Instant messaging shootout part II: Mxit, SnapChat, KiK and more


Continuing our last instalment in which we pitted BBM, Line, Viber, WhatsApp, and WeChat against each other in a duel to the death, let’s instigate competition between the “best of the rest” instant messaging apps out there: the up-and-comers, the been-here-for-a-whiles, and the old kids on the block still trying to act hip and fresh.

As we stated last time, despite the verdict presented here, ultimately a winner will be crowned based on the amount of subscribers it can attract. However, let us again take our friends, family, and loved ones out of the equation for the moment and launch a full-blown war between MXit, Kik, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Hangouts, ChatON and SnapChat, to find out where the future of instant messaging could possibly lie.

There can only be one.

Mxit (iOS, Android)

There’s a zombie in our mist.

Alright, that’s not entirely fair. Despite losing an unprecedented amount of users to BlackBerry Messenger, and later to WhatsApp, Mxit remains the premier instant messenger across Southern Africa.

Mxit arrives back from the dead in the form of a refreshed iOS and Android app, which, in contrast to the dated display so many users remember the service by, is quite refreshing and usable.

Mxit offers a plethora of entertainment options for the easily bored, accommodating user and group messaging alongside traditional Mxit services. For the uninitiated, Mxit offers its own app store, an in-app email service, and gallery folder for retaining images. Additionally, Mxit offers a virtual Tradepost, in which users can purchase apps, games, browse the Mxit storefront which offers emoticons, videos, ringtones, gifts, and virtual companions (read: bots) for the lonely at heart, all via the purchase of Moola, which is Mxit’s digital currency. On the chat front, Mxit accommodates image and video sharing, in addition to in-app emoticons, in a similar style to WhatsApp.

Mxit, despite feeling a great deal more barren than it did years ago, offers a compelling instant messaging experience relatable to WeChat. Despite being let down by a somewhat lousy Tradepost experience, Mxit has returned, and is more useable than ever.

Skype (iOS, Android)

Following the acquisition by Microsoft, Skype is sporting a better look than ever.

The app itself still bears the same fruits it did years ago; simple and efficient voice and text messaging in addition to rock-solid video calling.

As an instant messenger, Skype supports a limited feature set, accommodating simple messages with in-app emoticons. As a video and voice calling service, which is what the application is primarily punted as, Skype still offers clear voice-calling and one of the most intuitive video calling services to date. The ability to sync chat messages across multiple devices offers an intuitive way to maintain conversations on the go, with the added option to make in-app calls via a Skype number presenting itself as a cheaper alternative to traditional cellular or landline calls.

Despite these features, Skype is still the application you’ll use to exchange messages with those distant friends across long distances. With an instant messaging feature overshadowed by far more powerful voice and video calling, Skype has some catching up to do in the IM race.

Hangouts (iOS, Android)

Google arrives at the party in form of the handy Hangouts app, which integrates with Google services, most noticeably and predictably, the “unpopular” Google+.

Hangouts, similarly to Skype, accommodates dead-simple instant messaging, voice and video calling. As an instant messenger, Hangouts offers image and location sharing, in addition to in-app emoticons.

Google brings the party to the world through the ability to join celebrity hangouts over Google+, which is an enterprising feature amongst a litany of far more sedate services.

Despite this, Google’s Hangouts is similarly barren to Skype, offering little else beyond the already stated feature set. Despite this, the app offers an intelligent design and a useful contact system derived from Google+ as well as Gmail. While a relatively boring contender at the moment, it is likely that Hangouts might offer greater appeal in the future if accompanied by a wider feature set.

Facebook Messenger (iOS, Android)

Facebook, unsurprisingly, continues to punt its messaging service, the intrepidly titled Facebook Messenger, as the only instant messenger you’re likely to need.

While the social network has more than good reason to develop an instant messaging app, Facebook Messenger still comes across as socially obligatory, despite a new updated ability to add contacts who aren’t on Facebook.

Save for that feature, there is little Facebook Messenger can perform that the Facebook app itself cannot handle already – both applications share the ability to message Facebook contacts through text messages, image and video sending, location sharing, voice recording, as well as supporting a limited selection of emojis natively.

While it’s clear Facebook’s intent is to keep users hooked on the social network, the Messenger app itself comes across as a desperate and unnecessary saving throw in the instant messaging race. While perfectly useable, and, of course, promoting easy access to communicating with all of your Facebook friends, it’s unlikely that Facebook Messenger will ever suffice to be a contender alongside the likes of WhatsApp.

Snapchat (iOS, Android)

Facebook, you missed out – the selfie revolution you propagated has arrived.

Snapchat is an instant messaging service focused squarely on the visual – Snapchat offers an exchange of selfies, snapshots and annotated images between users – if the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” is true, prepare to be faced with novel after novel.

SnapChat suffers from an awkward menu layout, with the active camera screen as the main hub of all user activity. Users can navigate leftward to access a list of recently sent snaps, and right for a list of contacts.

Offering no other means of communication beyond images, snaps are customized by the ability to annotate them (read: draw moustaches on faces) using a colour pencil tool. Users can furthermore set a display time for their images to display to a recipient (in a set amount of either seconds, or none for an infinite display). Heavens forbid users circumvent this by taking a screenshot of any received message.

SnapChat, while entertaining and interesting, isn’t a kingpin of the instant messaging race. It’s best used to send those endearing (or not so much) messages to significant others and loved ones, and despite its all-round fun factor, it likely won’t ever be the de-facto messaging app sitting on your device.

ChatON (iOS, Android)

Not one to be left out, Samsung offers an instant messaging solution in the form of ChatON, available on both iOS and Android.

ChatON accommodates image, video, contact, calendar, location and document sharing, in addition to user-creating “animessages”, an elaborate term for in-app card sending. ChatON offers voice calling in addition to in-app emoticons, as well as Samsung account access for storing contact lists and profile data.

ChatON further provides “Special Buddy” access, which allows users to add official accounts of products and publications for current news. ChatON offers slim customisability through the ability to download emoticons as well as custom chat bubbles. ChatON users furthermore are able to post stories to their accounts in a manner not dissimilar from WeChat’s stories.

While sporting a dated interface on iOS, ChatON offers a solid feature set, and with more aggressive marketing and development from Samsung, could eventually be a strong contender amongst a litany of far more developed instant messaging apps.

Kik (iOS, Android)

Up-and-coming chat app Kik has been residing on the horizon for some time, and has attracted a continuing amount of users via its heavy marketing presence on Vine. Kik features image and sticker sending, in addition to the ability to send YouTube videos, in-app sketches, internet memes as well as the Snap-Chat styled “Photo Bomb” feature, which allows users to send images which automatically delete after a selected period of time, just like Snapchat

Kik further supports in-app emoticons, contact blocking, customisable chat bubble colours, as well as notification customization, promoting an accessible and easy to use interface for messaging friends and family.

Between these features, Kik’s sole focus as an IM sees a polished experience which, if the service can attract large enough usership, could be a strong competitor to the likes of Line, WeChat, and WhatsApp.

Telegram (iOS, Android)

Telegram arrives as a dapper competitor to WhatsApp, with a near-identical feature set and overall approach. Telegram opts for a fast yet simplistic approach to instant messaging, employing standard Emojis, image sharing via a media library or internet search, video sharing, in addition to location, document, and contact sharing facilities.

Telegram cunningly avoids the awkward design employed by WhatsApp by utilising three simplistic menu panes: offering views between a contact list, open chats, and finally, settings. Telegram is barely customisable, with the ability to select a chat background as well as the option to block users, should your social life demand such a move.

Unfortunately, Telegram has its sights set so squarely on WhatsApps’ forehead that the app itself offers little above or beyond what its competitor does. Telegram offers a plain feature set – and despite the app’s vaunted passive security features, simply isn’t exciting enough to tempt a mass migration from WhatsApp’s virtual plains.

The Verdict

Sometimes, the “you bring a gun, and I’ll bring an arsenal” approach doesn’t yield fruit. Despite the innovative and oft intriguing features reviewed here, veering between the more heavily developed Mxit or the slim-and-trim Telegram, the real attraction behind an instant messaging app is balance.

Kik brings an exciting feature set – without an overwhelming approach – in a fun and easy-to-use package, which is inviting to newcomers and still enticing to regular users.

It remains to be seen whether Kik will be able to attract a large enough usership to truly become a stable competitor to the likes of WeChat or WhatsApp – however, with features which leverage internet pop culture such as memes and YouTube videos, it’s likely that Kik could explode in popularity. Let’s hope so – I’ve got a ton of viral cat videos I need to share.

Image via Softpedia

Bryan Smith


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