Having used a lot of free mobile messaging app in the last couple of years gave us a good idea that one no longer has any need (or much limited need) of SMS when you have unlimited data to communicate with each other or to a group.
In the past couple of years, I’ve started with iMessage on the iPhone, then moved to Viber, then again to WhatsApp and Voxer. Each one has their own particular benefit and, normally, we tend to shift towards a platform where most of our contacts (or close friends in particular) are already familiar with.
Then, WeChat came into the scene and showed up in almost all App Stores locally available — Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and Symbian (it actually became the No. 1 App in the iTunes store last week after some heavy endorsements from a lot of local celebrities).
The messaging app is pretty simple and straight-forward but unlike the previous ones that we’ve been using, WeChat incorporates a slew of additional features including location-based social gamification.
Messaging feature is central to the app. Works like threaded SMS and allows from one-on-one conversation or group conversation (I believe it supports up to 50 people in a group chat). The app adds a lot of add-on features that might look similar to other similar apps (much like Emoji icons) but adds far more selection of special emoticons that really reminded us of YM.
Aside from the usual SMS-like service, WeChat also support voice chat and video calls. The voice chat feature allows you to send audio recordings instead of just text so the other party can listen to it instead reading really long messages (I actually find this feature very useful especially when I am driving and have been using it as our group messaging tool for TeamTechSquad with Voxer).
The other social component of WeChat involves location-based discovery like Look Around (shows you other WeChat users within your area, from a few meters away from you up to several kilometers), Moments (an Instagram-Twitter like timeline of places you’ve been to, stuff you’re doing or just a random thought — works like a microblog, actually), and Shake (a fancy way of meeting/discovering users who are also shaking their WeChat phone at the same time as you do).
I must admit that some of the core features are somewhat gimmicky and bordering on the stalkerish side but you always have the option not to use them and just stick to the messaging functions if you’re that paranoid about your whereabouts.
By the looks of it, WeChat attempts to consolidate the nice features we’ve already seen with the likes of iMessage, WhatsApp, Viber and Voxer and put them in one single app. They have over 300 million downloads already but I have yet to see some close friends and contacts pop up in my recommended list.
Disclosure: WeChat is a banner display advertiser on this blog and we will be using WeChat in some of out future contests and giveaways. Watch out for them soon. Hint: Download WeChat and add us up in your contact list.
The headline screamed “install me now!” It was for yet another mobile messaging application and this time, one that promised, according to TechCrunch, “A Richer, Faster Messaging App That Quickly Grabs Doodles, Videos & Images.”
The article about MessageMe got me at: “It’s light, It’s fast and it isn’t just limited to texting or photos.”
I promptly opened the website and was invited to “experience the free messenger that everyone’s talking about.”
The app was quick to install and set up. After activating my account, it immediately scoured through my social networks to look for contacts already in the system. Of my 797 phone contacts, MessageMe was able to find only one who already signed up. One out of 797, imagine that. And that person signed up, I suspect, because he wrote about the service for a tech website. After a few days of checking whether other friends would sign up and seeing none, I uninstalled the app.
Mobile Internet messaging is currently among the most fragmented sectors in technology. There are probably as many messaging apps as there are groups of friends in your contacts database. It is the Balkanization of our social networks.
Among the first mobile Internet messaging applications I tried was Fring on the SonyEricsson P1i close to five years ago. The app offered multi-network instant messaging and voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) capabilities to Symbian and Windows Mobile devices. I used it extensively to chat on the go with GoogleTalk and Yahoo contacts.
When I moved to Android and later, iOS, I used various multi-network apps until I eventually settled into imo.im.
Apps like Fring and imo.im unify the Internet messaging experience. The new crop of mobile messaging apps break it apart.
Among my contacts, Viber is the most popular. It is a cross-platform messaging and calling service that had 175 million users as of February. It is the app I use to get in touch with old friends.
Then there’s WhatsApp, which, according to the Financial Times in 2011, “has done to SMS on mobile phones what Skype did to international calling on landlines.” I managed to chat with six people in the app but I basically used it in the past year to get in touch with one business contact, who has since stopped using it. WhatsApp indicates when a person last used the app so you’ll know whether you’re better off sending an email or text message.
Kik, on the other hand, offers a more responsive messaging experience, especially on lower-powered devices. I use it to send messages to my kids and two other people I collaborate with.
Another messaging app that generated quite a buzz is Line, which was reported to have 100 million users in January. Apart from calling and messaging, it allowed people to use virtual stickers. Even the photo-sharing social network Path got into the messaging act in its latest version.
There’s also ChatON by Samsung but I used it only for a couple of days when all I could find in the system was a newsroom colleague within earshot. Why chat when you can just talk?
The messaging experience in iMessage, on the other hand, is really good and seamless but it’s limited only to iOS devices. One hopes for a similar feature in Android or better yet, a cross-platform equivalent.
For group messaging, I tried GroupMe and managed to coordinate a couple of projects using it. Eventually, my contacts stopped using it and the app is unused and in danger of being uninstalled.
Earlier this year, however, I decided to just stop asking people to use whatever mobile app I fancied. SMS is so cheap and reliable there’s no urgent impetus to move to messaging applications.
I decided, instead, to take advantage of existing networks imo.im for IM chats and Facebook Messenger. Most people are on Facebook, anyway. With the fragmentation of the messaging space, Facebook might just become the default mobile communication app. It’s agreement with carriers all over the world for free or discounted airtime to use the app will help the social network cement that dominance.
Mobile exploded in 2012. US consumers now spend 1.8 more times in mobiles apps than on the Web, according to Flurry, a mobile analytics company. Flurry said that between December 2011 and December 2012, “the average time spent inside mobile apps by a US consumer grew 35 percent, from 94 minutes to 127 minutes.”
Closer to home, the Philippines recorded a 326 percent increase in smartphone sales, the fastest growth in the Southeast Asian region, according to research company GfK. The Philippines is also the country “with the highest jump in smartphone market share within a year, from 9 to 24 percent,” GfK said in a press statement last September.
To mark the end of this year of mobile, let me riff on a Pinoy New Year’s Eve tradition by offering you my favorite apps in 12 task categories, in no particular order:
1) Zite. This is my favorite news app. Zite, from the word “zeitgeist” or the spirit of our times, learns from how you interact with content and then serves you with news stories that match your interests.
My other favorite news apps are Flipboard, Pulse, Currents and Prismatic. AP Mobile, meanwhile, not only has extensive news coverage but also gives breaking news alerts. I also love News.me and Curate.me, which keep track of how people in your social networks share content and use this as signal to determine which news stories to send you via e-mail. Recently released RockMelt also looks promising.
2) Evernote. For managing notes and jotting ideas, nothing beats Evernote, a web service with apps for Android, iOS, Mac and Windows.
3) Stitcher Radio. This app simplifies the downloading or streaming and listening to podcasts.
4) Viber. I personally prefer Kik, which is faster especially on lower-end phones, but people are on Viber. The app allows you to call or send a text message to another Viber user for free. Other messaging apps that I use with certain groups of people include WhatsApp and GroupMe. Facebook’s Messenger app is also very useful, especially if you need to contact people who are always on that social network.
5) Smartr. This contacts service and app populates your contacts with data grabbed from LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. It then shows you complete data on a specific contact–photo, job title, company details–and your email history.
6) Pocket. The service used to be known as Read It Later and allows you to save articles, without the ads and other distracting elements, for reading later.
7) Checkmark. I got this app, which normally costs $4.99, for free during its “end of the world sale” last Dec. 21. Checkmark is a location-based reminder app that’s so easy to use. Any.DO has started to implement this but it’s nowhere near the ease of use and polish of Checkmark.
8) Imo messenger. This app allows you to log into all your instant messaging accounts on your phone. Among the IM apps that I’ve used, imo.im provides the best experience.
9) Podio. I work on several projects with different sets of collaborators and rely on Podio to keep track of tasks. It is a robust project management Web service with good apps for Android and iOS.
10) Runkeeper. The app keeps track of your walking or running mileage through your phone’s GPS.
11) Google+. Sure, people are saying it’s a ghost town but the Google+ app offers a better social networking experience for me. Among its great features are the automatic photo uploading, Hangout, Messenger and Communities. Path is another good mobile social networking app.
12) Project Noah. Whether keeping track of a typhoon or deciding to do the laundry, weather information is crucial, especially at this time of climate change. Noah stands for Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards and is a DOST project that has apps for Android (created by a Davao-based developer) and iOS (developed by ABS-CBN).
I also asked a few people on their favorite mobile apps and these were what they shared:
Sports writer John Pages: Flipboard. “All articles come with photos. You can customize the topics you want to read. It is frequently updated. Sources are divers. It’s free. And as its name implies, easy flipping between articles.”
Meralco vice president and chief information officer Marthyn Cuan: MMDA app and Meralco MOVE. “I love the MMDA app as this allows me to navigate through traffic. Meralco’s MOVE app keeps me informed on power maintenance schedules and appliance consumption.”
Port Restaurant chief operations officer Evangeline Hayco: Jango. “You can type in an artist or genre and it will play all kinds of songs similar to it. I never have to full up my iTunes library ever again. It’s free and play only one advertisement a day.”
Photographer James Go: Hipstamatic and Snapseed. “I use Hipstamatic for food shots, specifically the foodie pack expansion. It just works, food looks way better with just one press of a button. For everything else, there’s Snapseed. I have full control of my image editing, even sophisticated adjustments.”
Bankers Association of the Philippines president Abet Villarosa: IBreviary. “It contains the breviary prayers for morning, daytime, evening and night prayers. It also contains the mass and its readings. I have in my small iPhone 5 all that I need, which otherwise I would have to bring two large prayer books for.”
Smart public affairs manager for online services Nick Wilwayco: Project Noah Mobile for Android. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to be prepared plus it was made by a DOST scholar who gave back to the country.”
Photographer and blogger Estan Cabigas: Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare “for updates on the go.”
Megaworld director for strategic marketing Harold Geronimo: Metro Traffic. “It makes driving around Metro Manila easier because I know which roads to take during peak hours. It’s so updated and accurate.”
Blogger Nancy Cudis: Instagram. “It’s easy to use and I can readily post and share my photos on my Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. I also enjoy seeing fun photos of my friends.
Lawyer Cecille Soria: TweakDeck on Android. “I live in Twitter. It’s useful for marking life updates, catching up with friends, discussing news and whatnot and as links dump stuff to read. Tweakdeck is robust and can handle multiple accounts. This is useful since I also help manage @PHNetDems Twitter account for the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom.”
Smart senior manager Menchie Quiñal: Maps. “I travel a lot these days. When I do my travel plan, I check the map first and mark the must-visit places and food strips before I book my hotel. From there I can best manage budget and time.”
Cardiologist Alex Junia: MyFitnessPal “so I can record my food intake and exercise.”
Golfer Bayani Garcia: Viber and WhatsApp. “It’s a great way to communicate with people. It’s much more fun with the group chats with my friends. Also, it’s such a convenient way to send photos and videos.”
Programmer and start-up founder Mark Buenconsejo: Tweetbot and Pocket. “Tweetbot is one of the best developed app for iOS. Everytime I use it, I can feel the passion of the developers, who made sure I have the best mobile experience. It also integrates nicely with Pocket, Camera+ and Cloud app. I like to use Pocket because it integrates nicles with Tweetbot, Twitter and BufferApp. My workflow starts with Twitter and if I find something interesting to read, I add it to Pocket. Pocket works and does not get in the way. It’s free but I’d be glad to pay for it so they can continue to make the best Web reader out there.”
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