<firstimage=”//cdn.makeuseof.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/00a_group_chat.jpg”>One of the most popular methods of direct mobile communication is SMS. It’s short, cheaper than a direct phone call, non-intrusive, and most importantly, multi-platform. To overcome the text-only limitation of SMS, MMS also appears. But both services have one main disadvantage – they are a lot more expensive than Internet instant messaging systems and email, which are virtually free.
But instant messaging systems and email on mobile devices also have their own weakness. They lack the practicality of SMS and MMS. You have to log in (and often re-log in) to the system before you can send messages, and you have to manually add your buddies to the contact list. Not to mention that you have to join several IM systems and install many IM clients to be able to contact all of your buddies. Even with multi-network instant messenger clients like imo.im and Digsby, you still have to register and log into all of your accounts.
WhatsApp is the multi-platform messaging system which features the best of both worlds – the simplicity of SMS/MMS, and the power of IM.
Manage Your Contacts
Before we go any further, let’s disclose the fact that Whatsapp is not completely free. Even though it’s free under Blackberry, WhatsApp is $0.99 (one time payment) for the iPhone, and $1.99/year (with free first-year usage) for the Android and Nokia. However, the price is a drop in a bucket compared to potential savings on SMS/MMS costs. Similar to other IM systems, WhatsApp will use your mobile Internet data connection to send messages.
To get the client, go to the WhatsApp website and click the download button. Please note that not all Nokia models are supported. A compatibility list is on the WhatsApp Nokia download page.
The screenshots I’m using in this article were taken from WhatsApp for the iPhone. There may be some slight differences with other platforms.
After installation, the client will scan your address book to find people who already use WhatsApp and then add them to your Favorites list. The list is highly editable. Tap the “Edit” button, and you can see the delete button on the left. You can rearrange the list by tapping and dragging the bars on the right.
WhatsApp allows you to attach a status to your name. You can type your own status, or use one of the quick templates. The status is visible on your friends’ device, so your friend will know when it’s safe to call you or when you don’t want to be disturbed.
The “Contacts” tab mirrors your address book. You can search for a name and then send them messages, or invite the person to get the WhatsApp client if they don’t have it.
The Chits & The Chats
One of the best features of WhatsApp is the ability to create group chats. This feature is ‘hidden’ at the top of the “Chats” tab, along with the “Broadcast Message” feature.
The “Broadcast Message” feature allows you to send one message to many people. This feature is very useful if you have to inform a lot of people about something. To broadcast your message, choose the relevant contacts from the list, tap “Done“, write the message, and send.
Creating a “Group Chat” is also easy. Write the subject, add participants (up to 10 people), and tap “Next” to create the group.
Then you can write messages, and all the group members will receive the messages. Every member will also be able to send messages to everybody.
Text is not the only thing that WhatsApp is good at. You can also send photos, videos, and audio as well as sharing contacts and locations. Tap the small up arrow button on the left of the message field to choose the item. There’s a small bar next to the item that will tell you the sending progress.
If you scroll to the top of a chat, you will see several more options – calling the person, editing the messages, and seeing more information about the person (from the address book). You can also load earlier and older messages if you want to trace the history of your chats.
The call feature is an ordinary phone to phone call and not VOIP like Skype.
Other Little Things
If you want to know whether the price you paid for WhatsApp is worth the money, you can go to “Settings – Usage“. Here, you can see all the statistics. How much does one SMS cost? Multiply that figure with the number of messages you’ve sent and you will get your answer.
Another thing you can do with WhatsApp is customize the chat background. Go to “Settings – Chat Settings – Chat Wallpaper” to choose your preferred image as the background.
You can choose a photo from your Camera Roll or Photo Library as the background. WhatsApp also comes with sets of background images in its Wallpaper Library.
Even though background customization might not be the main selling point for WhatsApp, it’s nice to have the option to change the chat environment.
Have you tried WhatsApp? What do you think about it? Do you know of other similar applications? If so, please share them using the comments below.
Image credit: cooljinny