Clearly iPhone users have a serious need for instant messaging. After the App Store launched it seemed like everybody and their brother created an AIM client (including the protocol’s creators, AOL). Since then, I’ve been looking through the list and sorting the good from the bad. As it turns out, the 3rd party developers really busted their butts and turned out some fairly impressive apps. Even the AOL-made app is solid.
One app I like in particular is called Palringo (iTunes Link). The major difference between Palringo and other IM clients for the iPhone is that it is a multi-protocol client. That means you cannot only use your AIM account, but also your Yahoo!, Windows Live, and Google Talk accounts (and more, seen on the right). Palringo isn’t the only multi-protocol client, but compared to the other few I have seen thus far, it is definitely the most refined.
Another great feature is the interface. While Palringo is a multi-platform client (meaning it can run on multiple types of machines), this review will only cover the iPhone’s specific interface. To be brief: it’s great! It is not a simple “port” or recreation of the original interface (though it is somewhat similar). Instead, it was designed with the device in mind.
At the top of the screen there are three central buttons that let you switch between your accounts, your chat groups, and your contacts. The “accounts” pane is where account configuration takes place. The “chat groups” pane allows you to create chat rooms where multiple users can interact. The last pane, the “contacts” pane, is the most important. It lists all the people from your various buddy lists on one unified list. Unfortunately there are no “groups” like in other chat clients. Available users are listed at the top and offline users are shown below. There is a handy search box at the top to prevent massive scrolling, though.
Clicking any contact, as expected, brings up a new chat window. In the chat pane there are several options. The first is a simple chat window that brings up the keyboard. One critique here is that the text is very small and makes typing pretty difficult. The other options include sending an image, adding the other user as a contact, or sending a voice message.
The last option is one of the coolest things about Palringo. If you click the word-bubble icon, the App brings up a bar for you to hold down with your finger. While you’re holding it down, the iPhone’s mic turns on and records a short message. After you let go, it will immediately stop recording and send your message. In Palringo, the message shows as a “play” button, but your friend will likely see a link. After testing it a number of times, I can say that this feature works well, but sometimes it can cut off the last bit of your sentence unexpectedly.
Another neat feature is the ability to move in 4 directions through the interface. When scanning your buddy list, a standard up or down flick will scroll through it. If you have multiple chat windows open, though, flicking left or right (like in the iPhone’s picture viewer) will change from one chat window to another. It takes some getting used to because the difference between the motions is very slight for the first centimeter or so. Once you understand how Palringo responds, though, the convenience of the left-right flick more than makes up for any accidental scrolling.
There are more features in Palringo, but hopefully you get the gist of the app. It has some of the limitations inherent to all 3rd party apps. For instance, because the iPhone won’t run background processes, going to the home screen closes Palringo and signs you off. There is no logging feature (which I believe is possible under the iPhone SDK) so any chats you had before closing the app are lost. Even so, the client passes all of my general benchmarks for a good IM client and I will definitely use this one for any of my messaging needs.
What are some of your favorite iPhone IM clients? Does this one do it for you or is there something else out there that’s better?