Vying to Become the Ubiquitous Messaging Service: The Contenders

(This is part 3 in a series of 3 posts on the topic.)

Last time, we took an in-depth look at the criteria for the “ubiquitous messaging service”.  To close this series of posts, we’ll look at some of those currently contending for the title.

Runners-Up

To qualify for consideration, a messaging service must make a good effort to meet a significant portion of the criteria discussed last time.  While none currently meet all of the criteria, there are a few that are worth discussing.  These services are attempting to find the right mix of instant messaging, social media, and voice/video chats–and aren’t doing too badly a job of that.

iMessage

First off, iMessage from Apple.

  • This splendid little service does a lot right:  seamless cross-device support, concurrent media types, and group conversations.
  • Where iMessage sorely lacks:  cross-platform support, real-time voice/video chat (albeit available via FaceTime), open participation, and thus, widespread adoption.

For me, the nail in the iMessage coffin is our previous Mistake #2: Exclusive participation.  Sadly, iMessage is closed to any devices without an Apple logo.

Facebook Messenger

Another service deserving praise:  Facebook Messenger.  While a popular scapegoat, Facebook has made some nice ground as of late.

  • Here’s what they’ve got down pat:  seamless cross-device support, seamless cross-platform support, medium-agnostic (supports non-smart phones), concurrent media types, group conversations, and open participation.
  • Facebook Messenger could stand to improve on: real-time voice/video chat, archival controls (going “off the record”, having a respectable privacy policy) and widespread adoption.  (i.e. While Facebook has a large user base, a significant portion of my friends absolutely refuses to open a Facebook account.)

For me, the nail in the Facebook Messenger coffin is our previous Mistake #3: Change in workflow.  I don’t want to go to yet another website just to send/receive messages.  Further, many of my Facebook friends never receive/reply to messages sent via Messenger.  There’s also the perception issue:  Something simply feels funny when conducting business conversations over Facebook.

Strongest Contender:  Google Hangouts

One somewhat-recently unveiled re-birthed service is the greatest current contender for the title of “ubiquitous messaging service”:  Google Hangouts.  Hangouts brings a few things to the table, beyond the reach of its three disparate predecessors:  Google Talk, Google+ Messenger, and the “old” Hangouts (the video chat system formerly present within Google+).

  • Google Hangouts does these well:  seamless cross-device support, seamless cross-platform support, concurrent media types, real-time voice/video chat, group conversations, collaboration tools, archival controls, and open participation.
  • Unfortunately, Hangouts still lacks:  widespread adoption

The biggest move that Google made with the new Hangouts is a native iPhone app.  For the first time, Apple users can interface with Google’s messaging service.  This is a pivotal step in the race toward becoming the ubiquitous messaging service.

Suffice it to say that none of our final three have adoption wide enough to be useful at large.  But this is a good thing–we (the consumers) like competition.  While not perfect, Hangouts seems to be closer to the goal than anyone else.  And, stay tuned for more features.

Surprise, surprise:  As with all threatening innovation, there has already been some backlash from those with something to lose.

Underdogs

Be on the lookout for the up-and-coming WhatsApp and Kik Messenger, both gaining ground quickly.  Don’t be surprised if you see BlackBerry Messenger make a move sometime soon.  Time will tell what Microsoft will do with their acquisition of Skype–hopefully something good.

Wrap-up

There’s been a lot of movement in the race to become the ubiquitous messaging service.  Google Hangouts is currently the strongest contender, but Facebook Messenger and Apple’s iMessage aren’t far behind.  As messaging services continue to innovate, consternation from mobile carriers will ensue; this we can count on.

Unashamed plug to iPhone/iPad users:  Do yourselves a favor a check out Hangouts.  You might just like it.  :)

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