IM Apps

This review makes a comparison of what are considered to five of the best and most popular iPhone Instant Messaging (IM) applications around today.

I will be looking at three of the more expensive applications such as IM+ With PUSH, BeejiveIM and Agile. I will also compare two of the most popular lower priced applications and see how these compare to the higher priced applications. These applications are eBuddy and Palringo.

One of the best features of the iPhone that puts it above other smart phones is the push notification service. This service allows applications to update you in real time using badges, sounds or custom text alerts without having to be running in the background. This service was made by Apple but is ran by the third party applications so the quality can vary. This is quite an important feature for IM applications as it allows people to keep in touch with their friends and colleagues, whenever and wherever they are. All of these applications include push notifications, so it is worth seeing how the quality varies between these applications.

Developer – Shape Services

IM+ with Push – £5.99($9.99) – iTunes

IM+ with Push covers an excellent choice of IM services, which includes Skype, AOL, MSN, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo!, Google Talk, Jabber, ICQ and MySpace. This IM client is laid out appropriately, with the sort of tabs that you would expect for efficient movement around a well designed application.

The application is open for easy management of your accounts where you can set your status, delete or add contacts, and even allows you to update your status with a GPS location link, so people know where abouts you are at the time. If you have a large amount of friends then you can order them into groups or even put your best friends into a favourite tab. Along with this there is landscape view and the inbox stores all your past conversation threads for easy access. When reading through conversation threads you can hide the keyboard by simply tapping the conversation thread.

This application has the largest array of emoticons that I have ever seen. It has a category for all the emoticons that you could ever need for use in MSN etc, but then it has a lot more for use when chatting to another person with IM+.

Something you may have noticed about this application is that it includes twitter within it’s list of services. Now if you use twitter you may think this would be quite a useful idea to have everything under one roof. But to be honest, this application is clearly designed for IM services, which twitter is not. Saying that it does have its upside. It allows you to check twitter whilst you’re amidst conversations with your friends. It’s not as intuitive to twitter as applications that are made for twitter but it makes it easier to check if you are using this application at the time. It also allows you to have your twitter @replies and DMs pushed to your phone. So although not useful as a primary application to check twitter, it does come in handy when needed along with the push notifications.

The application also includes an In-app web browser, which means that you can easily check links that people send you or just browse the web, without having to leave the application.

Pros

  • Easily manage your accounts
  • Well designed layout
  • In app web browser
  • Large choice of services
  • Push notification for Twitter

Cons

  • Push has been somewhat unreliable
  • Not ideal as primary twitter client

IM+ iPhone app

Developer – Beejive

Beejive – £5.99($9.99) – iTunes

Beejive allows you to receive push notifications for up to seven days after you close the application, which means your not going to be losing contact to anyone anytime soon. It stores your conversations so you can continue from where you left off. Beejive integrates all of your favourite IM services including AIM/MobileMe, Google Talk ICQ, Jabber, MSN Messenger, Myspace IM, Yahoo! Messenger and Facebook IM.

There’s room for customisation with a choice of aesthetically pleasing backgrounds or anything from your own library. Beejive also allows you to manage your accounts such as adding and removing contacts, changing your nicknames, accepting friend requests and blocking contacts. You can also put your friends into groups, if you have a lot of friends to make it easier to find those that you speak to more often.

The application comes with standard features such as landscape mode and a large panoply of emoticons. You can also add friends to a favourites list similar to that of the phone book favourites. Push notifications last for up to 7 days after you close the application, which is longer than any of the other applications that I have tested.

Not only does this application give you everything most necessary for an IM client but it also has sharp interface that feels smooth to use and the application has logical settings and menu layouts. If you have some friends with multiple IM accounts then meta chat allows you to put all of the chats into one thread so it is easier to look through past conversations. With the in built web browser it is possible to browse the web and go to links that people send you without having to keep opening and closing the application.

Pros

  • Push notifications for up to 7 days
  • Saves chat history
  • Smooth interface
  • Meta chats between different accounts
  • In built web browser

Cons

  • None

BeeJive iPhone app

Developer – Agilemobile

Agile – £5.99($9.99) – iTunes

Agile is probably one of my least favourite premium IM applications. It does a good job but I feel that when it was designed, there wasn’t much thought in to what the most important features for an IM client would require. It does have some brilliant quirky features such as the ability to use the cameras live footage as the background so that you can chat and browse through the application on the move. I have tested this out and it does work quite well.

the applications interface and design seems unintuitive and the application feels limited when compared to what other premium iPhone applications have to offer. It is limited on the number of services that it offers, which are ICQ, MSN, AIM, Yahoo!, Jabber and Google. The application only allows for up to 12 hours after closing for push notifications.

Agile mobile for the iPhone is known for its push notifications being a bit hit or miss at times. I found that sometimes I just wasn’t receiving any push notifications at some point, which is not what you want from an application that claims to have this ability.

On the up side the application runs very smoothly and does do its job as an IM client. It even includes Unicode support for chatting to people in any language, which is more than the applications feature.

Pros

  • Camera Footage for on the go
  • Support for all languages
  • Application tends to lag

Cons

  • Only 12 hours of push notifications after close
  • Small selection of IM services
  • Push quality unreliable
  • No inclusion of an in-built browser

Agilemobile iPhone app

Developer – eBuddy

eBuddy Pro – £2.99($4.99) – iTunes

This application comes as half the price of the premium applications and for that reason I expected to let myself in for disappointment. This application does its job but it doesn’t give you any of the perks that the more expensive applications have to offer, which is fair enough.

You are required to set up an eBuddy account to use this application but that is all very quick and simple to do. Once you do this you are away, with the ability to easily chat to your friends or colleagues, All integrated into one list. Push notification services last for up to three days after you have exited the application, so you won’t miss any important gossip.

The application also includes some common features nowadays such as landscape mode for the keyboard and all the regular emoticons. You can send pictures to friends and send a buzzer by shaking your phone. You can also change your display picture from your camera or from your photo library. The application saves your chat history and allows for support for many services such as MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, AIM, GTalk, Facebook, ICQ, MySpace and Hyves.

I was disappointed to find that the application only included the most basic emoticons and also didn’t correct any of my spelling mistakes, which I thought was odd considering that spell correction is common in nearly all applications today. This meant that my messages were very hard to read at times. I also found that when people would contact me through Facebook chat, the application would give me their user number instead of a name, so I wouldn’t actually know who it was. This is a basic error that is one of many small reasons why I would pay more for one of the premium applications, which don’t have this problem.

This is a great application but I can now see after reviewing why it is  down there in the lower price bracket. It does everything that I expect an iPhone IM client to do but at the same time, it is missing a lot of features that would put it up there with the premium rate clients. It also didn’t feel as fluid to use as Beejive and IM+ with Push. I found that scrolling through chats sometimes you would end up moving into a different chat by mistake. The way the application allows you to simply flick between chat logs could have been set up better. I imagine it to have a flow somewhat like the home screen and how you flick between pages of applications.

Pros

  • Wide range of services
  • Includes push notifications
  • Reasonable price for what it offers

Cons

  • Small amount of Emoticons
  • No inclusion of names with Facebook chat
  • No in-built web browser

eBuddy iPhone app

Developer – Palringo

Palringo £2.99($4.99 ) – iTunes

Palringo is another company that has been making IM applications for various platforms other than the iPhone. It prices up as half that of some of the premium apps but does it meet up to the same expectations?

It allows a wide choice of services such as Windows Live Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, Facebook, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, IChat/MobileMe and Gadu-Gadu. This application actually offers little more than an IM client. It doesn’t include spelling correction, which I thought was common to all third party applications nowadays. It does keep a record of chat history and does include basic features such as themes and landscape mode. The application has a terrible layout that is very confusing to get around and uses pinch zoom in the most unnecessary places.

The application allows for you to send picture messages to friends and share your location with friends. You can create groups so that you can easily send messages to multiple people at the same time.

This application is by far my least favourite and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. If you are really wanting a cheap application then definitely choose eBuddy over this.

Pros

  • Low priced
  • Push notification

Cons

  • Poor quality design

Palringo iPhone app

Verdict

Truth be told, these applications vary in quality a lot more than I expected, which means that deciding on the best app isn’t too difficult for me. IM+ with push and Beejive are definitely the best two and really choice depends on what you are looking for in an IM client. IM+ had a lot of room for personalisation and included the largest variety of IM clients. IM+ offers push for twitter, which could be pretty handy if you’re a heavy IM and Twitter user. Beejive just felt a step better in terms of speed, reliability and intuitive design. Beejive also allows you to get push notifications for the longest period of time, which is very useful. AgileMobile was close behind these two because it met up to most standards and included some clever extra features such as the background camera screen and the large selection of UNICODE. Agile failed on the interface and the general ease of movement around the application didn’t feel as comfortable to use as with the others along with a lack of a web browser.

Overall Beejive is the winner for me as it is my favourite IM client and I am more of a casual user. I hope that you have found this review useful but if you feel that there is anything I have missed out then feel free to mention it as I have spent a lot of time with these applications so I should be able to answer most queries.

To be able to use Facebook chat with these applications, Facebook will require you to verify your date of birth. Each application deal with this in different ways and isn’t difficult to sort out, but it did have me confused at first so I thought it was worth a mention.