It’s a rare occurrence that my iPhone is less than three or four feet from my hand, so when I left my phone entirely at home the other day, I felt a severe case of separation anxiety. Not only could I not check my email while eating lunch or read blogs while waiting for the ferry on the commute home, but I was without access to my current IM client, Meebo, while walking throughout downtown. I use IM to stay in touch with the LockerGnome team and other friends throughout the day. The lack of the this constant contact left me feeling out of touch — and out of the loop — with what was going on in my professional and personal life.
Mobile instant messaging is becoming a critical component of many smartphone owners’ lives. There are dozens of apps to choose from depending on your needs, and what platforms on which you primarily communicate. For those who rely on Google to chat, Google Talk is a great option for mobile users. For those who use a combination other platforms, such as AIM, Google Talk, Facebook and MobileMe, you may want to consider a third-party app. Here, we break it down and look at three of the best free apps for iOS devices to help you decide which is the best IM client for the iPhone for you.
I’ve been using Meebo since I bought my iPhone in spring of 2011. Meebo is easy to sign up for and also easy to set up IM accounts from AIM, Windows Live, Yahoo! IM, Google Talk, MySpace IM, ICQ, and Jabber. Users of Meebo can easily customize notifications, especially with IOS 5’s new notification center. This can mean, however, that you either get bombarded with notifications upon new IM messages, or never receive any at all, as notifications can be silent, leaving new IMs piling up in Meebo without your knowledge. Meebo has also admitted that the app can quickly drain your battery, as Meebo constantly runs in the background. This can happen much faster if you receive several IMs throughout the day. Another problem I found with Meebo is that it also tends to receive IMs on a delay of up to several minutes, and has occasionally lost IMs entirely — even if I received a notification in my iPhone’s notification center that I received an IM from a friend. Though this is rare, it is extremely frustrating, especially when the IM was part of an important conversation.
For a more reliable option, iOS users should also consider Trillian, a free chat client that features seamless integration of AIM, MobileMe, Facebook, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, MySpace IM, WLM, and Yahoo! IM accounts. the interface is better than Meebo (read: looks less like a kindergarten student designed the UI), but is still a little rough around the edges. It’s also a little slow to open as well as respond, and there are few notification preferences — in fact, I could barely find any within the app, which just indicates how unintuitive the UI of Trillian actually is. Trillian is also prone to crashing, especially if you try to move between chats or preferences too quickly. In comparison to Meebo, I found Trillian more difficult to use. While it offers more choices of IM platforms than most other free IM clients for the iPhone, you may not need to use MySpace IM or Jabber. Instead, consider either Meebo or the next option below — Verbs — for a better, less frustrating experience.
If you’re looking for the best free IM client for the iPhone, Verbs is going to be your ideal choice. Verbs is the most lightweight app out of the three options highlighted here and is designed with functionality in mind. In fact, Verbs calls itself “simple instant messaging.” The simple color scheme allows users to focus on conversation and not the UI, which is best described as minimalistic. Users can add accounts from Google Talk, AIM, MobileMe, and Facebook, and the app disconnects when not in use to save you that precious battery life. You can easily see how many conversations you are having and navigate between each. iOS users will also find conversation style much more natural, as the design mimics the style of native iOS SMS chat. Notifications of new IMs are also delivered in real-time, and you can choose your notification style in the iOS Notification Center.
Do you use an IM client for your iPhone? If so, what is your favorite app? Let us know in the comments.