Monday, October 21, 2013

Random Tech Rants: Instant Messaging


Instant messaging it seems has been around for ages now in one capacity or another although much hasn't changed.  Open app, add friends to make a contact list, shoot messages back and forth.  Instant messaging in my my mind will always hold an advantage over conventional texting for one simple reason - you can give anyone your IM info but not your cell number.  You still maintain a level of privacy and separation.

Something so simple has grown so much thanks to changes in technology, but it seems we still can't fucking manage to get it right.  The user experience attempts to improve, but it seems the biggest challenge it faces is multiple platforms.  It almost seems impossible to make a great full function messaging app, and get it that way for all the platforms (Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Blackberry OS).  Too often you end up with a situation of an app being great on one platform and garbage on another, or so scaled down and basic that it might run great across all of them but lacks the features to be appealing at all.

It irritates the shit out of me to the point I want to punch small infants.


BBM from Blackberry seems to hold the standard for one of the best IM apps made so far, although it was only for Blackberry devices.  It's got features across the board to keep everyone happy, and the UI was pretty simple but still looked good.  It's finally today launched to Android and iPhone but it's yet to determine if it's worth even using.  There was one not long ago called Live Messenger which worked on all 3 platforms that were standard at the time and was very complete, but then the devs just stopped working on it randomly and seemed to have bailed.  They finally rolled out an update or two after some time which appeared to break more than it added, but by then it had been dormant for so long everyone stopped using it.  Sad considering it was a pretty solid app.  There's some others that have come out since like Kik and WhatsApp which aren't bad, but generally run across the two main issues mentioned previously.  

Will there actually be a solid cross-platform app?  Who knows since you're looking at some rather annoying hurdles on each platform.

iOS:  The most uptight and easy to reject platform on the market today.  They're been known to reject an app based on not liking a color scheme or icons.  The upside is you're looking at about the least amount of OS fragmentation to deal with and a very large user base to go with it.  There's also a simplicity in the low amount of various models they release making compatibility challenges much less.

Android:  Probably the largest user base globally, but fragmentation is your worst enemy considering you've still got active devices as far back as Gingerbread.  Not only are you fighting fragmentation, but you're also dealing with so many different devices/manufacturers that fixing compatibility issues is a bitch and supporting all devices at least standard by OS is impossible.  We have to look at supporting the phone, and the tablets, and the Google TV's, the Nexus Q's, Chromecast, etc.  That's not even all the Android based devices that you have to consider support for based on the product you're making.  That's not even counting custom ROMS either which many devs leave on a "it works or it won't we don't care" basis.

Blackberry OS:  Possibly the biggest annoyance of all the platforms.  They still have a pretty good amount of users if you look at global numbers, but you're still stuck serving two opposite OS platforms between normal Blackberry OS (7 and prior) and Blackberry 10.  Blackberry's biggest struggle with them is they're still selling way more legacy devices with the old OS they want to abandon than the current one.  The few new OS customers get the sacred blessing, but there isn't many.  The legacy OS customers still own the market share but Blackberry has essentially abandoned them as much as they can.  Besides this, no one even knows if Blackberry will stay running or shut down completely at this point.  Blackberry devs were happy to see BB10 launch as it gave them a much more capable OS than they ever saw before, but many are hesitant to even put forth time into it now.

Windows Phone:  People actually use this?  Yes, I have to ask that, and that's certainly an indication of how much support they're going to get.  The new OS from Microsoft certainly isn't bad, but it's still so new that you can't consider it as a solid long term investment.  They started slowly getting momentum when they launched WP7, but then almost restarted themselves with the difference in OS after the launch of WP8.  Now Microsoft is damn near starting from scratch and the only all in manufacturer is still Nokia who hasn't been a major player in the US market in ages.  The international market is still controlled by Android and iOS.

So is this all just a pipe dream for me and I need to stop hoping?  Yes probably.  It has come pretty damn close though before, so if you get a dev or company with enough backing or resources it's certainly manageable if they put forth the effort.