Can businesses stand to gain from free real-time messaging apps?

The digital marketplace is becoming increasingly flooded with apps in general, making it harder for users and businesses alike to filter and determine the best choice for their needs.

My iPhone apps as of February 2010

iPhone apps Photo credit: dougbelshaw)

Here, I’m going to do a quick rundown of some of the biggest real-time, “free” – in that they don’t consume the SMS allowance, only using data through either 3G or Wi-Fi – messaging apps. 
BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) is probably the most well known real-time messaging application but it appears to have been labelled the preferred communication method for youths and “hoodies”, with the app even being singled out for criticism during the London riots. The other downside to BBM is that it is only for BlackBerrys, so unless all your workforce or friends own BlackBerrys, this one is out of the picture.
The same can be said for Apple’s equivalent, iMessage. The majority of iPhone owners I know aren’t as attentive as they could be when it comes to the latest updates so they haven’t even experienced iMessage and, even worse news for Tim Cook and co, those that have, have disabled it. 
FaceTime, however, has been a lot more successful. Free video calls across Wi-Fi and possibly 3G in the near future were always going to be an attractive proposition for businesses. 
Skype Technologies S.A. logo

Skype Technologies S.A. logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Microsoft-owned Skype has dominated the VoIP landscape for a number of years but despite being one of the first real-time messaging apps to be released for iPhone and Android handsets, it hasn’t experience the same level of adoption in terms of smartphone uptake. 
WhatsApp, one of the top selling apps in the iTunes store, must be experiencing increased adoption as it has consistently remained one of the top 10 paid apps for over 6 months. I would describe WhatsApp as a blend of all three of the above. 
Another reasons for WhatsApp’s success is that it is available on Symbian, iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry handsets, allowing for communication across all devices regardless of their operating system.
It offers real-time messaging, photo, video, audio, contact and location sharing. 
Once a message is sent the sender is given a tick to let them know everything is okay. Then, they receive a second tick when the recipient reads the message. This and the fact you can see when your recipient is typing mean you don’t need to bombard them with emails on deadline day. The ability to remove the ol’ “Oh, I didn’t see that message” excuse is surely an attractive one.

WhatsApp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This page details how all sorts of businesses from e-commerce to editorial and customer service are rolling out and utilising WhatsApp as either an email replacement or alternative. 
Finally,  Telefónica recently unveiled their first foray into the real-time messaging application market in the form of TU Me. Billed as a new VoIP and social communication app it offers free calls, texts, voice messages while storing data in the cloud. TU Me is currently only available for iPhone but an Android app is in development. 
Given that WhatsApp is so established, even TU Me’s timeline and history won’t help it. 
Although, should TU Me switch its focus to the business sector, offering document attachments, multiple messaging and a built in appointment builder it could well take off as it seems businesses are increasingly open the possibility of using out-of-house/third party apps to manage communications while lowering costs. 



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