As our everyday lives become more ingrained with our social networks and smartphones becoming the norm it’s easy to see why the mobile communications space is getting white hot.
Last spring SXSW was abuzz with a new breed of apps that were a hybrid of IM and texting that focused on enabling small groups of people to communicate more efficiently. The most talked about apps, GroupMe, Beluga, and Fast Society represented a fresh take on the entire idea mobile communication. The apps combined IM, texting, photos, checkins, conference calls, and map views into a holistic and incredibly useful tool.
They broke new ground but it was only a matter of time before the major players arrived. A few short months have passed and we are beginning to see how the big 3 are approaching mobile communication. Things are about to get interesting.
The Big 3
Facebook just this week released Facebook Messenger. It’s positioned as a mobile messaging app with group communication and multiple notification methods at its core. It’s an essential piece of Facebook’s unified messaging goal of combining texting, email, and FB messaging all through the Facebook platform. It’s an obvious outgrowth of Facebook’s purchase of Beluga and while it isn’t as nice as Beluga I like the app because I can use Facebook messaging without opening the Facebook app. It will be interesting to see how this app is adopted. Are we ready to hand more communication over to Facebook?
Google is also jumping head first into the mobile messaging with Google+ Huddle.
Huddle isn’t terribly impressive on it’s own. It is simply group messaging and lacks support for SMS, locations, and photos. However, as Google integrates Google Voice, Latitude, and Google Photos deeper into Google+ I expect that to change.
It might seem like an odd to include them in a mobile messaging discussion but I’m convinced they are the 800lb gorilla in the room. Why? They bought Skype in May. Consider:
- Skype’s user base is massive
- They are the default IM and video conferencing tool in my world.
- They’ve long had group communication in their software
- They already have mobile apps
It would take very little effort from this collaboration to make a large impact in the mobile group messaging arena.
Ahem – Skype (Microsoft just announced it’s buying GroupMe. While I didn’t predict the acquisition it is the smart move and totally fits with this larger theory
The Little 1
Finally I’ve got to give some little guy love to GroupMe.
GroupMe is still a serious contender in group messaging (and at the moment my app of choice). They offer more features than anyone else and it works with people that don’t even have the app. Texting, conference calls, mapping, foursquare – they integrated everything in a very easy to use app. They recently released GroupMe 3.0 and added questions, web chat, and direct messages. They are certainly and underdog compared to the big 3 but their technology is still in the lead… for now.
This is a fascinating battleground that is focused not on how we communicate but where we communicate. Email and texting doesn’t care about where. They work across all platforms and providers (PC, Mac, mobile, Verizon, AT&T, Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo) because they are standards based communication.
This new wave of apps and networks are proprietary technology and could indicate we are headed for the platform wars that have plagued computers for decades. (Think: I’m a Facebook vs I’m a Google) However, unlike the platform debate communication isn’t an individual decision. A critical mass of your social graph has to be present for these tools to even be a consideration.
I have more questions than answers:
- Will we see the adoption of standards like XMPP for mobile group messaging?
- Are tools like Huddle and GroupMe destined to be fringe apps or utility networks that everyone uses?
Most importantly can we quickly find what we are all going to use? I’d like to delete some apps from my iPhone.