Ask LH: What’s The Point Of Messaging Apps Like WhatsApp And Viber?

Ask LH: What’s The Point Of Messaging Apps Like WhatsApp And Viber?

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

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Dear TOTA,

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.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Hangouts is great as Google is happy to release it on iPhones and Android plus any PC with an internet connection.

    Not to mention the free calls to the USA they just added.

    • While refusing to release it on Windows Phone and issuing DMCA takedowns on any third party apps. Google can eat a bouquet of d’ as far as I’m concerned.

    • Free calls to USA? Pitty I don’t know anyone there!

      I’ve tried to call using Hangouts (admittedly to Australian numbers) and have had to load up credit on it.

  • I think the REAL question is this; why not just use regular SMSing? Most phone plans on carriers have free SMS anyway so what’s the point of using something like WhatsApp?

    • A lot of people I know use it for international messaging, where SMS is significantly more finicky/expensive. I’ve never really trusted MMS either for sending pics.

      • I agree, I’ve found that MMS tends to be slow and a bit hit and miss. Sometimes they will show up instantly, other times they take a couple of hours or a day to get through.

  • SMS makes more sense. It’s free these days.

    And of the messaging apps iMessage makes no sense at all, as it’s for iPhone users only. At least iMessage competitor apps are available on most mobile phone OS’s.

  • Phew…I thought it was just me that couldn’t see the reason for these crappy messaging apps. Actually there is one good reason. My son (who lives with my ex) never has any credit so can’t message me. If he’s at home with wifi, he can use one of these to send me sms.

  • Those of you who can’t see the use of messaging apps, do you not have any friends in other countries? I couldn’t afford to talk to half of my friends without whatsapp.

  • SMS and email are like a face-to-face conversation. You’re expected to listen and wandering off half-way through would be rude.

    Hangouts and similar are often more like a party conversation. If you need to go away for some reason, the conversation carries on between the other people and you can come back and catch up if you want, or just jump in at the current point.

  • How about the fact that you can tell in most of these apps when the other person/people have read your message?

    If you’re trying to organise anything with a group, that saves a massive amount of time that you would normally spend following up/chasing people’s responses or acknowledgement.

  • SMS is not free in most parts of the world (or they have limits of say 100/messages per month) which is why these apps have taken off in developing countries particularly. The most important thing about Whatsapp and Viber; and the point that most analysts miss; is that it uses the phone number as a unique identifier. This is still most people’s biggest database of users; it’s still much more common to get someone’s phone number than e-mail address or Skype name; so when you download whatsapp and viber you already have a large set of contents available.

    The only contact list most people have which comes close in size is Facebook; which is why Facebook Messenger has taken off, but for example in a business setting it’s still more common to get someone’s phone number than their Facebook. And not everyone has facebook; everyone has a phone number. Also Facebook doesn’t allow voice calls yet. So phone numbers are still the main list of contacts people have.

    I also find whatsapp and viber provide a smoother messaging experience. For example; I wouldn’t write short SMS like “Hey” or “How’s it going” because it’s slower (especially if there are SMS limits), whereas I would on Whatsapp or Viber where it appears to send instantly. As soon as I press send the cursor is ready to start the next message. Then of course there are images and all the other media that can be sent which can’t with SMS.

    Then there is the fact they can be used for international calls and messages! And crucially; they allow you to use your home number while abroad and using an International Sim; because it’s based on the number you registered with; not your current sim card; which is very useful!

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