SMS is out of fashion with the rise of Instant Messaging (IM) Apps that are both fun and cost-effective. Karthik Subramanian writes about how smartphone users prefer Apps such as Skype, WhatsApp, Fring, Viber and Nimbuzz

Instant messengers are fast becoming the preferred mode of communication among smartphone users, especially youngsters, who prefer the ease of use such Apps allow compared to the standard SMS.

Apps such as Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, Fring and Nimbuzz offer considerable advantages not just by way of saving costs but also effectively managing one's communications across the spectrum of mobile gadgets.

Consider this: the bandwidth required for a one-minute call through VOIP, according to the data provided by Viber, is roughly 240 kilobytes. Similarly, the usage for an hour-long call is close to 14 MB. And if one were to use it on a broadband Wi-Fi network, the cost works out considerably cheaper than an ISD or STD call. GSM data rates are higher than broadband rates, but still the IM (instant messaging) services work out a lot cheaper.

(It is fancy to call these services ‘free,' but it's is wise not to fall into that trap considering the data usage charges are borne by the user.)

Several features

There are several practical advantages. “I use WhatsApp's group messaging feature regularly to stay in touch with my friends,” says Rahul Prasad, digital marketing manager, 8KMiles. “It makes planning a group event such as a party so much easier than via SMS.”

Every mobile ecosystem is crowded with IM Apps, each trying to outdo the other with some unique offering. If you are a mobile user, the only recommendation would be to try out each of the App, be it Skype, WhatsApp, Nimbuzz or Fring, before settling for one. The main criterion would be to see which of the services is most popular among your list of friends.

Being an early player, Skype naturally lists the maximum number of IM users and is a leading choice. It puts a premium though on certain services such as group video calling. Arathi Madadi, a Skype user from Fremont, California, says, “The unique thing about Skype is despite having a paid version, its free features are more than enough for various purposes.”

Skype profiles are by default public. However, one can control the information one wants to make public through tweaking. Shankar Rajagopalan, a Chennai-based entrepreneur, says he prefers an ecosystem where only his friends can contact him through IM. “WhatsApp is preferred because I prefer giving out phone numbers only to those close to me, while the world knows my email/Skype.” With data networks becoming ubiquitous, be it GSM or Wifi via broadband, the IM Apps bring in convenience that was not available before. Rahul Prasad says, “I use Viber frequently to call my brother and cousins abroad because it is so simple to make calls. Earlier, I had to wait for my relatives to come online to call them. But with Viber they are always online and accessible on their phone which saves me a lot of time.”

Some Apps such as Clingle, which one user Jagadish Palanisamy points out, combine instant messaging with geo-tagging to come up with an innovative social networking concept. The list of possibilities seems never-ending. But there are some downers too in this booming field. The IM and VOIP segment is heavily fragmented. Most of these Apps are not ‘open networks' willing to face competition.

Nitin Sundar, a Bangalore-based sports journalist, says he prefers JaxtrSMS, an open system IM App that sends messages even to phones that do not have the App installed.

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012