Message in a SmartphoneBy Tatin Yang
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A smartphone without a data plan is like buying a fancy sports car and then driving it on Edsa—you’ll look hot, yes, but you probably won’t be able to make it go full throttle. Sure, you can use a smartphone on Wi-Fi, but you won’t be maximizing its capabilities. Contrary to popular belief, data plans won’t bloat your monthly bill; it might even help reduce it, thanks to the many Internet-based messaging apps available to smartphone users.
Before these messaging apps came about, our only means of communication via a mobile phone were either calls (which cost a lot) or SMS, which would set you back P1.00 or P0.50 per 160 characters. Most of the subscriber plans offered by most of the telcos revolved either around call-heavy or text-intensive packages.
Nowadays, with a data plan, you have the option to send an e-mail, a Facebook message or go on several messaging apps to chat with friends and loved ones.
Internet-based messaging apps are nothing new (think Chikka text), but where once they were mostly web-based, these apps are now sleeker, more attractive and feature-packed. Best of all, they’re all free—if you have a data plan, that is.
Viber CEO Talmon Marco was here recently to seal his partnership with Globe Telecom; the two companies offer competitive pricing plans tailored for Marco’s popular messaging app Viber. He likens the use of SMS to that of riding a car made in the ‘60s: The car works, but in this day and age, the only thing it can do is get you from point A to point B; there are no bells and whistles.
Most Internet-based messaging apps offer the following set of basic features: messaging other users of the app, group chats, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) calls, sending photos and videos—all for free. Even the app itself is free.
You’ll be surprised to discover that a VoIP call, which uses the Internet to facilitate the call rather than your telco’s towers, is crisper and much clearer, especially if both parties’ Internet connection is fast. It used to be that a 30-minute call would cost you P180; now you won’t have to cough up that much as long as your data plan’s got you covered (e.g. unlimited Internet/day for most telcos is about P50).
We’ve rounded up the top messaging apps being used now and why they’re great. Chances are, you’ll need to download them all anyway because not all your contacts will have the same preferred messaging app. Don’t worry; they’re all fun and easy to use. These apps are cross-platform and are available on your respective OS’s app stores.
Line hails from Japan so expect this messaging app to be extremely cute, too. There are emoticons, but they’re not free ($1.99 for a set, but it’s not animated). Among all the messaging apps, Line has the most engaging strategy to hook users. Apart from having popular celebrities create accounts that let you interact with them, Line has auxiliary apps that will make you want to use the messaging app. Auxiliary apps include lots of games, like Line Bubble, Line Pokopang, Line Patapoko and a lot more. Connecting your Line account to these games will help you receive extra goodies and pit yourself as well against other users via top score rankings. Not only that, but Line’s proprietary characters—Cony the bunny, Brown the bear, James the blond dude, and Moon the round guy—have amassed such a following that the brand behind Line created merchandise like dolls and phone charms for fans of its characters.
One of the first messaging apps that came out in the app market. It was also one of the first few which offered free calls within its community. Unlike other apps that encourage you to create a username, Viber’s strength lies in its phonebook linkage: the name you assign to a person on your phonebook is the same name the app will use—no usernames to confuse you further when you use the app. It also recently rolled out a desktop version so you can continue messaging even if your smartphone is not with you.
WeChat is popular in China; it was developed by China’s largest Internet company Tencent. WeChat has unique features that address the needs of users in China. For example, there’s an audio messaging function which allows you to send short voice recordings, in case you can’t shoot a written message. Video calling is also enabled for times when just voice won’t do. A feature unique to WeChat is its “look around” feature, which allows you to check out other WeChat users within your vicinity; you can choose to chat with strangers in the hopes of making a connection or a new friend.
Kakao Talk is a Korean messaging app. Because it hails from the land of cute, Kakao Talk is one of the most fun messaging apps to have. You can customize the themes and choose from several free or paid themes. Emoticons beyond the smiley face are de rigueur in messaging apps; Kakao Talk has the best emoticons hands-down. You can download paid or free animated emoticons to your heart’s content. Kakao Talk knows words aren’t enough, so it makes sure you can send an animated emoticon to convey exactly how you’re feeling. Kakao Talk’s call feature is very clear and reliable, too.
In contrast to the mostly free messaging apps, WhatsApp went against the grain and charged users a fee to download it. There are a lot of users on WhatsApp, but it’s one of the most basic messaging apps out there—no fun emoticons and no calls. But it’s also an ad-free experience, so if you want an uncluttered messaging app, this is for you. •