Hands on with Touch: Is a solid product enough at this stage?

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Messaging apps. The words could just make you sigh at this point. From Facebook to WhatsApp to Apple (s aapl), everyone has something to offer in this space. So can a new entry at this point possibly stand a chance? Touch, a new app available for iOS, and also BlackBerry (s rimm) and Android (s goog) devices, is sure hoping so.

Cross-platform: check.

Touch, has one thing going for it right away (besides a great bargain on a good domain name, touch.com) in that it’s immediately available for Android, iOS and BlackBerry. No “Android version coming soon” or “BlackBerry? Why bother?” for them, and that’s a very good thing in terms of encouraging user adoption. That’s mostly because it isn’t entirely new; it was PingChat, but has been rebranded as Touch, along with the introduction of its new “experience” sharing features. But long-standing leaders in the space like WhatsApp Messenger also have cross-platform access covered, and also boast a lot of momentum, so it alone won’t guarantee success.

Group messaging: check.

Another thing Touch has covered is group messaging. You can add people to group chats, see participants at a glance via profile pics, and leave group chats whenever you wish just by swiping to delete the message thread in your main list view. It all works well, and as advertised (though Touch’s servers are having some sporadic trouble at launch, so there’s been a few issues with messages getting through) but you won’t find too much that isn’t available in Facebook Messenger here.

With one-on-one messages, you’ll get “Sent/Delivered/Read/” receipts, just like you would on BlackBerry Messenger. You can’t, however, turn off read receipts like you can on iMessage if you’d rather not let someone know whether you have or haven’t check out what they said.

Photo sharing: check.

Touch’s major changes revolve around “experience sharing.” Essentially, this is photo sharing, wherein you choose a picture from an existing album or take a new one, upload it to Touch and select friends to share with. You also choose a name for the experience, and then friends you share it with can comment. It also reports whether or not your friends have viewed what you share. In this way, Touch sort of competes with Path, or with Instagram, but with a much more private audience, since you handpick individuals to share with.

A capable product in a crowded market

Touch is a good app; it’s cleanly designed, easy to use and strips away unnecessary features and frills to make conversation the real focal point of the experience. But it’s also in a tough spot; I found it hard to find anyone I know using it, despite its having taken over PingChat’s reported 12 million users. Plus, for photo sharing, Path’s gorgeous version 2.0 has it beat in almost every way, besides the ability to be more selective with who sees your photos, and a landscape mode for browsing and composing.

There are some things that work in Touch’s favor, however, including the ability to limit sharing but in a better way than most dedicated private messaging solutions provide. Also, there’s an HTML5 version in the works, which could open up Touch’s cross-platform appeal to a very broad audience, since it’ll allow desktop and all tablet users to participate, too.

Touch has a lot of polish and a lot of promise, and beats the user experience of WhatsApp in my opinion, judging by my trials on Android and iPhone devices. But its staying power will depend on whether or not it can convince more users to jump on board; tough to do at this stage in the group messaging competition.

2 Comments

Wayne Schulz

Been testing the BlackBerry Touch app messaging to an iPhone for a couple days now. I find the response time seems faster and a little easier on the eyes than WhatsApp.

That being said here’s my .02 about the BB experience (most experiences are identical for the iPhone with the exception that the iPhone does support images in chat while the BB does not as I noted below):

I like the UI better than Whatsapp — I was able to use Touch on more than one device (BB and iPhone) without any problems (Whatsapp locks onto your phone number and to delete extra WhatsApp accounts requires an email to support).

There are some things missing on BlackBerry which would cause me to recommend WhatsApp over Touch:

1. Touch does NOT integrate to the BlackBerry inbox. What this means is that unlike WhatsApp, when you receive an incoming message on Touch you have to open the Touch app as it’s not viewable in the main BB inbox. The only indication you’ve received a new message is an icon — no message is delivered to the inbox. PS – The latest reincarnation of KIK Messenger doesn’t integrate to the inbox either.

2. Touch lacks BlackBerry “send to” functionality. You cannot go into the images area of your BB , view an image and select the “send” option (from the standard BB menu) to send an image to Touch. WhatsApp allows this.

3. No way to attach images , video, audio, location in chat. This is a pretty big omission and one that nearly every PingChat user is complaining about.

4. Touch’s whole reason for being is for shared experiences. It’s remarkably similar in concept to Path with one big glaring omission.

Within an experience you can only upload one image. Can you say “we rushed this app out the door once we saw what Path (re)introduced… ?

On the surface one picture’s great if you regularly collaborate with your friends around critiquing single photos.

However what if you’re at a conference and you want to create an experience where other users also can add photos. With Touch you are completely out of luck as you’re all stuck with a single photo and no way to add any additional image without creating another experience and re-adding people.

These are pretty major omissions for a native BB app.

On the plus side — I REALLY like the concept of Touch. I like that unlike Path I can choose who to share with on each and every Experience. The speed of Touch has been very good and reliable compared to my experiences on similar messaging apps. The verification of (S)ent, (D)elivered and (R)ead seemed to work very well in my testing.

Overall I think this is a good 1.0 release. The removal of image, video, location sharing in chat is somewhat of a knucklehead move which I hope is very temporary and we see an update asap to add similar functionality back.

Wayne Schulz

Update: Sorry the BB version does allow you to add images in one to one chat though you are limited to only the initial images you’ve uploaded with Experiences (ie – cannot load any after the experience chat has started).

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