Blog Post

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.

55 Responses to “10 Instant Messaging Apps for the iPhone”

  1. Looks like this article could use a hefty update. (I found it useful, but by the time I found it, it was out of date).

    Yahoo Chat supports push now, ebuddy and Trillian have iphone apps. There’s others too, the wikipedia page on im clients now has a column for iphone support, but isn’t all that easy to use to compare just iphone apps.

    Thanks for the article!

  2. The latest version of BeeJive allows you to “stay connected” for up to 7 days now. As another poster commented, there is no comparison. It’s the best IM app for the phone by a large margin. Previously I used IM+ specifically because it offered the most (at the time 3 days) time to stay connected.

    BeeJive is less cartoonish, more reliable, and faster as pointed out. With the 7 day connection it’s a no brainer.

  3. Mark,


    “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 go in to settings for Palringo and change “Status when leaving Palringo” to Sign out. Surprise surprise it’ll sign you out, when you leave.

    I’m starting to lose trust in the apple blog.

  4. Joe Horton

    I just left Blackberry a week ago and use iPhone. My blackberry I could send and receive IM’s anytime – with my iPhone – it seems to only work while I’m in the messenger application? As soon as I leave and check email or something else it exits the app and I can’t receive IM’s – is that really how the iPhone works?

  5. If you use use the latest Yahoo! Messenger on your iPhone you can turn notifications on and it works just like a push app.

    The only complaint was from an overseas friend who tried to turn her web cam on and I couldn’t see it on my end.

  6. I’m using Agile Messenger, and my question with push notifications for incoming IM’s is this:

    If I have closed the app – say I’m at the Home screen, or reading an article from USA Today – will I receive a notification? Or do I have to have the app currently running?

    I don’t seem to be getting notifications if the app is closed. I’m guessing that this would require true multitasking, which the iPhone doesn’t do, correct?


  7. Nobody has brought up Fring which is a great free instant messenger app that connects to almost all of the services and has push notifications. It is a little on the slow side, but overall useful.

  8. Thanks for the writeup. I wanted to make two quick corrections about your impressions on AIM for iPhone. First, as with all push notifications, you can adjust what kind of notifications you get in the settings app under notifications. You can choose sounds, icon badges, or dialogs, or any combination of the three – in addition to the level of information shown in the dialog that you can set in AIM’s on prefs. Second, in addition to the lack of ads, right now landscape support is only available in the paid version. We’ll be adding landscape support in the free version shortly, but for now that’s another difference between the two versions. Thanks again.

  9. yoyo49

    I don’t think you gave Agile Messenger a fair try.

    “I also found the type size on the IMs to be too small to read”

    You can increase the font size in preferences.

  10. Victor

    I find it incredibly hard to believe that there is no killer app in the instant messaging app market. It seems like such a simple thing to create a decent chat app. But there’s always something messed up about the program. I’ve been using Agile Messenger only because it has landscape mode. But its interface sucks. Hopefully Nimbuzz is better. God, over 2 years in and Apple still hasn’t made iChat for the iPhone. GET THE HELL ON IT APPLE!

  11. Ruben Pueyo

    There is also nimbuzz 1.3 that was released today, supports everything and has push notification (except for skype). It’s free but you can only stay online 30 minutes. Also the push notifications doesn’t show the text of the message but just the badge and the sound.
    I will stick with Bejive IM that works fine, but doesn’t support skype.

  12. The problem with nimbuzz is that it’s one-account-per-protocol, which kills it for me (I have 2 messenger accounts and 3 google/jabber acconts).

    I’ve liked ebuddy so far (have had it installed for 3 days)…I like it so far, except it doesn’t support non-google jabber accounts (we have a jabber server at work that we use to communicate internally)…if/when they add that, ebuddy will be The Perfect Client, at least for me.

  13. Lbarwell

    I have AIM on my phone but I don’t even use it. I like Beejive all the time. It is more convenient to use than sitting in front of the computer if you don’t have to. Beejive is the bomb!!!!!!!!

  14. I originally used IM+ Lite, and found it worked ok but there was something I couldn’t put my finger on that I didn’t like about it. When BeeJive supported Push Notifications I switched to it and havn’t looked back, great UI, great speed, great app.

  15. stefan.kk

    Beejive is overpriced, but I’ve never regretted buying it. You’ll never look back if you’re willing to pay. A true ichat for iphone.

    • I’m a big fan of Nimbuzz. I discovered their service 6 months ago while looking for a replacement for AOL’s ad supported AIM client and have never looked back. Today they launched a new version with some great new features, including push notifications.

  16. IM+ is ugly. But since I just read your article via the Twitter feed in IM+ I will give it the win. If beejive had a Twitter feed I would switch.

  17. brian Coates

    “here 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.”

    what setting is that? The Auto Away?