Google has launched a second messaging platform, Google Allo, soon after the launch of their dedicated video calling app in the form of Google Duo. This has suddenly made us aware of the sheer number of messaging apps in the market.
There are way too many apps being offered and all of them, while largely similar, offer a USP that sets them apart. I’ve analysed all of the popular messaging apps in the market today, to help you narrow down the best messaging app that you should use.
WhatsApp: India’s favourite messaging app
WhatsApp is one of the most popular multimedia messaging apps. It is one of the most used apps and is frequently updated, thanks to the official Android Google Play Store beta program. The app has gained regular features over the years with active developer support. Most notable improvements over the years have been the addition of Reading scripts, end-to-end encryption, the ability to send documents, quote and star messages and audio calls. The basic multimedia messaging app features like sending photos and videos from camera or gallery, contact, location, documents and audio files sharing is included in the app in addition to a separate button to record audio messages. The most recent addition to the list is the addition of GIF support along with Apple iOS 10 API support which enables Siri to send messages using voice commands and the roll-out of mentions support to tag users in group conversations.
There are reports about the company working on adding bots, channels, stickers, two-factor authentication, the ability to draw on photos like Snapchat, video calling and the ability to interact with brands using the platform. Most of the features are currently in a testing phase, hidden from general users. The company has been working on GIPHY integration along with the rumoured ability to send full-sized images without any quality loss. The app, however, does not offer much in terms of customisation, only allowing you to update your profile photo, chat background and other such basic edits.
Facebook Messenger: Everyone’s on Facebook
Facebook Messenger is Facebook’s official offering for messaging. The app was initially launched in 2011 as a separate app and split from the official Facebook app in 2014. The platform started as Facebook Chat which was mirrored as an IM messaging service that did not store your messaging history once you closed the window. The company announced an overhaul and announced Facebook inbox, which was meant to work as an email service with ‘@facebook.com’ as the domain where people could send you emails.
The company updated its service, removing what did not work out in favour of newer features. These features include sending money using Facebook messenger, profile stickers, drawing on images and secret conversations where the messages would vanish after a limited time. The ‘chat heads’ interface utilised by the app is unique, and no other messaging app uses such feature. The basic multimedia messaging app features like sending photos and videos from the camera or gallery, location, documents (limited to desktop version) and audio files sharing is included in the app in addition to a separate button to record audio messages. The account lets you add your contact number to help people search and add you using your mobile number, but the account is not tied to that particular contact number. The messaging platform does not allow users to set the status or any message.
The company recently announced SMS integration in the app in addition to a dedicated Messenger website. The app allows you to play games without leaving the chat thread, create nicknames for users, transfer files without uploading the files to any third party cloud service and more. Facebook added audio and video calling to the platform in addition to the new instant video option to engage users. Facebook added read receipts to Messenger where a small bubble of display picture would let you know if the message has been read or not.
Facebook announced messenger platform last year where third party apps would make use of the messenger platform to deliver gifs, personalised photos last year. The company added a unified store to help users easily discover sticker packs and third party apps using the platform. The company announced the expansion of the platform by adding chatbots to the platform where brands, companies or individuals would make use of bots to interact with consumers on a more exclusive and personal level.
Google Allo: The new kid on the block
Google announced Google Allo during Google IO 2016 and launched it in the Play Store yesterday. The company separated text and video into two different apps with the video chat app being called Google Duo and the text app Google Allo. It launched Google Duo some time ago, which included the new ‘Knock Knock’ mode where you could see the video even before you accepted the call.
Allo is barebones with regards to customisation, but the app has all the requisite features, supporting animated stickers with an easy to use Sticker Store. The app allows users to change the size of text messages in addition to smart, contextual replies that are powered by a natural language processing engine in the background, but on an external server. This raises some serious privacy issues despite the messages being encrypted. The only secure and private conversations take place in the incognito mode, just like the secret conversations mode in Facebook Messenger. Incognito mode allows the users to set an expiry time for the messages in a conversation after which the messages will auto-destruct. The messaging platform does not allow users to set a status message.
Google Allo supports basic features including sending photos and videos from the camera or gallery, location and stickers sharing where your account is tied to your contact number, etc. It does not support document sharing and the video and voice calling features are limited to Google Duo. The app does support read receipts like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger with the detailed view of read receipts in group chats as available in WhatsApp.
The app supports Google Assistant, an AI and a contextual bot that is powered by Google. This feature is not available in any chat app currently, though there is limited bot support in Facebook Messenger, Telegram and Skype (Does anyone still use Skype?).
Apple iMessage: The introverted new kid on the block
Apple announced a revamped version of Messages at WWDC 2016. The platform is limited to Apple iOS users, which is its biggest down-side. Messages is technically an SMS app but it adds layers of extra functionality for iOS users. The revamped Messages app launched with the iOS 10 update.
The new features include a Messages Store for stickers and apps. You can even ‘write’ your messages as a note when you rotate your phone in landscape mode. You also get the option of using ‘Digital Touch’, which lets you send animated sketches and effects. The animation flows like a futuristic neon sign. The entire animation is recorded and sent to iOS 10 users while users with older operating systems only get a static image.
Messages in iOS 10 also gives users the option to attach large, animated emoticons to iMessages which convey your reaction to particular iMessages by long pressing on them. The stickers added in Messages can be animated, a far cry from the static stickers available in other messaging apps. GIF and image search is integrated and you can search and send new gifs without leaving the chat thread.
Screen and Bubble effects along with contextual full-screen effects are other iMessage exclusives where the animated effects are visible in full-screen mode. Lastly, the tap to emoji feature converts your written sentence into contextual emojis and is fun to use. It’s sad that all these features are only accessible to iOS users though. The app has potential.
Most of the effects are not essential for the users and turn out to be gimmicky at best. The platform supports basic features like sending photos and videos from camera or gallery but does not support document sharing.
Snapchat: Visual messaging
Snapchat is an image and multimedia messaging app which was initially released in September 2011. The app revolves around sharing images clicked on the spot to share the moment; there are no options to save an image. Each image shared is called a Snapchat ‘Story’ where you can draw, scribble, type and add stickers on the pictures before sharing.
Initially, the company did not allow users to share older images as ‘Stories’, but now the company has rolled out the ability to share old pictures. Each snap ‘story’ disappears after 24 hours and users can set the number of seconds it can run. Anyone on their contact list can view the story. Snapchat is the only platform to have magazines where publishers can add content with animation, videos and images to be consumed. Many popular publishers like BuzzFeed, Discovery and National Geographic are using the app to push out content. The app worked on the concept of exclusive and impromptu instead of the old and recycled. The app allows users to converse and respond to ‘stories’ using text-based responses or image ‘stories’ in-turn.
The text based messages disappear as soon as you exit the chat thread unless you long press and save the messages. The company has added stickers in addition to emoji and bitmoji to the images, videos or chat conversations as a response. Snapchat also offers animated face filters which work on a face detection algorithm to superimpose animations on the faces of users. The core functionality of image scribbling and drawing has recently been adopted by WhatsApp, Telegram and Google Allo. On the top of that, Snapchat is bandwidth and battery intensive and often criticised by users and developers as the most unoptimised app around. There is nothing unique and exclusive offered by Snapchat except for the animated face filters.
Telegram: The underdog
Telegram has to be the underdog in the list. It offers a host of features that cover everything being offered by WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Google Allo, iMessage and Snapchat. Most of the features like Channels for broadcasting information, bot support, file transfer, user tagging and hashtags arrived on Telegram first and was later adapted by other messaging apps. The platform is end-to-end encrypted.
The messaging app does not include voice or audio calling as supported in Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp and also lacks a dedicated store. The available bots aren’t very intelligent, but you do get some unique bots, like a dedicated bot for managing your torrents or one to manage your cloud-storage subscriptions. This is the only platform to include pinned posts, passcode lock, full-fledged photo editing, trimming and compressing videos in addition to ability to make ‘super groups’ where the maximum number of members can be 5,000. The developers are working on implementing drawing and scribbling on photos before sharing. There is no support for animated face filters as supported in Snapchat.
All the Messages specific features are not available on Telegram because of the lack of an expanded platform with a unified app or sticker store. However, Telegram supports file transfers up to 1.5GB each with no restriction file format, full resolution image transfer, two-factor-authentication, secret chats, channels, 3D touch support for iOS, picture in picture video player for youtube links and bots. One of the main strengths for Telegram it’s not locked to your phone number or a particular device. This is the only messaging platform to allow users to login on multiple devices ranging from native Windows app to web app and apps available for web platforms. Essential features like contact, document, file, full resolution image sharing and sharing pictures and videos from camera or gallery are all available on this app.
Hangouts: In limbo
Hangouts is the current default messaging app offering provided by Google. It will remain despite the launch of Google Allo. The messaging platform allows essential messaging functions like video and audio calling in addition to sharing images and videos from the camera or gallery. Features like sticker support and location sharing are also available on the platform. Also, the messaging platform does not allow document sharing or provide two-factor-authentication.
Hangouts is the only app that supports Archive function for conversations, in addition to the option to turn history off. However, this is the only messaging platform that does not provide the search function to comb through the message thread or across the conversation.
And the winner is…
Before I say anything else, one thing is certain: No matter how good another messaging app may be, you’ll use the one that everyone else is on because you have to. You don’t have an option in that regard. To be frank, it is hard to convince all your friends to switch to a particular messaging app, unless it is really that good and worth it or you’re just that persuasive.
Ignoring the above aspect and judging these apps purely from a functionality and feature perspective, I would heartily recommend Telegram. I really wish that Telegram was more used because it seems to have everything going for it, except a user base, It has native clients for just about every platform, has tonnes of useful features, it’s open, has strong privacy and security features and is not limited by device. What more can you ask for from a messaging app?