While text messaging still exists, more and more users are turning to instant messaging apps. These applications are cheaper, faster and more versatile, and they usually go beyond being just text messaging services.
Most of these services now allow for voice and video calls between two or more people. The almost systematic implementation of end-to-end encryption also plays in favor of these applications, all claiming to be more respectful of personal data than the others.
Choosing one app over another really depends on the uses of each individual and the habits of those around them. While WhatsApp may have the approval of a majority of users, some people will be happy to know that there are more free and secure alternatives like Telegram or Signal. There are also situations that require the use of a specific service. For example, when visiting China, it is almost impossible to avoid using WeChat.
Skype does not need to be introduced anymore, as it is famous for its communication qualities. The Microsoft-developed application allows you to chat one to one or to participate in conversation groups. Managing mentions simplifies interactions between two people in the same group. You can easily exchange files, photos and videos. Video and audio calls are supported up to 50 participants per session.
Above all, Skype stands out from the competition with a few features designed to improve everyday life. Among these are money transfers, location sharing, call scheduling and polling. However, the most exciting feature is certainly Skype Translator, a tool built into Skype that allows you to translate written (60 languages) or video (10 languages) conversations on the fly.
When it comes to the security of exchanges, Skype is opaque. You have to take Microsoft’s word for it when the company claims that communications between Skype users are AES encrypted and that they pass through the TLS protocol. The app has offered end-to-end encryption for text messages and audio calls since 2018. In this case, it is necessary to activate the option manually in the conversation settings.
Despite being originally a VoIP platform for gamers, Discord has a whole range of features that make it an effective instant messenger. The structure of Discord is based on private or public servers, which in turn are made up of private or public channels. It is therefore possible to authorize access to a channel to all or some of the members of a server. In addition, a direct messaging module completes the application and enables two users to discuss privately, without interfering with the collective communication channels.
In addition to its foolproof organization, Discord provides options that seriously compete with services like Skype or Teams. It features voice and video calls, spell checker, Markdown support, file, photo and video sharing, message pinning, server and room muting, customizable emoticons, gifs integration, Spotify synchronization, customizable keyboard shortcuts.
Discord doesn’t have end-to-end encryption. Although it doesn’t prevent the service from reading your messages and listening to your calls, a quality VPN will allow you to preserve the anonymity of your communications. Many consider Discord as one of the best messaging apps out there.
For many years integrated into Facebook, Messenger became a full-fledged instant messaging application in 2014. A separation that has long allowed Internet users to do without a Facebook account and register using their phone number. As of December 2019, this option is no longer available and only registered users on the social network can enjoy Messenger.
While Messenger allows you to chat with two people, it also allows you to participate in multi-party conversations. To add a new contact to a group gives him access to the messages before his joining. Add-ons expand the basic options to make the app a daily assistant. You can create polls, set reminders, share your location, transfer documents, disable notifications of overactive conversations, and set Messenger as the default SMS application. In addition, video calls can be made with up to 50 participants, but it is not advisable to push the experience that far, as this could lead to endless conversations.
As opposed to WhatsApp, Messenger chats are not automatically encrypted. You can manually secure them on a case-by-case basis by activating the Secret Conversations option in the settings of a chosen conversation. The end-to-end encryption (Signal protocol) is only effective if it has also been activated by the other person.
Following in the footsteps of Signal, Olvid is making its way through the saturated instant messaging market. Co-founded by four Frenchmen, Thomas Baignères, Matthieu Finiasz, Jacques-André Bondy and Cedric Sylvestre, the application takes the notions of anonymity and data security very far since no information is hosted on the company’s servers. End-to-end encryption is obviously required for all communications (data + metadata), whether between two people or more.
Olvid strikes very hard by abolishing the concept of registration by e-mail or telephone number. Indeed, you only need to enter your first and last name, not to create an account, but to generate an ID that you can share with your trusted contacts. This information is never seen by Olvid’s servers. Only the added contacts are allowed to communicate after scanning the QR code of the invitation and exchanging their respective four-digit codes. Therefore, there is no risk of dealing with a stranger.
Today, Olvid is a purely text-based messaging system. It is possible to chat with a contact or to create conversation groups. Two-way voice calls are included and it is also possible to exchange files, photos and videos. It should be noted that the Android keyboard used automatically switches to incognito mode, which is not the case for Signal.
The only thing Olvid lacks is an open source license to demonstrate full transparency. A status promised soon. Moreover, the service has recently been endorsed by the ANSSI of the CSPN. For the record, this certification validates the high degree of security of a technology or product.
Snapchat’s unique concept has allowed it to test the waters of instant messaging by offering functional and inventive tools. While the app became known thanks to the ephemeral nature of the photos and videos it sends, it soon had to find other arguments to compete with its rivals. Following a criticized redesign, a stagnation of the number of active users and a free fall of the share price on the stock market, Snapchat finally returned to a growth that was no longer expected.
Nowadays, the app has traded its purely social network aspect to take on the role of multimedia messaging. The majority of users now use Snapchat to chat with their friends. There is a complete exchange module that allows users to chat with a specific person, create group conversations with up to 32 participants, share photos and movies stored locally, make voice and video calls, and organize video calls with several people, with or without a filter depending on the mood of each person.
Bitmoji stickers liven up standard chats, as do the mini-games integrated into the chat. We also appreciate the possibility of activating add requests, which allow only accepted friends to contact you. Many consider Snapchat as one of the best messaging apps out there.
Lying in the shadow of WhatsApp, Viber is holding its own. Purchased in 2014 by the Japanese Rakuten, the application now boasts 400 million active users per month. This high figure would make it profitable for the first time in 2021 according to its CEO Djmael Agoua.
What really makes Viber special, however, are its communities. By enabling the creation of public supergroups with an unlimited number of participants, the application is trying to break into the field of social networking and is looking to convince new users.
Joining Viber requires a phone number that will serve as a login. Only the contacts of a user have access to their number. Community members’ numbers are always hidden.
LINE is the next application in our list of best messaging apps. It is the perfect companion for anyone who wishes to travel or communicate with relatives living in Asia. Extensively used in Japan and Taiwan, the application allows you to chat via private messages or group chats with up to 200 participants, make video and video calls, send files, photos and videos, share your location or even transfer money to your contacts. While end-to-end encryption has been widespread since 2016, it does not cover group chats.
LINE has been completely blocked by the Great Firewall of China since 2014. In order to reach your loved ones in China, you’ll have to use WeChat, which has almost the same features, but with more censorship. Some keywords are banned and controversial content is arbitrarily deleted.
By July 2019, Stephen McDonell, a BBC correspondent based in China, detailed WeChat’s disturbing practices regarding the unblocking of accounts suspected of peddling false rumors: the need to provide a headshot as well as a voice recording in Mandarin. WeChat users should be aware of this constant surveillance.
Created in 2014 from the combination of the Redphone application and the TextSecure protocol, Signal is seen as the ideal open source alternative to WhatsApp. An SMS/MMS and instant messaging application, it encrypts end-to-end written (Signal protocol), voice (ZRTP protocol) and video (Signal protocol) messages sent via the network. In order to take advantage of this security, it is essential that the person you are talking to also uses Signal. SMS/MMS messages have not been encrypted since 2015.
In 2018, Signal experienced an important turning point with the creation of the Signal Foundation by Moxie Marlinspike and Brian Acton, the co-founders of Whisper Systems (Rephone and TextSecure) and WhatsApp respectively. The goal of this non-profit organization is to develop open source communication technologies that respect privacy and protect freedom of expression.
Signal offers almost the same features as its competitors, but without the affront to personal data. Discussions between two people, encrypted conversation groups with an unlimited number of participants, muted conversations, video and photo sharing. You can also send short messages to Signal users. However, it is not possible to make group calls, audio or video. Strongly recommended by Edward Snowden, Signal is still one of the most transparent and secure messaging systems.
This is the most used instant messaging application in the world. In early 2020, WhatsApp reached over 2 billion users mark and consolidated its dominant position in the world, far ahead of Messenger, which has “only” 1.3 billion active users per month. What is one of the reasons for this success? There is no need to create a Facebook account to use it. A simple phone number is enough.
The app was launched in 2009 by Jan Koum and Brian Acton, and is now competing in a very crowded market. As opposed to its rivals, it does not have a real business model. With no advertising, WhatsApp relied at the time on an annual subscription fee of €0.99 after the first year of free use. In fact, few users paid this fee, which disappeared permanently in 2016.
Purchased by Facebook in 2014, a lot has changed since its inception to end up with the very complete version we know: private messages, group discussions that can accommodate up to 256 contacts, mailing lists, photo, video and link sharing, phone and video calls from two to eight participants, end-to-end encryption via Signal protocol, deleting messages that are too quickly gone. Turning off notifications for certain contacts or multi-party conversations provides relief for users who are too polite to leave a group or block an intruding contact.
Nevertheless, there are two issues. First of all, anyone can contact you on WhatsApp. You can block a contact afterwards, but there is no way to prevent messages from unknown numbers. Second problem: WhatsApp shares some personal information with Facebook, like phone number, smartphone ID, or frequency of use of the app. This means that Facebook is able to draw up a fairly detailed profile of users who are not registered on the social network.
Telegram was originally a militant act. Founded in 2013 by the Dourov brothers, who were strong critics of Putin’s regime, the app was meant to allow its users to escape the omniscience of the FSB. It proved to be a success, not only in Russia, but around the world. From October 2013 to March 2014, Telegram grew from 100,000 to 35 million active users per month. Today, there are more than 500 million.
All messages sent are encrypted by default using a closed, proprietary protocol called MTProto. The messages pass through Telegram’s servers. They can be decrypted and stored by the company. There is however an option to be activated manually, Secret Chats, allowing to encrypt the messages from end to end for more confidentiality.
The available features include the ability to chat in pairs, participate in conversation groups with up to 200,000 members, make one-to-one voice calls, share photos, videos, links and documents. However, video calls are not supported by the application, which promises to introduce video conferencing in 2020.
Do you know any other Messaging Apps that deserved a place in out list? Let us know in the comments section below.