With Facebook’s surprise announcement that it will be acquiring WhatsApp for the princely sum of $19 billion (US), social media is awash with threats to abandon the app in favour of a competitor.
Looking at potential alternatives to the popular SMS replacement application is not only useful to those who don’t wish to support Facebook, however.
It gives an idea of what the landscape for such applications looks like. How hotly contended is it? What does WhatsApp do that its competitors don’t?
None of the apps listed below require you to create a username and password before you can use them. Like WhatsApp, they typically register your device against your cellphone number.
This has benefits and drawbacks, but it is one of the key features of WhatsApp and so it is a key criteria for apps to make it onto the list:
Telegram kicks off the list as it is almost a drop-in replacement for WhatsApp.
Its biggest drawback is that it only runs on iPhone and Android officially, with a few unofficial desktop and Windows Phone clients in early development.
However, it does have a freely available API that third-party developers can use to build apps for other platforms.
Telegram has also made some bold security claims which have been criticised online, to which it has responded.
The bottom-line is that Telegram uses a custom protocol, so if you’re looking for a messenger with security that has undergone vigorous community vetting you should probably look elsewhere for the moment.
Like WhatsApp, Viber now offers wide cross-platform support, especially for its text messaging component.
It has clients for the desktop (Windows, Mac, Linux), Windows 8
Metro “Modern UI Style”, iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Bada, Symbian, and S40.
Viber also offers free voice calls over your data connection to other users of the service. Like its text chat feature, this doesn’t need a separate username and password but works on just your cellphone number.
Line has clients for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Nokia Asha devices (S40), Firefox OS, and desktops running Windows or Mac OS X.
Similar to Viber, it features text chats and voice calling, but adds support for video calling and the option to register your number against an e-mail address.
According to Line, e-mail registration lets you move your friends list, purchased items, and game results between devices. The PC clients also require e-mail registration.
While the Android applications of KakaoTalk and Line look almost identical, there are a number of differences between the services.
KakaoTalk only has clients for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and Windows PC.
It doesn’t support video calling, unlike Line and Viber which do.
WeChat, which has been advertising aggressively in South Africa, also supports a wide array of devices and features.
Like Line, it offers voice and video calling to go with its classic text chat features. However, WeChat also offers a “push-to-talk” live voice chat with one or more contacts.
It has clients for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, S40, Symbian (keyboard and touch devices), BlackBerry, and the web.
ChatOn is Samsung’s mobile messaging client that comes installed on its smartphones by default.
It has clients for Android, iOS, Bada, BlackBerry 7 and under (not BlackBerry 10), Windows Mobile, Windows Phone, and Windows 8.
Hike runs on iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry 7 and under (not BlackBerry 10), Symbian, and S40.
Similar to WhatsApp, Hike doesn’t feature any voice or video calling capabilities (though WhatsApp has said that voice calling is coming), instead including an audio recording and sending feature.
Like WeChat, it also includes “stickers” – funny images that users can send one another.
Tango runs on iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7, and Windows PC. In addition to its messaging options it also offers free video and voice calling, and games.
While the other apps tested have their niggles, Tango is downright invasive.
By default Tango installs with its “Share location” and user interface overlay options checked. One of these options is “SMS messaging”, which means Tango tries to take over your SMS notifications.
When a new SMS or Tango message comes in, a bubble appears that hovers on top whatever you’re doing. To dismiss it you have to go through a process that takes no less than 3 taps to complete.
In brief, it is listed here to make this list as complete as possible, but it is not at all recommended as a WhatsApp alternative or SMS replacement.
While messengers that require users to create a separate account didn’t make it into the above list, it would be remiss not to mention a few notable options such as: South Africa’s own Mxit and 2go; BlackBerry Messenger; Google Hangouts (neé Google Talk); Skype; Kik; MessageMe; SnapChat; and Voxer.
Jabber and the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) it is associated with also deserve a mention, not only as a free and open source software option, but also as a building block initially used by Google Talk and Mxit.