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Free cross-platform messengers for smartphones

Sending text messages, sharing multimedia and staying connected with friends who use a different operating system from your own is easily done with the apps we've picked.

Research In Motion’s BlackBerry smartphones have become quite popular in India in recent months. While the dispute between RIM and the Government of India persists, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) has become a popular application that keeps the majority of BlackBerry owners busy, texting their contacts, friends and relatives.

The primary reason for BBM’s popularity is that it is integrated with the BlackBerry operating system and is a light-weight app that is economical in its consumption of resources. Users can send and receive text, photos, audio and video, and can receive real-time delivery confirmations. BBM’s chief purpose is that it enables people to converse with their contacts live at minimal cost.

One of the best parts of BlackBerry Messenger is that it can be used free under the basic BlackBerry plan from mobile operators. Several users have shifted from sending SMSs to sending ‘pings’ on BBM. Users can add friends based on PINs (alpha-numeric personal identification numbers,) and can also create groups. Despite these benefits, the BBM has one major limitation – it can be used to send messages to other BlackBerry smartphones only.

A number of messaging services with and without push notifications have cropped up since last year to compete with BBM. However, only a select few of them are available on at least two different mobile platforms.

Today we’ll take a quick look at the free real-time messaging services for popular platforms: Google Android, Apple iOS, BlackBerry and Symbian. The following apps have been chosen for their features and popularity:

WhatsApp

It is one of the most popular cross-platform apps and is known as the BlackBerry Messenger alternative. WhatsApp Messenger is free to use on iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Symbian platforms.

For the time being the app is available free on iOS and BlackBerry but you may have to pay for it later. Because it is cross platform you can communicate with a wider number of contacts who might be using iOS, Android, BlackBerry or Symbian devices.

After installation, WhatsApp will ask you to allow the application to send an SMS just for confirming that the app has been successfully installed. Post that, the service and the app is free to use for one year. Just like any other messenger even WhatsApp lets you put up a customisable status message which will be broadcasted to your contacts.

The reason for this app’s immense popularity is that it is cross-platform, doesn’t require creating any sort of PIN – no charges and offline messages. This app converts your contact list into your WhatsApp Messenger chat list. That means, every new contact added to the smartphone’s phonebook will automatically get added to the WhatsApp’s chat list.

Users can send text, images, audio, and video files to their contacts individually or create groups (of up to five people) to send one message to many.

WhatsApp Messenger uses the data connection (internet plan) of the phone and hence you’ll be required to subscribe to one. There’s no additional cost involved to send any message via WhatsApp and in fact it can turn out to be cheaper than your regular SMS or MMS.

Users can find a large group of emoticons by default in WhatsApp. The unique feature of WhatsApp is that it gives a push notification to the recipient of the message and a message delivery confirmation to the sender.
The sender cannot find out whether his message has been read or not, but he can see whether the person he is chatting with is typing a message. The app is simple to use and provides multiple platform presence. It is free and the contacts are restricted to known people, which makes this a favourite application amongst millions.

Kik Messenger

Pretty similar to the WhatsApp Messenger,, Kik is also its closest competitor. Kik Messenger is available for iOS and Android platforms for free download and usage. It boasts of real-time texting since the service offers sent, delivery and read notifications for text messages. Now that’s something texting fanatics would like to be aware of.

The Kik Messenger app makes use of the phone’s data connection to send text messages and share photos. The app’s chief quality is that it enables real-time conversations amongst friends, and that it is possible to chat with up to 10 people at once. This group chat feature makes sharing files with multiple people easier.

With Kik Messenger you can befriend several users across the globe and you don’t even have to share your phone number with them.

At the same time, Kik Messenger has a feature called ‘Suggested Friends’ in which the app copies phone numbers and emails from the user’s phonebook to upload them on Kik’s server. Then the Kik server creates a cache, checks which of the user’s friends are using Kik and then suggests their names on Kik.

Kik claims that it deletes users’ confidential information from its servers. Read more about that in Kik’s privacy policy.

One cannot share videos or audio clips as yet with Kik Messenger and it takes a while for users to connect with their contacts. Conversations happen in real-time and the user gets notifications at all stages of the communication. Kik can also be used to make new friends using their user names, and for that there is no need to share your phone number or email.

LiveProfile

Fast and free is what recently launched messenger service LiveProfile promises you. LiveProfile is available for iOS, Android and BlackBerry platforms for free download and use.

Just like several others, this messaging app makes use of a mobile data connection for communication. Similar to the BlackBerry Messenger, a unique PIN number is generated for every registered LiveProfile user.

LiveProfile scans your address book and lets you know if any of your contacts are using the same service. A slick black themed interface makes the app look neat and appealing.

Once again, the real-time conversation along with push notifications is a highlight of the service. Users can set their profile images, and make use of the emoticons while texting friends. Apart from that, they can share photos and videos simultaneously with multiple contacts.

Faster delivery receipts and receiving push notifications at no or minimal battery usage are what this service promises to texting hounds. It goes one step ahead by integrating two of the most popular social networks: Twitter and Facebook, which means you can post updates from this app itself.

Bubble style chat interface with black background might be pleasing for some while others may have to wait till the service allows a choice of a different theme or background image.

PingChat

PingChat is yet another rich looking free cross-platform messenger that lets you text, share photos, audio and even videos with your contacts. PingChat Messenger is available for Android, BlackBerry, and iOS platforms.

Like the aforementioned applications, PingChat uses the smartphone’s data connection for messaging, and service is free with no hidden charges.

Once you register the PingChat ID, you remain online forever! This is because the app, once installed, modifies certain permissions to make it start automatically when the phone boots up. So your phone may take a couple of seconds more to start and your data connection use would be active in the background unless you are conscious enough to stop the application.

The usual features like emoticons and multimedia sharing are present in this application. PingChat uses its private push servers to send out push notifications to BlackBerry, iOS and Android devices. However, users must be cautioned that PingChat doesn’t have a privacy policy on its official website or even on its developers’ website.

The app’s always-online feature is a reflection of the BlackBerry Messenger but the former has a unique interface and functions of its own.

Conclusion

Staying connected with friends is the chief reason why one may and should be using a free cross-platform messenger. Text messaging via any of these cross-platform messengers that offer real-time communication can bring down your SMS costs by a considerable amount.

Most of these cross-platform messaging solutions offer an almost uniform user interface and experience despite the several BlackBerry, Android and Symbian handsets they can be used with.

Privacy and security of data and information in the phonebook needs to be considered before opting for any of the above mentioned solutions. Be careful while sharing multimedia with friends via your data connection as it can spike your bills a bit.

To use any of the above mentioned applications you need to download it from your Android, iOS, BlackBerry or Symbian platform’s app store.

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