Texting, messaging, SMS. All names for arguably the most common way people keep in touch with each other nowadays.
Traditionally, carrier SMS (short message service) has been the dominant messaging platform for mobile users. It actually has a few benefits that more modern messaging services have yet to match:
- Available to anyone with a mobile phone, even if it’s not a smartphone
- Does not require a data plan (again, mostly beneficial to those without a smartphone)
- Peace of mind—you can know that if you send a message to someone, they have the capabilities to receive it, and will (unless they specifically have SMS blocked through their carrier)
Those are pretty important advantages, but since consumers are flocking to smartphones en masse, the options have opened up and alternate services have come in to offer a better experience and more features.
So, how can you ditch traditional texting and maybe even get rid of your expensive messaging plan through your carrier?
The options depend somewhat on what smartphone you are using, though many of the services are multi-platform.
Apple introduced iMessage in iOS5 in 2011. It is a service that is built into the messaging application of all iPhones running iOS5 or later. The big advantage of iMessage is that it can auto-detect if the person you are sending a message to is using an iPhone; if that’s the case, the message will be automatically converted from standard SMS to iMessage with no other user-initiated action.
This does two things; it makes it so you don’t get a text message counted against your carrier limit (if you have one), and it offers more features such as longer messages, emoticons and better quality images.
iMessage shows extra information about your conversations. You can see if the person you messaged has read what you sent, and you can also see if they are currently typing.
The downside—it only works with other iPhone, iPad or Mac users. If your circle of friends and family are all on iPhones, then you’re in luck when it comes to messaging; you are, for the most part, independent of carrier limits!
If that’s not the case for you, and you frequently message people who are on other platforms, such as Android or Windows Phone, have no fear, there are plenty of other options for you.
All below services are multiplatform (work on at least two platforms)
Hangouts is Google’s latest attempt to be a leader in messaging.
Hangouts replaced Google Talk, a reasonably popular messaging platform, but one that lacked the uptake of more casual users.
Hangouts is a free application for all Android and iPhone users. It allows pictures and animated GIFs to be inserted into conversations, as well as a large set of emoticons. You can see if someone has read the latest message—a user’s avatar will be present up to where they’ve read in the conversation. You can also see if someone is actively reading the conversation based on if their avatar is greyed out (not reading) or not (reading). There is also an indicator to show if someone is typing a message.
The only requirement to use Hangouts (besides having an Android or iOS device) is that you need a Google account.
VOIP (voice over IP) calls are possible if you have a Google Voice account. This feature is currently only supported on iPhones, but is coming to Android this year.
Hangouts as a distinct advantage in that it allows you to see your conversations and reply from any web browser on a computer. Simply login to your Google account (in Gmail, for example) and your Hangouts conversation list will appear. All conversations are synced to the cloud, so you will never lose your place or history without explicitly deleting it yourself.
Whatsapp is the most widely available messaging platform across different operating systems. You can use it on Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, Blackberry and Nokia smartphones.
It uses your phone number to make messaging your contacts easier. By tying your phone number to your Whatsapp account, anyone else who installs Whatsapp and has you in their phonebook can see that you also use Whatsapp. Because of this, you must be using an active cell phone to be able to use Whatsapp. It cannot be used on a tablet or a web browser.
It has a very modest fee. The first year is free, after that it is $0.99 per year. Depending on if you have installed it in the past or not, you may be in their “free for life” category. Either way, for the service it offers, the fee is incredibly fair.
Whatsapp also shows whether or not someone has read the message you sent and has an indicator showing if someone is currently typing a message.
Line is a relatively new service (launched in 2011) that started in Japan as a response to an earthquake disaster that devastated telecommunications in the region. It has exploded into a service that boasts over 300 million users as of November 2013.
Line is available on iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry and Nokia Asha smartphones.
It offers messaging with video and photos, and voice and video calling as well.
An application is also available for Windows and Mac PC users.
These are just a sample of the most popular services available at this time. There are others, but these services have made a large impact in messaging and are most likely to be used by the people you communicate with.
No matter which service you choose, the goal is to get away from the legacy text messaging service that carriers offer at a unreasonable price and which lack the features that newer messaging services offer.
It may take some work to get your most frequently contacted family and friends to switch to one of these apps if they aren’t using one already, but once you do, you will have a much better messaging experience.