Are you still paying for text messaging? Hang onto your wallets. With countless apps offering free or low-cost unlimited text messaging across different operating systems, and even to international numbers, there’s no need to spend another penny on such services.
>WhatsApp (free for one year, $0.99 after) is a very good cross-platform instant messaging app that lets you send unlimited text-like messages to contacts all over the world, and mostly delivers on its promise to let you “say goodbye to SMS!”
On a global level, WhatsApp is perhaps the most popular of these applications, and a recent update keeps the experience fresh and fun. The company doesn’t disclose user data, but according to Google Play the Android app alone has been downloaded 1.2 million times from Google Play; compare that to Skype (650,000 downloads) Viber (300,000 downloads) and Kik (100,000). While feature-wise, it doesn’t do anything spectacularly different from its rivals, WhatsApp’s value comes from its popularity. Furthermore the app is generally less buggy and more frictionless, than other apps.
Replace Your SMS
For the uninitiated, WhatsApp is an instant messaging platform that interfaces like a smarter version of Android’s stock SMS. It runs smoothly on 3G or Wi-Fi, and supports Android, iOS, Symbian, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone smartphones. WhatsApp has all the customization features you’d find in any other text messaging service, and then some. For instance, you can share your location on Google Map, attach an image, video, audio clip, or contact to a message, insert a cute emoticon from a large palette of emoji, or change your conversation’s wallpaper. Alerts can be turned on or off.
Like Apple iMessage and BlackBerry Messenger, WhatsApp also notifies you when a message has been received on the other side. Your recipient can’t pull the “sorry for the late response, just read your text!” excuse like he can with normal texting.
A welcome new feature lets you start a group chat for up to ten people, and title the conversation, like “Dan’s birthday dinner.” Best of all, you can leave the group anytime so you’re not spammed by irrelevant alerts. You won’t find this in Google Talk.
One thing I’d like to do is to be able to add a message or caption to a photo before I send it. Instead, you have to send a photo, and then send a message, or vice versa. It can be very confusing for a recipient to see a photo without instant context.
Who’s On WhatsApp?
Every WhatsApp account is tied to a single phone number. When you launch the app for the first time, WhatsApp automatically scans existing phone numbers in your address book and extracts the ones using WhatsApp, so you can begin messaging those people right away. i was surprised by how many of my contacts already use WhatsApp. If you can’t find your friend, you can easily shoot them an invitation from within the app. A small, but helpful, additional feature is that it automatically adds new buddies when they join the platform—the app requires read/write permissions to your contact information, and it will run a scan every time you add a contact number.
WhatsApp is based on an open source chat protocol, XMPP, the same one used by Apple iMessage and BlackBerry Messenger, and has been the target of a few successful hacks. For instance, last year security researchers were able to intercept and read WhatsApp messages by sniffing WhatsApp data over insecure Wi-Fi networks.
Fortunately, the current version encrypts your messages so that even if someone captures this data in transmission, he won’t be able to read them.
As someone with friends and family all over the world, WhatsApp is indispensible for its free, fast, unlimited messaging and slick interface. But if you’re satisfied with your existing instant messaging services, like Google Talk, Skype, or Yahoo Messenger, WhatsApp doesn’t offer much more in terms of features.