10 Instant Messaging Apps for the iPhone


When push notification finally made its way to the iPhone, a lot of people were anticipating IMs pushed to their iPhone. At first, I scoffed at this idea. I’d always figured IMs were based around the “instant” part of the phrase, and someone pushing an IM to me might be disappointed if I don’t get back to them right away. Well, guess who’s been a big iPhone IM-er since 3.0 came out? Go on, you’ll never guess. Yep, it’s me. I’d like my crow with a side of au jus, and a loaded baked potato, please.

First a quick word of warning: by no means are my comments here to be construed as any sort of a formal review. While I’ve tried to run all of these apps through their paces, I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling any of my comments a review — they’re more like first impressions.

That said, while there are 10 apps we tested out, it quickly became clear to me this was a race between Beejive and IM+ Push. The important criteria for me were: the ability to connect to multiple IM protocols (and multiple accounts of the same protocol), the ability to do push notifications, and the app not requiring its own server-side account to operate. Price, as they say, was no object. When you get right down to it, the difference between many of these apps is only $5-7. My afternoon brownie indulgence costs more than that.

Over the last week, I’ve been receiving push notifications from at least one of these apps during testing, if not more than one, and I didn’t notice a detrimental effect on my battery life — with the usual disclaimer that if I spent my entire train ride home IMing friends, I’d see a battery hit.

Without further ado, here are my findings.

IM+ with PushIM+ Push ($9.99)

IM+ Push is a very full-featured app with two specific features I enjoyed: I can set how long I’m online for up to three days (perfect for getting through a weekend); and I can change the wallpaper behind the messages. However, I found the app overall a tad on the slow side. As a speed comparison, by the time I had opened IM+ and viewed the IM, I would have also replied to the IM in Beejive. While it does claim to connect to Skype, I had some issues getting it connected, and never got a push from Skype.

IM+ LiteIM+ Lite (Free)

IM+ Lite is the free version of IM+ Push and the only differences between the two are that you can’t change the wallpaper and the push notifications are email only.

BeejiveBeejive ($9.99)

I found Beejive to be the fastest app in my tests. I could very quickly see what IMs had arrived, preview them and reply to them. Like IM+, I can change the background, but I can only be online for up to 24 hours (which was the standard time period for all the apps). There was one nice feature I found in Beejive that I couldn’t find a corresponding setting for in IM+: I can set how long I show as “available” after I close the app. One of the chief complaints from people I was IMing during this test were the frequent “crumpy is available”/”crumpy is away” notifications they were receiving. By staying “available” for 20 minutes, the person I was IMing with had a much better experience. It was a minor detail I hadn’t thought of until a few people complained about it.

One other feature I liked is I can set how many IMs from contacts are shown when I launch the app. The default is I only see the most recent message from each contact, but I set it do display more, up to and including all messages.

AgileAgile Messenger with Push ($9.99)

For the price, I found Agile Messenger to be a very poor solution. You can only connect to one account of each protocol (I have two AIM accounts: my personal and a work one). I also found the type size on the IMs to be too small to read, and there was noticeable lag when typing.

AIMAIM ($2.99/Free)

There are two AIM apps from AOL, one that’s free and one that’s $2.99. I’m grouping them together since the only differences between the two are that the free one has ads and the paid version does not. While I found the app to be very responsive, there are two big issues I had: I can only be signed into one AIM account, and all push notifications have an SMS-style popup. I couldn’t stop the pop-ups, but I could control how much information was displayed — the ranges are from “new IM” to the full contents of the IM, including sender information. The only reasons I’d recommend this app is if money really is an object, you only have one AIM account, and don’t mind the obtrusive pop-ups.

YahooYahoo! (Free)

Well, about all I can say is, “Yep, it connected to Yahoo.” You can only connect to one Yahoo account and there is no push notification, nor any announced plans for push.

PalringoPalringo (Free)

In my tests, Palringo failed on liftoff. It requires a server-side account, and when I went to setup the account via the iPhone app, the captcha image didn’t even display — really, who needs captcha on an iPhone app? The app does not currently do push, although as of this writing they have submitted a push version for approval. At this point, for a free IM app, I’d recommend IM+ Lite over this one.

skypeSkype (Free)

Since the purpose of this article is IM apps, I’m going to gloss over the voice portion of the Skype app, which is arguable its greatest benefit. However, I was able to connect to my Skype account and IM with friends just fine. There are no push notifications for IMs, however.

Fuze MessengerFuze (Free)

Fuze is another one that requires its own server-side account to run. You can also only connect to one account of each protocol, and there are no push notifications. Also, for some reason even after quitting the app, it kept me online, but I didn’t receive a test message I sent myself when I logged back in. As with Palringo, if you need an IM app that’s free, go with IM+ Lite.

Chart of Instant Messenger Features

iPhone Instant Messenger Comparison Chart

And the winners are!

For free apps, IM+ Lite blew the doors off the competition. I could connect to multiple protocols and multiple accounts.

In the paid category, while it was a close race, I felt Beejive edged out IM+ Push. While the ability to stay online longer than 24 hours was nice, I felt the speed and the ability to quickly see received IMs edged Beejive over the finish line.

As always, we welcome your comments about what IM apps you prefer.

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