A Disruptive Time for Mobile Messaging

Slalom Consultant Derek Martin

Slalom Consultant Derek Martin is an accomplished Microsoft systems developer and integrator, experienced in developing and deploying SharePoint and CRM solutions, integrating line of business applications, and leveraging existing infrastructure investments.

So my original impression of iMessage turned out to be incorrect–kind of. If you have an iPhone, you know by now that iMessage and the SMS app are, in fact, built in. That’s good. My reaction was based on the fact that I only have an iPad. So here are some more thoughts and additional notions regarding SMS going away (hopefully sooner than later) for various reasons.

Now that I realize that iMessage is integrated into the iPhone, they are certainly on to something. The problem is, however, that there are still multiple apps for multiple modes of communication and it would be wise of Apple to combine iChat, FaceTime, and iMessage/Messages.  A single interface to reach out and contact someone is key. I think they will come around, because the startups are coming for them and they have some really great ideas!

The iMessage concept (and FaceTime too) is baked into the contact experience; however there are distinct problems here with both ubiquity and platform approach. Take for example the contact. I have lots of contacts, yet the only way I know if they have an iDevice is to attempt to iSomething them–not a good approach. Second, when I call up a contact that happens to have FaceTime (only because I know for a fact they have it, not because the contact gave me any indication otherwise), guess what happens if that person is unavailable? It just keeps ringing! There is no ‘this person is not available’ or busy signal, just ring and ring and ring. Third–if you are going to put out an SMS killer (as well as integrate excellent other communication modes like video chat and IM), then you have to go all the way: you have to assume that not everyone on the planet has (or wants or can afford) an iDevice. Much to my own personal dismay, FaceTime and iMessage aren’t platform agnostic–iThing only. I get the idea–closed systems, controlled systems, known quantities, and competitive advantage–but it is that absence of ubiquity that will prevent iMessage and FaceTime from really owning this market. Enter the competition…

Over on the other side, the fun happy side as I like to call it, is Windows Phone. There are a series of interesting developments that are starting to gain traction and might just succeed if the stars line up and they keep their eye on the ball.

Kik Messenger
First up is a neat little app I’ve been tinkering with call Kik Messenger. Here’s a tool that is very much similar to the iMessage service but has one serious advantage–multi-platform. Not only does it do everything that iMessage can do and then some, but it is multi-platform. You can use it on Windows Phone, Apple, Android, and even BlackBerry. Being multi-platform immediately makes its potential much higher. Currently, it has a few disadvantages: First, it requires sign on. iMessage is baked into the phone–so should Kik. The ‘sign on’ should be the phone number of the device. I don’t see Kik being available on tablets but if they do come to tablets, they could easily implement sign on things for those folks–similar to my using of my email address in iMessage on iPad.  Second–and this cannot be stressed enough–the app must integrate more closely, er, completely with the contact experience. If I go to send a message to someone, it should check to see if I’m on Kik and send it that way instead…similar to how FaceBook and Windows Live integration are starting to come together on Windows Phone. Messaging should not ever be an app. Third–and I think they will get there soonish–video. If Kik wants to beat iMessage, Kik needs to integrate video calling right there in the app. So integrate with contact experience, add video, and ditch the sign on–boom, instant amazingness.

There is another app that could that is also coming around. It’s called Tango and it’s similar in ubiquity but is dedicated to the video experience. It is about to become the first app (as of November 2011) to enable video calling on Windows Phone 7–besting even Microsoft’s recent Skype purchase (more on that in a second). Instantly, we’ve got ourselves a ballgame because Tango is already available on PC, iPhone, Android, and now WP7.  They are, however, missing some market potential by the lack of a native Mac app. Do that little nugget and its got FaceTime beaten IF it can overcome the same issues as Kik: integrate with contact experience completely, get rid of logging in from devices, and in this guy’s case, integrate text based messaging.

I realize integrating as with the contacts concept as tightly as iMessage is going to be hard. Android is easy because you can essentially do anything you want. Microsoft is right there at the happy middle ground. There are tight integration points that are available and continue to mature but it still has a ways to go but it is going much faster than Apple ever did. I do have to give Microsoft some serious props here. Skype is coming for Windows Phone 7. It is already available for iOS and Android (as well as Mac/PC). But it will be some time before you can get Skype on WP7 and in the interim, MSFT could very easily have told Tango to take a hike. But you know what? They didn’t. Not only that, Microsoft actually helped Tango with their code to make sure it is amazing, hardware accelerated, and takes advantage of all those nifty new Mango features (like a front facing camera if you’ve got the goods) to do what it does. Very impressive.

Currently, messaging and communications is in a disruptive period. This is excellent for the end users because we won’t have to rely on SMS for much longer (hopefully). What SMS has going for it now (universal availability and non-reliance on the data network) won’t be an issue for long with some of these great alternatives. In the interim, those startups out there need to keep innovating and being multi-platform, easy to use, and integrate as tightly as humanly possible with the contact experience and they’ll not only unseat Apple’s near perfect messaging platform, they may even unseat a technology that came around in the early 90s!

One Response to A Disruptive Time for Mobile Messaging

  1. Rajeev says:

    Very interesting. You nailed it when you said “Messaging should not ever be an app”. A perfect example (sadly) is WebOS. Someone perhaps knew what they were doing when they built a provider interface for Calling, Messenging, Storage, Photos and other services i.e. Skype and regular phone calling via bluetooth is available through one interface (somewhat like android but seamless and better).
    I dislike i as they are limited to i. Apple tried making it seamless by letting iMessage and SMS have the same interface but unless you are ready to send a message you doesn’t know if it’s going to travel over sms (and cost $$$) or data channel. It gets further complicated by people who are active users of Google Voice i.e. the phone number is really the secondary number. GV is my primary.

    So far the best app to me has been WhatsApp, it’s brilliant it uses your phone number as your identifier, is available on WinPhone, BB, Android and Iphone. And it “knows” which of your contacts have whatsapp (by scanning your addressbook) and whether they are available for chat. Best of all it works with international numbers making it my primary means of text based communication over Google and facebook chat. WhatsApp can do Voice and Image covering the entire portfolio. Would recommend checking it out if you haven’t already.

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