The iPhone offers up an ton of IM apps, some of which are very good, but none that are quite as good as imo. Imo hits the sweet spot thanks to its speedy operation, intuitive interface, support for many chat protocols, and keeping itself limited to just the features you really want.
- Supports multiple chat protocols: AIM/ICQ, Jabber, Facebook, Google Talk, MSN, MySpace, Skype, and Yahoo.
- Concurrent sessions allow you to be logged in on your desktop while also being logged in on your phone.
- You can send voice IMs instead of typing.
- Push notifications will let you know when you receive a new message, even when the app is in the background.
- Both your buddy lists and chat histories are searchable.
- Tabbed chats make it easy to switch between conversations.
- Accounts can be linked so you don't have to sign in to several accounts.
- Simple, elegant interface with colorful chat bubble options.
Where It Excels
Imo supports many different chat protocols and lets you use multiple accounts at once. Its interface is very intuitive and easy to browse. Signing on, navigating chats by tapping the tabs at the bottom, searching for buddies, and virtually any other operation is easy to find and use. The app, itself, is very quick. Even sending a voice IM, if you don't feel like typing, is responsive and sends quickly. Everything imo does it does well, but its excellent navigation really makes it top notch.
Where It Needs Work
There's hardly anything to complain about, but if you use the voice IMs feature the person receiving them gets a link. If you're sending several voice messages, this can be boring for the person you're chatting with. There probably isn't a way imo can get around this problem, but it's definitely a downside of the feature.
There are many IM apps for iPhone, but nothing really matches imo on cost, features, and ease of use. IM+, another free app (with a $10 pro version) offers much of what imo does but also adds a few bells and whistles like group chat and location maps for your buddies. It's still easier to quickly navigate through imo, which is really paramount in a mobile messaging app. BeejiveIM is another popular option, but it costs $7.99 and its customisation options make it look nostalgic for the messy profiles we used to see on MySpace. If all you care about is good looks and minimalist interfaces, rather than the $3.99 it'll cost you, try Verb. And then there's Meebo, which has become a bit bloated and, personally, I find frustrating to use. Of course there are several other IM apps for iPhone and they all have their merits, but imo gets just about everything right. It's simple, it's easy to use, it's fast, and it has all—and only—the features you need.
Lifehacker's App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories. This week, we're focusing on IM clients.