You might be thinking that we needed a new way of communicating like a kick in the head, but then along came WhatsApp! The creators of this cross-device instant messaging application have managed to show that they could vastly improve upon SMS messaging by creating a real-time version, and its free*.
iPhone style threads
Using the internet to connect rather than sending text messages, WhatsApp allows users to communicate on an instant messenger style platform, keep a timeline of their conversations and has a really sleek UI. Taking its cue from the iPhone’s classic threaded conversations, WhatsApp gives users an easy-to-read thread from top-to-bottom, which is customisable to look as cool as they want it to. Move over BBM!
Where BBM and Ping! have fallen down in the IM stakes, WhatsApp has managed to pick up the pieces, but has it managed it in all areas?
WhatsApp vs. BBM
BBM is a service purely for Blackberry users and has been around the longest out of the three, however WhatsApp has totally trounced BBM for availability by offering itself up to all of the major mobile operating systems. WhatsApp can now be used on any phone running iOS, Symbian, Android and Blackberry, whereas Windows Mobile is lagging behind, but hopefully it’ll catch up soon!
WhatsApp works by sharing your phone number with your preferred contacts, so this is a platform which will most likely appeal to users who want to converse with their friends and family, rather than with unknown quantities, as they might do on Twitter or Facebook. The app automatically delves into your phonebook and connects you with your phone contacts who are already using WhatsApp.
Giving out your number
A downside to the fact that every user has to share their number, means that a users’ network is restricted to familiar phone numbers. This is where it could be said that WhatsApp is not a development on Ping! One thing that Ping! allows users to do is register themselves an ID, which they can give out to whoever they like without fear of getting strange phonecalls in return!
By “gating” the app with a username and password system rather than relying on SIM cards, the developers of WhatsApp might have been able to widen peoples’ networks and properly create an MSN or Facebook-style chat on a mobile.
One major sticking point that WhatsApp users have, especially ones who don’t want to be permanently available to their contacts, is the fact that WhatsApp stays logged in and connected to the internet all the time. To this end, it can be a bit of a battery-sucker, especially if you live in an area with patchy internet signal as the app will constantly bounce in and out of range.
A temporary patch to this problem, that many users have taken advantage of, is installing the Killme app, which asks which application you’d like to close down and then does it for you. For those of us who prefer not to be available to our contacts all the time, you are able to set your status to “Away”, which gets around the fact that you might be logged in all the time, but doesn’t solve the battery-munching problem! Watch this space for the next upgrade, as this is a big issue for WhatsApp users at the moment.
There are definite signs that WhatsApp is looking to take up more of a user’s phone time by providing a one-stop shop for all their networking needs. Images, video and audio files can all be sent over WhatsApp, users can chat together in a group and you can call someone from your phonebook (by linking you to the phonebook and not actually activating a call via the app itself).
Users can also engage in suspiciously Facebook-like activities including updating their status and updating their location as you might on FourSquare and Gowalla, and by giving no character limit at all users are permitted to carry on chatting way past the limits of a Tweet. With so many new ways of communicating, it’s extremely difficult to know which will sink and which will swim, however the availability and uptake of WhatsApp so far is pushing it as a front-runner. Let’s see what happens now that Google+ has just launched its iPhone app today! (19th July)
|Cross-platform including iOS, Android, Blackberry, SymbianAutomatically scans phonebook to find contacts using WhatsApp
Easy-to-read threaded conversations
Unlimited character length
“Check-in” your location & update your status
Share multimedia files
Free for first year*
|Required to share your phone number with other usersConstantly logged on and connected to the internet
Can decrease battery life
$1.99 annually after first year
|BBM||Unlimited character lengthBuild your own BBM “Avatar”
Share multimedia files
Taking a pic of another user’s ‘bar code’ adds them automatically
|Only available for use on BlackberryUser interface less sophisticated than other apps
No automatic phonebook scanning
Can be very slow to load
|PingChat!||Available on iOS, Android & Blackberry devicesRegistering Ping! ID allows users to remain anonymous
Push to send you notifications of new messages
|Constantly logged on and connected to the internet|