Group Messaging Apps Explained

beluga

A friend of mine just got an iPhone and was frustrated by an app she got that promised free texting – mainly because none of her friends got her texts. Yeah, we’d all be frustrated too.   Fortunately, there are better options!

Group messaging apps are real-time ways to text people for free, no matter what kind of smart phone they have (in theory). It’s like MSN Messenger or iChat for your phone… or for those Blackberry users, it’s BBM but works across all phones. While the cost to text isn’t necessarily prohibitive to all smartphone users (unless you’re traveling, then it’s ridiculous), it’s worth trying out something free, right?

There are a few apps that have been around for a while – Meebo, Beejive, etc, which use your preexisting memberships to Instant Messagers such as Yahoo! or MSN, but here are a few that break out:

Kik launched in late 2010 and I’d love to love it because it’s created in Canada, but it’s restrictive because you can only communicate with other Kik members. The app asks to scan my address book to find other Kik members, but since my contacts include some old and new work related people, I wanted to add my friends manually. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do it because I could only search by Kik user name instead of pulling via predictive text from my address book, which is what I expected. Its creator, a former employee of RIM, is currently being sued by the maker of the Blackberry and the app has been pulled from its store.

Beluga was created by former Google employees and its app is available for iPhone and Android – but you can still access Beluga conversations, or “pods” from any mobile browser. You do need to sign in to use the service, but the process is really simple. While in the app, it uses predictive search using your address book to find who you want to start a conversation with (rather than automatically scanning for its members – great!).  You can turn on a map feature so people you text know where you are (very cool), though it’s not an exact science – I’m texting someone who is in the same room as me, but the map indicates I’m a few blocks away. I mean, really. In this snowstorm? No thank you. Another cool feature- it updates your conversation by scrolling down/release to refresh – just like in the Twitter app. I love that more apps are adopting this functionality.

GroupMe is another app, but it’s unfortunately not available in the Canadian iTunes store. I can’t test it.

I know a lot of people who love their Blackberries because of BBM, so the ability of apps to share this functionality across all different types of smartphones might be a text killer and save us all some money. I wonder if Beluga will ever make it into the Blackberry app store… hmm…

Are there other similar messenger apps to try out? Let me know.