Dear Lifehacker, Let me admit upfront: I'm an old fuddy duddy, not great at keeping up with the times. But I still wonder: what's the value in mobile messaging apps such as Whatsapp, Viber or Hangouts?
Since they use mobile data for communication just like email, why don't people just use email instead? With push email, it seems equally instantaneous, and there are fewer compatibility issues with email since it's near-ubiquitous, while not everyone will use the same messaging app. Any thoughts? Yours sincerely, Too Old To Adapt
It's partly down to ease-of-use and partly down to familiarity. Unlike most email services, WhatsApp and its competitors provide a messaging experience that's very similar to SMS. They allow you to instantly see and reply to your friend's messages using a simple, instantly accessible interface. In comparison, even the very best mobile-optimised email clients tend to be a bit fiddly to navigate. Sometimes, less is more.
Messaging apps are dedicated to quick exchanges between personal acquaintances, whereas email typically includes lengthier correspondences, spam, online receipts and any mailing lists you subscribe to. In addition to reducing clutter, this single-purpose approach also helps to fast-track correspondence.
Think about it -- it's not uncommon for emails to go unreplied for several days, whereas social etiquette demands a much quicker response time on text messages. If you're chatting back-and-forth with a friend or trying to organise a social outing, it therefore makes more sense to go down the instant messaging route. It's basically SMS that you don't have to pay for.
Plus, most messaging apps make it simpler to share photos and videos thanks to inbuilt playback support. Instead of downloading email attachments and opening separate media programs, you can simply view the file from inside the app. Again, while it's not offering anything you can't do on email, the experience is simpler and more immediate.
Nobody is saying you can't send emails to friends on your mobile phone, but it's fair to say that there's a place for both types of services. If you just want to send a quick message or photo and would appreciate a swift response, these apps are definitely worth exploring. The following links will take you to our roundup of the best messaging apps on iOS and Android and Windows Phone. Now all that's left to do is convince your old fuddy duddy friends to jump on board.
Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact form.