Okay. I believe I’m more than overdue for a blog about some tech. I don’t want anyone getting the impression that I’ve lost my love for it. Nuh-uh. Not even close. I’ll start off with something I’m pretty sure everyone knows a little something about: communications apps. Specifically, I’ll be referring to my favorite 5 communications apps.
There are specific criteria I look for in communications software: 1) Is it free? By free I mean the software should cost nothing to download and install 2) I also expect all forms client-to-client (e.g. Skype-to-Skype, Facetime-to-Facetime, etc.) communications to be free as well 3) The ability for live-chat. This is pretty much a given nowadays 4) The ability to make phone calls internationally 5) Video conferencing 6) File exchanging capabilities.
My favorite 5 apps of choice, in no particular order, are Skype, FaceTime and Messages, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Viber.
Skype is still a powerhouse and fantastic for everyday use, in both the business and private world, and I can’t think of a person I know who travels on business or pleasure who doesn’t use it. I use it for all of the criteria I wrote about above. It costs nothing to download; chatting and phone calls with other Skype members is free; they have very competitive rates for international calls, and even allow one to have a Skype Number. This allows me to have a local number in another geographical location. In my case I have a local number in New York that my family and friends there can call and are charged the local rate. I can also video-conference multiple Skype members at no cost. This is a nearly unbeatable way of staying in touch and coordinating events with family in different locations. I was tickled to bits to when my mother-in-law started using it to keep in touch with her sisters, one in Paris and the other in Helsinki. I can also use Skype to exchange files. All for free. :)
Next up are FaceTime and Messages. These are two native OS X and iOS (for some this is geek-speak that simply means they only work on Apple devices) communication apps that are separate, but not totally. FaceTime pretty much stands on its own and is excellent for video-conferencing and making phone calls to other Apple devices. The quality of both modes of communication are rather phenomenal comparatively to the competition. Messages is a chat program that allows FaceTime integration. For example, if I’m chatting with someone using an Apple device and we decide a phone call or video conference is a better option, I can simply click on “Details” in the top right-hand corner, and then select either the camera or the phone icon.
Clicking on the video camera icon will activate FaceTime, and clicking on the phone icon gives you the option of making the call with FaceTime audio or uses your iPhone subscription if it’s connected to your local network. Something I’ve noticed with with FaceTime is the video and audio quality are excellent compared to other communication apps. If I know the person I wish to contact has FaceTime or another app, I’ll choose FaceTime. The difference in quality is such that I would even suggest switching after learning they have FaceTime instead of whatever communication app the contact was initiated in.
There are several other things I really like about FaceTime and Messages, but I’ll save that for another time.
Next up is Facebook Messenger. If you’re a Facebook user, then you know about Facebook Messenger. To some for better or for worse. Personally, I think it’s a pretty handy little app! After all, besides chat it also offers free video-conferencing and phone calls to anyone of your Facebook friends regardless of geographical location (though I have my questions about China). That’s a pretty good deal. I’m willing to be each of you reading this has a a Facebook account, and that you have plenty of Facebook friends as well. Did you know you could call them for free through Facebook Messenger? Well you do now. ;)
WhatsApp is a player that’s been around for a long time (in the IT industry, that is). It was founded in 2009 by Brian Acton and Jan Koum. It was what I consider my first real messaging app. They have certainly come a long way since then, adding telephony to their robust little app. They also managed to survive among the Skypes, Facebooks, and other huge players in their market. According to a November 2013 OnDevice Research article, WhatsApp surpassed Facebook Messenger as the leading messenger app. What did Facebook do? They did the same thing other multibillion dollar companies like them do. They turned around and bought them for $19 billion [Facebook (FB) said it will pay WhatsApp $4 billion in cash and $12 billion in stock. WhatsApp’s founders and staff will be eligible for for another $3 billion in stock grants to be paid out if they remain employed by Facebook for four years]. For the WhatsApp team that’s quite a feat to pull off in 6 years. Nevertheless, even after the purchase, they remain constant in offering one of the best messaging apps with phone service available. I still use it, and highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a pretty plucky and reliable app that delivers.
Last, but not least, is Viber. Viber has been around since 2010, and is an app I’m finding I use more and more among my European friends. It is both chat and VoIP capable, and they’re even offering calling plans for those interested. It’s a more than decent communications app, and I must confess I at first installed because it was the choice of a group of folks I associate with a bit more regularly; however, I certainly don’t regret it. Especially since they have a desktop version for OS X. Check it out for yourself and see what I mean.
Something I should to point out is that all of the apps I write about above, with the exception of WhatsApp, offer both a mobile and desktop version. This is becoming the standard nowadays, which I think is a very good thing for us consumers. WhatsApp does offer a web version but it’s not quite the same thing in my book. I also want to point out that all of the communications apps I mentioned, with the exception of FaceTime and Messages, compatible with the latest Apple, Android, Blackberry , and Windows devices.
So now you have options for staying in touch with most people you know, at little cost, if not downright for free! Just in case you’re wondering, with the exception of my parents – who are a bit older and not at all tech savvy – I don’t pay anything to keep in touch with my friends and family around the world. And I’m wiling to bet your friends and family are using at least one (if not more!) of the communications apps I mentioned above. This means you too can stay in touch for free. If they’re not, you now at least have the means to tell them how they can.