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Mobile IM choices

Mobile IM choices

There are a few questions that come up time and time again on smartphone forums, and one of them is “how can I use Instant Messaging on my device”. As people get more mobile, after SMS and email, the next thing they want to do is IM. As I said in a previous post, right now the mobile IM world is a mess. There are tons of products, more appearing all the time, and they are all evolving very fast. Unfortunately there is not one answer to this question, and they all have strengths and weaknesses. Here I will simply list some popular ones with the various features they have.

pocketmsn.jpgOfficial clients

First, there’s the official clients. Both MSN and Yahoo! Messenger have a mobile client. The Yahoo! one comes part of their Yahoo! Go package. That application is massive and includes the IM, as well as local search, news, stocks, mail, search and more. The client works on hundreds of phones, mainly high end and several mainstream ones. Many lower end phones do not support it, as is the case for most of these apps. Yahoo! Go is currently at version 2.0 “Gamma” and is free.

Microsoft has its own client also. Pocket MSN (now renamed to Live Messenger) comes pre-installed on Windows Mobile smartphones and Pocket PCs. You can also buy it from Microsoft if you don’t already have it. They don’t have an official client for any other type of phone, at least not in the US. Interestingly enough it was discovered that the MSN China site has a version for S60 Symbian phones, which I have to admit I think was the best mobile MSN client of them all. I say was because unfortunately that application no longer works outside of China and Taiwan.

As far as I know there is no official mobile IM client from AOL or Google.

agile.jpgMulti-services clients

There are a lot of unofficial clients, and those usually support multiple services. These typically come out of startup companies hoping to be your gateway to all the IMs of the world. Many of them now even support Skype or other types of VOIP.

One of the oldest and most popular choices is Agile. They have had a mobile IM client for a long time now and provide their application for most phones. Agile Messenger supports MSN, Yahoo!, GTalk, AIM, ICQ and XMP. A trial is available but then you need to buy the product.

IM+ is another application which supports MSN, Yahoo!, GTalk, AIM, ICQ and Jabber. It also has a free trial but then needs to be bought.

EQO is a more recent solution that also integrates all of MSN, Yahoo!, GTalk, AIM, ICQ and Jabber, but also includes Skype support. That means you can call other users of Skype, or even phone lines, over 3G or wi-fi, if your device supports it. This application is free and runs on a large number of devices.

Fring is very similar to EQO in features but it’s in beta and available only for some Nokia devices so far. It also supports Skype and comes free.

Then there’s Mig33. It talks to MSN, Yahoo! and AIM, but it also offers profiles, chat rooms and VOIP calls. It runs on most phones and the lite version is free.

The last one I’ll talk about is the IM client which may already be built into your device. Many phones, mainly most Nokia and some Sony Ericsson devices, come with a built in IM client. If the application hasn’t been configured by the provider, it won’t do anything without what’s called a Wireless Village server. That is a fairly old concept that was intended to provide a central service for mobile IM and not much ever came out of it. Fortunately someone recently started a service called Packetbox that aims to make those clients work again. It’s still in testing and not very stable but it may end up being yet another solution.

Lastly a note of caution. These multi-services clients all require you to signup for an account, and then require your login information for the various services you want to connect to, since they act as gateway between you and the official IM services. This is fine as long as they are trustworthy, but it’s something to keep in mind.