If there’s one thing I’d like to see in the next few years it’s more protocols being added to Apple’s Messages app for iOS. iMessage is a wonderful thing, but your friends need to be on their iPhone, iPad or Mac running Mountain Lion in order to talk to you, and the platform is still relatively new.
Until Apple decides to add Google Talk, AIM and other protocols to its core iOS app, we’ll have to make do with dedicated alternatives. By far one of the best and most powerful solutions for iPhone is IM+, a free multi-protocol instant messaging client for keeping up with your contacts anywhere you’ve got your iPhone and a data connection.
It supports notifications, multimedia messaging and more services than anyone could possibly ever use, and has earned its rightful spot on our Best Of Windows Software page.
For a free app, IM+ offers quite a lot to sink your teeth into. There are an almost unnecessary number of protocols, which is of course a good thing. As well as the big ones – Google Talk, Jabber, AIM and the soon-to-be-retired MSN/Windows Live platform there are far more obscure international services too. Included in this list is the super-popular Chinese Twitter equivalent Sina Weibo as well as Twitter itself (for accessing your direct messages) and Facebook chat.
In addition to the usuals IM+ has its own protocol that appears at the very top of the list called Neighbors. It’s really easy to register for the service in-app and once you’ve done so other IM+ users in your local area will be listed in your buddy list. The idea behind this service is to connect you with others who are nearby, but of course they need to be using the Neighbors protocol.
My nearest neighbours in Melbourne, Australia were thousands of kilometres away in Sydney, Vietnam and China which is far from useful. This might speak more for the popularity of the service in my part of the world, and I’m sure if you live in a big city in the US you will have a lot more joy. Still, it’s a pretty interesting concept that uses your camera to overlay online buddies in augmented-reality style over your camera’s view.
When your phone is in the horizontal position the app automatically switches to map view, another nice feature that’s probably useful if you have friends on the service.
Of course there’s no need to register for a Neighbors account, and the app serves its purpose as a dedicated IM client just fine without it.
Buddies, Chatting & More
The app uses what has now become somewhat of a signature blue background image, and the option of a light (black on white) dark (white on black) and bubble (Apple-esque iMessage-style) themes which can be toggled from the More > View menu option. The interface is perfectly readable, though the Bubble theme is underwhelming if you were hoping for something that closely resembled the in-built Messages app.
The main interface is tabbed with Contacts, Chats and an area to change your status all neatly within reach along the bottom of the app. While chatting away it is also possible to swipe left and right between open chats on the Inbox tab.
Chatting with buddies is a typical affair, and the app both sends and receives typing notifications, and supports multimedia content too. This is achieved by sending your image or voice clip to the server and providing a link that the other party can use to access the content. It works fairly well, and according to the developers cannot be seen by other third parties and images are removed from the server within 14-days.
IM+ also includes a browser, though it’s not truly any different to Safari as the iPhone only supports Safari in its own wrapper. Once you’ve added all your accounts and set up IM+ the way you want it then you can sync with iCloud to maintain your set up across all your iDevices.
IM+ is a solid client with support for a huge number of IM protocols, multimedia and location sending and a few other handy features on top. If you’re searching for a no-fuss client for use on the go, from your iPhone (and there’s an iPad version too). It’s free, and you’ll only have to put up with a few ads (or upgrade if you’re that way inclined) for the pleasure.