At the 2016 Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple announced that iMessage is about to get a fairly substantial facelift in the coming months. It’s not surprising to see that Apple looking is looking to add a greater level of personalization and ease-of-use within the app, especially when you consider the rising popularity of other messaging apps and platforms. With the future of iMessage now set forth, how will the app hold up in comparison to other widely-utilized messaging apps, namely Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp?
The ability to send a message via an app is fairly commonplace in this day and age. To differentiate themselves, iMessage and Messenger have consistently looked to let users better express themselves in their correspondences. Earlier this year, Facebook announced that it would be greatly expanding its emoji library to to better reflect gender and skin tones. Facebook plans on including more variety when it comes to gender roles within its emoji library, including female emojis that depict a police officer, a swimmer, and a surfer. Messenger also supports GIFs and stickers.
At WWDC 2016, Apple doubled down on its commitment to stay ahead of the curve on personalization, in light of the current emojis arms race. Apple’s iMessage will soon utilize an automatic “emojification” option — simply click the emoji keyboard button and iMessage will highlight all of the “emojifiable” words in your message. By clicking on the highlighted words, you can easily convert the words into emojis. The company also announced that its emojis will soon be three times as big as they are now, meaning we can finally send emojis in peace knowing that our parents will no longer have to search for their “readers” in order to decipher our unnecessary correspondence of simulacrum. This could also be seen as a direct response to Facebook Messenger’s use of larger stickers.
Apple recently unveiled an array of other new features, too, including handwritten messages and sketches, full-screen effects, as well as so-called “bubble effects.” Furthermore, the company acknowledged that it would be opening up iMessage apps to developers, meaning the subsequent apps and personalization are sure to increase exponentially with the release of iOS 10 this fall.
However, personalization is one of the many areas in which WhatsApp simply cannot compete. The app may be the most popular messaging app on the face of the Earth, but the extent of message personalization is exceedingly limited. Emojis and stickers are not directly built into the WhatsApp, though emoticon support is available for use on the iPhone if you’re using the emoji keyboard. This is accessible by simply going to your Settings and then adding the emoji keyboard.
Tie: iMessage and Facebook Messenger
It appears as though Facebook has lofty intentions to monetize Messenger and broaden its scope beyond the realm of basic messaging. Earlier this year, the company partnered with Lyft so that customers could utilize the service via Messenger, and soon afterward, Facebook announced that it would be launching a Spotify playlist-sharing app for Messenger. Similarly, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines have partnered with Facebook, allowing flight updates to be sent directly to passengers through Messenger. In April, Facebook even launched Messenger chatbots, which enable users to interact with businesses from within the app. These “bots” offer an array of features, allowing users to book a hotel, view the latest headlines, and perform a range other actions. Preliminary partners for the service include the Wall Street Journal, CNN, KLM, and 1-800-Flowers.
Apple too seems keen on utilizing the cross-app capacity of iMessage, however. At this year’s WWDC, it announced that users will soon be able to play and share music from directly within iMessage. Apple also plans to incorporate Square Cash into its platform, meaning users will be able to make a payment without ever leaving the messaging thread. Soon, you’ll even be able to order food straight from iMessage via DoorDash. Individuals will also able to use Siri to share their exact location with friends via an imported image from Maps. The latter is actually a handy feature, one that WhatsApp has had for quite a while.
Comparatively, WhatsApp is on the outside looking in on this one. For the most part, sharing on WhatsApp demands an array of third-party apps to complete a given task. Alone, WhatsApp simply cannot function in this capacity. While Apple and Facebook are both looking to cash in from an array of business ties, WhatsApp has never been focused on generating profits. WhatsApp doesn’t actually make any money at the moment, primarily because the app was never built on an ad-based platform. Although Mark Zuckerberg has suggested developing features that allow for monetization within WhatsApp, the move seems unlikely at the moment, given Facebook would only be competing against itself in a race against Apple.
Winner: Facebook Messenger
Convenience and privacy
When it comes to a mobile messaging service, the real crux of its usefulness is hinged on the extent of its user base. A messaging platform could be the best on the market, but if no one is using the service, it’s superiority is really a mute point, seeing as the whole idea is the ability to message other people. This is, by and large, part the problem with WhatsApp, while the messenger may tout more than a billion users, many of these individuals live outside of the United States. The usage rate is much lower in the U.S., meaning once you’ve downloaded the app, a large number of your contacts will not transfer to WhatsApp. That being said, if you have a friend or family member overseas and are looking to dodge hefty mobile fees, this does make WhatsApp a convenient messaging option.
WhatsApp also offers phone calls via an Internet connection, as does Facebook Messenger, but iMessage does not. All three let you record voice messages, share photos, and emoji with equal ease. iMessage and Messenger offer GIF support right in the app, but WhatsApp is only just testing that feature in beta on Android.
The rather overt approach by Facebook to force users to download Messenger may have been a little Draconian for many, but, needless to say, it worked. Now, Messenger has more than 800 million users — up from 500 million users in November 2015. The usage rate of iMessage on iPhone is similarly ubiquitous within the U.S., with the company representing nearly half of all U.S. cell phones.
Unfortunately, Apple has continuously insisted that its software and hardware work strictly in unison with one another. Consequently, the company refuses to allow iMessage on Android devices. This leaves the huge Android marketshare outside of the iMessage realm of influence. Whether this will change in the future is anyone’s guess.
In comparison, the most glaring pitfall with WhatsApp is how restrictive it is when it comes to switching devices. According to the app’s official website, “If you attempt to frequently switch your WhatsApp account between different devices, at a certain point, you may be blocked from re-verifying your account.” This is extremely limiting, especially if you’re someone who has more than one device at their disposal. WhatsApp Web does allow individuals to view and send messages from their computer, however, this requires individuals to sign into each session using a QR code. Messenger and iMessage, on the other hand, allows users to switch between devices with ease.
In light of a weary public’s privacy concerns, many mobile messengers have expressed interest in increasing encryption. Apple has offered end-to-end encryption with the iMessage for years. Similarly, WhatsApp has enabled end-to-end encrypted messaging by default for quite some time. Facebook Messenger currently does not offer encryption, though, in a recent announcement, the company appears to ready to offer encryption in the near future.
Tie: WhatsApp and iMessage
Choosing the right app for you
Which messaging platform is worthy of your time really comes down to your individual needs and preferences. WhatsApp really only makes sense to use if you somehow still have a messaging plan without unlimited texting, for instance, or you’re trying to communicate with someone overseas. It’s also good for those who care about end-to-end encryption, but may have friends who don’t have iOS. The decision isn’t nearly as cut and dry when talking Facebook Messenger and iMessage.
The latest iteration of iMessage is taking personalization to the next level — far beyond anything Facebook Messenger offers — but much of the functionality will be reserved to iOS devices, meaning Android users won’t be able to take advantage of it. Thankfully, Messenger offers a suite of features for users who don’t mind funneling their conversations through Facebook. The latter also lets you see when “a friend” is online and available, which feels more organic. However, you can only message people with whom you are friends on Facebook, which may be limiting.
All three of these messaging apps have pros and cons, so choosing the right one for you may require a test drive. Luckily, they’re all free and available for download (with the exception of iMessage, which is default on iOS and not available on Android). Since iMessage is limited to iOS users and WhatsApp is more simple, Facebook Messenger is the outright winner of this duel. It may not offer end-to-end encryption like iMessage or WhatsApp, but it does offer the most fully featured experience with GIFs, stickers, emoji, phone calls, and cross-platform support.