Opinion Telegram: the best messaging service you're probably not using

One day, I'd love to have one app to message them all, writes Peter Wells.

message app

Image: iStock

OPINION: What Messaging App do you use? I've tried them all, settling on Telegram as my favourite cross platform chatting client. But what is the point of a great chat service if none of your friends are there?

For the last few years, I was an iMessage​ diehard. Like many an Apple fanboy​, I silently judged you if your speech bubbles were green, not blue, when we chatted.

iMessage​ is fantastic if you live within Apple's world, syncing messages across your phone, iPad and computer. iMessage​ is not without its bugs, but for the most part my messages were delivered, even if they were a little jumbled up at times. It is one of the iPhone's stickiest features: the simple messaging service has probably kept many a customers loyal to the Apple ecosystem over the years.

But that "stickiness" was making me feel uncomfortable. I didn't want to rely on Apple's messaging service – I wanted to be free to swap between iPhone and Android, Mac and Windows, and see my messages anywhere. So I began testing every third party messaging app I could find.

I dabbled with Google's iMessage​ equivalent,Hangouts, for a few months. Hangouts has its own Google-centric quirks, such as a laggy​ webview​ in its iPhone and Android apps. There is no Hangouts app for Mac or PC either, instead you access via Gmail, or a Chrome plugin. To its credit, Hangouts has the cutest damn emoji and stickers in the business. I enjoyed my time in Hangouts, but the mobile apps were simply too unreliable on both Android and iPhone. Surprising really, considering how polished Google's apps usually are.

WhatsApp is the market leader when it comes to messaging, with an estimated 700 million active users. The appeal of WhatsApp is its simplicity. There are no accounts to sign up for, no user agreements to read. Whatsapp just registers a new account against your mobile number and away you go.

The simplicity was nothing but frustration for me. Without an account, WhatsApp is locked to just one device. WhatsApp have recently introduced a web app, bringing the mobile-first service to computers for the first time It's a promising sign, but even so, the web service has someserious limitations. Until there is true native support for more than one device, Whatsapp is not for me.

Telegram borrows heavily from the market leader. On first launch, the chat windows of the two services look almost identical, right down to the hideous background wallpaper. Telegram has some cool tricks up its sleeve though.

Unlike WhatsApp, Telegram requires an account. That account allows Telegram users to sign in on multiple devices across Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and the web. The apps on all platforms are extremely polished, with none of the lag of Hangouts or the bugginess of iMessage​. For the security conscious, each app can be independently protected with a passcode, and remotely wiped from another device.

There's a bunch of small features that make Telegram my favourite little app right now. For instance, notifications can be turned on or off on a per chat basis, and pasted links become little webpage previews within a chat. Telegram supports audio messages, group chats with up to 200 people, and file transfers up to 1.5gb. Most encouraging is how often Telegram improves: every week or two a new update brings another new feature to the service.

Telegram is not without its critics. The developers made no friends on the influential website,Hacker News, thanks to the proprietary encryption the app uses. I'm not entirely sure what that last sentence means, but if you think I should be concerned about Telegram's security, I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Somehow, I've convinced a few friends and family to follow me through these different apps and services. Perhaps they're humouring me, or just don't want me to keep trying new things, but most agree Telegram is the best messaging app we've tried so far.

Far more of my friends have chosen to stick with whatever messaging app they prefer, or whatever app they're used to. Switching messaging services is a major pain. You'll never get everyone to switch, so each new services becomes another new app on your phone. And that's where I find myself today.

I'll continue to iMessage​ my iPhone friends, Hangout with my Android mates, Slack while at work, Facebook Message our trivia team, Twitter DM my nerds. Mary Meeker, author of the influential Internet trends Report, says we're all getting used to having multiple messaging apps installed, so at least I'm not alone.

One day, I'd love to have one app to message them all, and right now, I'd like that app to be Telegram. But I cannot see that happening, and who knows what's around the corner? Oh, did you see Pushbullet has added messaging to its app?

Peter Wells is a technology commentator who works in IT at UNSW.

This article was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald.