One day, I wanted to learn more about products. There's a current now in the tech/startup world that some people are natively good at making good products... and they're not engineers. So, for 14 weeks I've tested different mobile chat applications with my girlfriend, trying to find product flaws and what they did the best.
My gear is a Macbook Air and an Android Nexus 5. I also used my HTC Desire S for testing about a month, before I got my Nexus. She has a Toshiba laptop that runs dual-boot Ubuntu/Windows and an Android Nexus 4. So, I'm sorry for the couples that have an iPhone, but I couldn't test the apps on that platform.
We also live in Romania, but I won't count in the network effects because we were searching just for an app for the two of us. I've took notes of the usual things an app should have: speed, usability, clients on lots of platforms, etc. But my girlfriend came with 2 of her own categories:
I tried to use each app for at least one week. In some apps I couldn't even log in, others I've used for a month because I liked them. Here is the big list of apps, the order being just what I used first.
- stalker-ability - does the app show when I'm awake, where I am, if I'm using my mobile or if I'm in the kitchen?!
- cats - she likes cats. So stickers with cats are one of her requirements.
All pics are taken from Google Play. I was lazy to do the screenshots by myself, because I would have had to blur every one of them.
Facebook MessengerUbiquitous around teenagers here in Romania, it's one of the best designed apps. Chat heads are a good engineered feature. That's if you have at least a dual-core mobile because it worked shitty on my Desire S. The Pusheen stickers made my girlfriend happy and the option that you attach a location to each message wins the most points at stalker-ability. You can also call people from the app, but the quality is not the best.
WhatsAppThe grand-parent of mobile apps, it needs no presentation. I see a particular high usage of the group chat feature, especially during the university year. Other than that, it does not have stickers and it feels that my mother would be delighted to use it, but I'm too young for it. (at least for now).
TelegramA design copy-cat for WhatsApp. The owner of it said that it is the most secure chat app in the world. Some people tried to break it in a [contest]() and some even succeeded. However, I won't trust it if I have to share some governmental secrets because we have PGP for that. As for what I talk with my girlfriend, the most important stuff I usually hear is how one of her friends stole the boyfriend of a girl.
MessageMeIt was cute for me, but she did not like it. And no Mac or web app means zero usability because I talk a lot at the office with her.
LineThe speed of this application is bad. Really bad. The Mac app feel like a shitty Chinese copy-paste app. Messages arrive 2-3 minutes later, the sync is awful, you have some ugly notifications on your phone when a message appears. Also, when you click a notification, nothing happens, which I can say it's a good decision because you don't get to load the ugly interface.
TangoNice onboarding for a new user, where you get to sent a free sticker gift for one of your friends. But, after that it crashed -_-. No OSX or web app and it was sluggish on our phones.
SkypeYou may think that if Microsoft bought the company, some heavy senior engineers would build a full-proof backend. Even though the voice options are one of the top 2, almost near Hangouts, the syncing between messages on the Mac app and on the phone is bad. I mean the worst. I would send my girlfriend messages, and receive from her replies about other messages I sent 10 minutes before. I had to call her once to understand what did she say. However, I loved the UI of the app. The fonts and the colors where the best mix I saw on all the apps I've used. But for no good if I couldn't use the app.
Kik MessengerIt's a pretty snappy chat application that got traction in Canada. I liked the fact that the market was made in HTML and it worked pretty well. However, it does not have cats, stalking options or a desktop app.
WeChatThe mobile app is fast, the Mac client is flawless. It has one of the biggest collection of cat stickers. But the top bar notifications do not show a message, which I think is a pretty big no-no (hey, we're in a crowded market here so every mistake counts). Also, no seen by messages means for my girlfriend that I am ignoring here, even though I am just sleeping or working at the office.
HangoutsThe new-old Google integration of a chat client is pretty good from an office point of view. But the emoticons are ugly. And you don't have any stickers. Maybe it's good at the office, but for us it felt like we were already parents.
Blackberry MessengerThe first time you open the app, you get a big register form. Feels like the 90s baby. Next, the UI is pretty similar to the Windows Mobile 6.1 OS I used on a friend's phone 10 years ago, when styluses were still common. Finally, we could not manage to use it more then 2 hours because we were getting too nervous with the UX and all the settings around there.
HikeA funny and teenagerly onboarding greets you when you first open the app. I also like the fact that for each conversation you can set and change a background. This is a feature reminiscent of the old days I used Yahoo! Messenger, and people would change the theme to an Autumn one, and the BUZZ! would become a wind blowing. I liked the fact that ads for stickers were unobtrusive, but the lack of a desktop client made it unusable by me.
NimbuzzIf BBM looks like the 90s, this is straight from the 80s. If you sometimes lost your internet connection of your mobile phone, then a cute notification would appear, begging you to login again on the _servers_. Also, if you did download a free pack of stickers and sent some to your girlfriend, then she would get the message I sent you a Sticker, looks like you are unable to view it. Learn more at http://nimb.uz/sticker :))
Path MessengerThis appeared when we were testing our last apps. It looked cool at first, but after I discovered how much battery and data it eats, I uninstalled it without any regrets. My girlfriend told me that she liked the fact that there were some nice automatic statuses that the app was setting: when I was in traffic, if I have low battery, when I wake up and lots of other creepy options.
QuipNot a messaging app, but I've discovered that we talk a lot there. When I first saw the product, I thought that is was awesome, but did not found an utility for it. However now I know: it's the best distributed shopping list ever built. The lists get made during the week, I review them before leaving for the market, my girlfriend writes comments on how much carrots I should buy, and when I arrive at the market I get an alert that she wants watermelon. This is done without any phone calls. And the stalkerability of the app is awesome. I get a notification when she opens a note, another one when she edits the note, and the third one when she leaves a comment on a list item in the note.
ViberThe last, but not the least. Our currently best preferred way to talk. With the best sync available. With one of the best Mac and Linux, Windows clients that work flawless. With so many stickers that when a work colleague saw them, we spent 10 minutes looking through all the gallery. With strong stalker options that tell my girlfriend when I am alive, where did I sent my messages and if I'm ignoring her. The winner is Viber. And I have to admit, I also like the stickers sometimes.
HipChatEven though I did not use this app for talking with my girlfriend, I cannot refrain to mention it here. It's the best group chat app you could use. We use it at work and being free now, I made my friends to use it at InfoEducatie, even though they wanted an old-school IRC server. The fact that it just works, has a history, can transfer files easily, has a strong mobile client makes it unbeatable in this category.
YOI could not write an article about mobile messaging without mentioning the revolution of communication that this app has revealed to the entire planet. The accessibility of sending a message, the flawless UI for selecting somebody and the sheer number of users (my girlfriend, she was forced by me) make this app the perfect thing for dating, sharing awesome moments or simply expressing care.
Last thoughtsThe chat application space is really crowded. Everyone wants to take a share of the billion messages that people send daily. For me, it was a pleasure to test an app a week and learn more about mobile projects.