Geek Corner will be your online window to some of the latest trends that Digital Women UK has come across in digital media, with recommendations and suggestions. Please feel free to let us know what is floating your boat in the digital world. If you are not yet a geek about social media, we truly hope that after reading this slot – you will be. This month Samantha Watson looks at messaging and video call applications.
Messaging and video call apps
We have all seen a digital shift in the way we communicate with people. The days of sending short messages have become manifold. You will now find that many of us will send family and friends video messages, picture messages, audio messages alongside the good old text message.
The pace at which messaging is increasing in popularity will enable people to benefit from a host of messenger service platforms available to choose from. Here is a selection of the top apps currently being used worldwide for sharing conversations.
One of the new kids on the block is Viber. Labelled as a big rival to Skype, it has also raised its game in snagging consumers from the messenger service WhatsApp. This free service offers free texting, video and phone calling worldwide. Viber users are able to share their location with other users, which comes in handy when you are trying to find a friend who may be lost. Viber integrates with your contacts list with no need to think about remembering your login username as your mobile number works as your username ID. Although its primary selling point is the free calling service, the recent introduction of video calling has seen its popularity soar. Despite the very good quality of service, there are downsides. The video calling service is only available from one computer to the next. Another downside is that Viber is currently only open to Viber customers. This is where Skype has an advantage as it is open to everyone, even those who don’t own a mobile phone number. However, there is no doubt that Viber’s video calling service will be available on smartphones very soon.
Google continues to roll out its own brand of social networking with its growing hangouts community, whether it’s ‘On Air’ or private, the Google+ Hangouts is steadily growing in popularity for video messaging and conferencing. Hangouts is widely available on the majority of smartphones and can be installed on your desktop computer whether you use Windows or Mac. As long as the strength of your internet signal is strong you’ll have a good connection to your callers. Hangouts work extremely well on Wi-Fi and low bandwidth compared to the video calling service Tango. Like Skype, multiple individuals can join in the video chats. The downside to Google+ Hangouts, which is not really a big downside but is worth noting, is that you need to have the Google+ app installed on your smartphone before you can use Hangouts. It’s nipping at the heels of Skype by enabling smartphone users to make video calls. At present iPhone users can make telephone calls from the app free of charge to US and Canadian numbers, but international callers face a small fee.
Skype is still blowing away a lot of messaging services, particularly with its video messaging chat service. It is still the leader in online call connections. It is available on all smartphones, Windows and Mac computers, and is available to people who do not have access to a mobile phone. The free service allows unlimited video chat. Users can still get a strong connection on a low bandwidth service, and the video adapts its quality to accommodate this. It’s hard to fault Skype considering it has built its reputation as a good service provider with wide accessibility on mobile networks, Wi-Fi and more. Privacy is also very good; many users can hide whether they are available or not, and you can register without disclosing your mobile number. These benefits will make it hard to push Skype off the top spot.
WhatsApp has grown considerably over the last couple of years with its brand of texting, picture messaging, audio and video recorded messaging. The instant free service has well over 300 million users and it’s growing in a saturated market. At present new users receive the service for free for the first year and then have to pay 99p per year to continue the service. That said, controversy surrounds the app following issues around privacy, such as users on android phones being unable to hide when they last logged in. Luckily iPhone IOS users have the option to disable this. Another drawback is that WhatsApp does not offer video chat and it doesn’t download onto your desktop computer. But if you want to find a long lost friend then the app enables you to find their exact location through GoogleMaps.
Targeted towards a more youth orientated market, although reports suggest there is growing usage among the 40 plus age range, Snapchat is a newbie to photo messaging. The app is available across all smartphones and enables users to take pictures, record videos, send text messages and drawings. Its biggest selling point is that once an individual views a picture it is deleted automatically (users decide how long they wish people to view their snaps for). As with WhatsApp, there has been some controversy, this time over whether pictures messages are permanently removed. Privacy issues were also raised when a hacker created SnapHack which allows users to keep their messages. As a newbie to the market it will be interesting to see if Snapchat integrates video chatting and manages its privacy issues more effectively.
Tango has lagged behind the pack in the video calls scene. It is known as the app which helps you remain close to friends and family. Please note that if you download this app to your smartphone be aware that Tango and Wi-Fi don’t mix well. You’ll soon discover that the connection will drop at certain times when Wi-Fi signals are relatively low. The services available are nevertheless very inviting: free text messages, video messages, games as well as video and phone calls. It’s available on the majority of smartphones and for desktop computers. An estimated 145 million people worldwide use Tango, but the quality of the app’s connection may be a deal breaker.
The choices of messaging services are vast. Others to consider include Kik and Facetime. Ultimately, it’s down to what suits your lifestyle and goals so give some of them a test first before making a decision.
Samantha Watson is Digital Women UK’s community interaction manager.