4 Top iPad IM Apps

While the iPad fits a niche between an iPhone and a laptop, I’m still having trouble thinking of it as a truly mobile platform. Sure, it’s light and portable for easy touring, but I recall Fender once marketed the very-bulky Fender Twin Reverb in the same way.

Instant messaging apps on the iPad underscore the fact that the iPad is more likely to stay in my bag than be used while out and about. Very rarely do I have a serious conversation via IM, and I tend to use it as a form of text messaging while I’m on the train home or running errands. However, I do find myself using an iPad IM client when I’m using the device as an accessory computer. Often, while playing a game on my Mac, I’ll have the iPad next to me with an IM client open.

Last year, I wrote an article highlighting 10 Instant Messaging Apps for the iPhone. This year’s iPad version is slightly different. As with the iPhone apps, I found it really came down to BeejiveIM, IM+ Pro, and AIM, so I’m going to take a closer look at those this time.

Before I get to the analysis, here are a few explanations: Both BeejiveIM and IM+ connect to the usual services: AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, MSN, MySpace, Yahoo and Facebook. IM+ also connects to Skype chat and Twitter. AIM will connect to AIM, MobileMe, and Facebook.

Obviously, none of these will connect to any proprietary corporate IM service.

You can also change your background in both paid apps, but I find that to be of limited value.

Beejive IM ($9.99)

I’ll get the one big strike against Beejive out of the way early: It’s not a Universal app, so if you own the iPhone version, be prepared to pony up another 10 bucks.

Of the two paid apps, I feel Beejive has the better interface. The screenshot below is a sample shot, but under where it says “new chat” is where the list of active chats is displayed. It’s very easy to see who’s online and what chats you have going.

One feature BeejiveIM has that I couldn’t find in IM+ is the ability to e-mail the chat log. This is very handy if you need a record of the conversation. I’ve never used it, since most of my chats seem to be about why the Red Sox bullpen is imploding this year as opposed to discussions of actual work, but that feature may be necessary for those using IM on the iPad for business discussions.

I didn’t run into any major problems using Beejive, but I’ve seen reports of folks having crashing issues when they reviewed this on the App Store.I didn’t encounter any stability issues.

IM+ Pro ($9.99)

Unlike BeejiveIM, IM+ Pro is a universal app, so you can buy it once and it use it on both devices. I’m not a big fan of the interface, however. BeejiveIM has one window that shows active chat participants, the chat you’re typing in, and your contacts list, but with IM+ Pro, it’s a toggle between chat participants and contacts. It’s not a gigantic hassle, and the chat window itself is larger this way, so depending on your likes, it can be a wash. I did find myself warming to it over time. You can also send voice messages via this app. Also available (as an in-app purchase) is speech recognition for messages.

I mentioned it earlier, but it bears repeating: IM+ also connects to Skype chat as well as Facebook.

While BeejiveIM had no noticeable stability issues, I can’t say the same about IM+. One time I got an error when sending a message telling me the account was disconnected, but the account settings showed me still active. (I had actually dropped off, according to the person I was messaging.) I also noticed frequently it would say “reconnecting” when I launched the app to send a message, and according to my lucky test subject, I’d also dropped off the wire. It appears there may be some serious issues with this app staying connected, at least through Google Talk.

IM+ Lite (Free)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention IM+ has a free version. This version differs from the paid version in two notable ways: It doesn’t connect to Skype chat, and there are small ads at the bottom of your chat window. You also don’t get the ability to purchase of speech recognition in-app.

AIM (Free)

If you’re lucky and all your friends just use AIM, the free AIM app is likely all you need. My testing with this falls into the “very limited” category since most of my contacts are scattered across the IM service sands. Given that limited testing, I give it a cautious Mark Crump It Seems To Work Just Fine award.


Going into this, I felt this was IM+ Pro’s battle to be lost. Given that it’s a universal app, I hoped that would give it the edge. Unfortunately, the connection problems were too frequent for me ignore. Therefore, my choice in the multi-protocol IM client battle is BeejiveIM. Yes, it sucks you need to pay twice if you’ve got the iPhone version, but a lot of apps I own aren’t universal, so paying twice is something I’m grudgingly getting used to. If you just use AIM, then there’s nothing wrong with the free AIM for iPad app.

What iPad IM client do you prefer?

Related GigaOM Pro Research: Can Anyone Compete With the iPad?