Whether you spend a lot of time texting with friends and family, or you need a safe, reliable messaging app when traveling abroad for business—what’s good for one person may not be good for another. We’ll take a quick look at what a messaging app is and then help you find the best ones for iPhone or Android, depending on your individual needs.
What is a text messaging app?
Text messaging apps allow you to instantly send and receive short messages over the internet or a cellular network. In addition to text-based messages, these apps also usually support multimedia messages such as photos, videos, and audio recordings and include video and voice calling.
Key features of a messaging app
- Offers instant communication. Text messaging apps allow for real-time communication with friends, family, and colleagues. Most also provide verification that a message was delivered, and some send notifications that a message was read.
- Comparatively inexpensive. Most messaging apps send messages via an internet connection, which can help you bypass costly SMS or MMS plans and communicate quickly with contacts overseas without paying international messaging and calling rates. Many messaging apps are also free.
- Allow for group chat. Messaging apps can be excellent tools for business and personal communication since they allow you to create group chats, where multiple people can share information in a common space.
- Secure and private. Many apps use end-to-end encryption, which means that messages are secured and cannot be accessed by anyone other than the sender and receiver. There are also apps designed specifically for privacy that offer features like disappearing messaging and technology that prevents messages from being forwarded or screenshot.
Top text messaging apps
iMessage. Developed by Apple, iMessage comes pre-installed on iPhones, iPads, and Macs. The app is deeply integrated into the Apple ecosystem and is a great way to communicate across Apple devices. For example, iMessage makes it easy to begin a conversation on an iPhone and seamlessly continue it on a Mac. iMessage also offers end-to-end encryption, making conversations visible only to recipients, and rich features such as gifs, stickers, and multimedia messages. While iMessage is only available to Apple users, it switches automatically to SMS for compatibility on Android devices, making it a great go-to for everyday text message conversations with contacts.
Facebook Messenger. With nearly three-billion users worldwide, Facebook is the largest social media platform in the world. With such a larger userbase, it makes sense that Facebook would also have its own messaging app. Free to anyone with a Facebook account, Messenger allows you to send and receive multimedia messages, including photos, videos, and audio recordings. It also supports voice and video calls, making it a versatile communication tool. One added benefit of the app is the fact you can create video chat rooms with up to 50 people and it offers features such as games, polls, and reactions. For social media lovers, Facebook Messenger is a great way to connect with friends on mobile or desktop.
WhatsApp. WhatsApp is a free-to-use, fully encrypted messaging app that boasts over two-billion users worldwide. One reason for the app’s popularity is the fact that it is available in over 60 languages, making it easy to connect with friends and family abroad without paying hefty fees for international messaging and calling. The app even integrates with Facebook, so you can contact Facebook friends without a phone number or email address. WhatsApp offers multimedia messages, including photos, videos, and audio recordings and supports voice and video calls. Though it was originally popular for casual communication, WhatsApp now has several business tools, such as the WhatsApp Business app and WhatsApp Business API.
Signal. The biggest advantage of the Signal app is the focus on security and privacy. Since Signal is a non-profit organization, there is less incentive for the app to store and use data. Plus, Signal uses open-source code, allowing experts around the world to test the security of its end-to-end encrypted messages. While Signal offers multimedia messages, including photos, videos, and audio recordings and supports voice and video calls—it’s not necessarily designed for social use. Perfect for private conversations because of features like disappearing messages (which auto-delete after a set time), Signal has become the go-to secure app for journalists and activists, but it might be a little much for those who just want to send a funny gif to a friend.
Telegram. Telegram is another app that’s great for those who are looking for privacy, though it’s a little different from other apps. For starters, Telegram only offers end-to-end encryption for calls and secret chats. The app stores all messages and photos on a secret server that can be accessed from any connected device. However, the secret chat feature also offers additional security by preventing messages and images from being shared or screenshot while also providing a disappearing message feature. Additionally, Telegram allows you to send messages, pictures, and make calls with only a username, so those connecting don’t have to share phone numbers.
Slack. Primarily used by businesses, Slack is a great platform for work communication. Slack is organized by channels, which can include up to 1,000 people. While it’s mostly used for its instant messaging features, Slack supports voice and video calls along with multimedia messaging. Different teams, projects, topics, and departments can have unique channels, which makes it easy to keep track of each facet of your work life. In addition to end-to-end encryption, Slack is also designed to comply with regulations such as GDPR and HIPAA. Another reason Slack has become the go-to communication tool for most businesses is that it integrates seamlessly with other productivity apps such as Google Drive, Trello, and Dropbox. Slack is primarily used on desktop but also offers a mobile app.
Though most messaging apps share similar features like multimedia messaging, talk, and text capabilities, some offer additional features for even greater usability, including:
- Chatbots. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Slack all offer chatbots, which are responsive AI that can help answer questions and explain different features of the app. Each of these apps use chatbots slightly differently. Facebook, for example, uses chatbots to answer customer service questions, while Telegram uses chatbot technology to offer cryptocurrency updates. Slack uses chatbots for human resources and workplace productivity.
- Integrations. Many messaging apps offer useful integrations in order to work seamlessly with other platforms. For example, Facebook and WhatsApp allow you to connect with contacts across platforms, making it easier to reach out to acquaintances without a phone number or email address.
- Encryption. While almost all messaging apps offer end-to-end encryption, some, like Signal, are hyper-focused on keeping messages and data secure. To find an app focused mainly on user privacy, look for features like disappearing messages and consider an app run by a non-profit that is less motivated to sell user data to advertisers
Tips for effective text communication
In the decades since keyboards have become standard on most smartphones, text messaging has become a language all its own, especially since emojis and stickers came along to add additional layers of meaning. Here are a few tips for mastering the art of the text message:
- Grammar still matters. With the rise of acronyms like “lol” many have lamented the fact that grammar no longer matters in the world of text messaging. However, that’s simply not true. The purpose of grammar is to make sure that communication is legible. Misspellings, punctuation errors, and other grammar issues can make messages difficult to read and understand. Much to the delight of grammar-conscious iPhone users, iMessage has recently added an edit button, making it much easier to address those pesky typos that tend to happen when fingers are flying to dash off a text.
- Be concise. On messaging apps, it’s considered impolite to send a “wall of text.” Try and keep it short and to the point. If you have a longer message to send, consider scheduling a call or sending an email.
- Know your emojis. When in doubt, Google an emoji before sending it. Many emojis have double meanings and some are pretty risqué. Make sure you understand exactly what message you’re sending
- Don’t spam. In text messaging etiquette, “double texting” (sending a second message without receiving a response to the first) sometimes raises eyebrows, and triple texting is generally frowned upon. If you send a message to an acquaintance, wait a day or so for a response. If no response is forthcoming, you can gently follow up. Beyond that, lack of communication is a pretty clear sign that the person you’ve messaged doesn’t want to chat.
Whether you primarily chat with friends and family, or quiet a few confidential chats with clients, there are a wide array of messaging apps to choose from. Make sure you understand privacy policies, group messaging features, and other capabilities before adopting and using a new messaging app to get a feel for exactly how the app is used. A Facebook group chat is very different from a Slack channel. But once you understand the different options for text messaging, it’s never been easier to stay connected!