iMessage is a great service, but it doesn’t help you contact anyone outside of the Apple ecosystem. If your friends and family aren’t all iPhone or Mac users you may need a more universal app for staying in contact.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the best free messaging apps available on iOS and other platforms. These all allow you to keep in touch with both Apple and non-Apple users, which means that everyone can join in on the fun.
Most messaging apps are pretty similar, so your choice should depend as much on how many of your friends are already using a specific app as much as it is on what the app does.
Available on: iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and Symbian.
WhatsApp is the world’s largest free messaging app, although it's only free for the first year, after which it costs the paltry sum of 99c per anum. It boasts almost 4 times the active users of Facebook chat, which is why Facebook bought it out. Be that as it may, WhatsApp will continue on for the meantime as its own, distinct service with Facebook integration, but not a full subsidiary app like Facebook Messenger.
Over WhatsApp you can send pics, messages, audio files and videos. You can also send your GPS location on a map, which can be very useful when giving directions.
Group messages are a bit part of WhatsApp for a lot of users. They can be really useful for planning events, or just keeping in touch with a club or specific set of friends.
Get WhatsApp for iOS
Available on: iPhone, web, Windows 8, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Bada, and Symbian.
Viber is a great alternative to WhatsApp that is quickly growing in popularity. Its huge range of cross-platform support makes it very easy to keep in contact with anyone, no matter what their gadget preference. There's nothing really to distinguish Viber from WhatsApp, just go with whichever one your friends are already using.
Viber lets you send messages, images and even make calls for free. You can choose to sign up via Facebook or create your own Viber account. We prefer the Facebook approach, as it means you get more contacts easily, but you may prefer a smaller list.
Finding other friends with Viber is pretty simple as well. You can add your phone's contact list, which will automatically filter out anyone who doesn’t also have Viber. You can also add your Facebook contacts if you’ve signed in via Facebook.
Viber lets you send stickers, pics, videos, doodles, group messages, audio files and the ever-useful 'your-location' info.
Get Viber for iOS
Available on: iPhone, Android and Windows Phone. Ties in with Facebook web-chat.
Facebook Messenger isn't just regular Facebook chat as an app. Like the other services, it can replace SMS messages with free over-the-air ones. This is assuming that whoever you're SMSing has Facebook Messenger installed too, but that's the same for all messaging apps.
Facebook messenger sets itself apart from the pack for one good reason: most of your friends and family probably have access part of it already. Any non-SMS message you send (i.e: a message to a FB contact) turns up as a regular Facebook message alert. Considering Facebook's ubiquitous popularity, there's a good chance that whoever you want to talk to will be available even if they don't have Messenger installed, as long as they're on your friends list.
Available on: iPhone, Google Play, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Symbian, MacOS X, web
WeChat is pretty similar to Viber and WhatsApp. It allows you to send videos, text, pics, stickers, messages and make free calls. The downside is that it’s less popular, so you may have fewer or even no contacts already using WeChat.
Get WeChat for iOS
Available on: iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Symbian
Kik is another smaller version of WhatsApp and Viber but with a twist. Among the usual video/images/message etc options, you can also send a Photo Bomb, do an image search, directly access YouTube videos for linking, send memes, draw a sketch, and access ‘Funny pics’ via reddit. Photo Bomb is our favourite addition; it's essentially a SnapChat function, but built in to the Kik app.
It’s a great service that deserves a bit more attention than it gets, purely for offering something outside of the standard experience.
Available on: iPhone, Android, desktop
Google Hangouts is useful if you’re a big Google services user, or if your friends are. Hangouts is available on phones, but is also built in to the Gmail client. That means you can always contact your friends if they have their email browser open, which makes it easy if they’re at work and need to look busy.
You can also switch between Hangouts chat and SMS pretty easily. Unfortunately a conversation with someone in Hangouts and an SMS conversation with the same person will not be threaded in to the same screen as it would on iMessage. You’ll have to switch between tabs if you want to keep track of both convos.
Hangouts lets you send IM, SMS, pictures, video, stickers and your location. It’s also tied in to your Google account, which means your contacts and profile are already set up if you’re a Google user.
Get Hangouts on iOS
BlackBerry Messenger (BBM)
Available on: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry
BBM is often thought of as the original instant messenger for smartphones. Contentious as this viewpoint may be, it’s inarguably one of the oldest one still around and as such has built up a fiercely loyal user base. It’s a great option if you’re a business user, or if you have a lot of BlackBerry-owning friends.
Get BBM on iOS