can now sign up using just your mobile number, just like Viber and WhatsApp.
If Messenger isn’t available for your platform, you can always send or receive messages through the native Facebook app or through the mobile website.
KIK is another popular free texting app that works on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Symbian and BlackBerry OS. Again, it has one to one chats, group chats, photo and voice clip sharing along with a special feature called “Kik Cards”. Cards are available for many different services like YouTube, Bing Image Search which allow you to use the service for quickly sharing content without ever leaving the app.
Unlike other services, it requires you to sign up the traditional way, forcing you to use a username instead of a phone number. This enhances user privacy in exchange for a slightly more tedious initial registration and friend-finding process.
What I like about KIK is just how nice it looks and how easy it is to use when compared to other gaudily-designed messaging apps. Currently, it has over 30 million registered users.