It's 2011, seemingly "the year of Social". We have Facetime, Google+ Hangouts/Huddles, Facebook video chat, Twitter and iMessage built into iOS, Messenger built into WP7. It sounds like we're making great progress in improving the way we can communicate with our friends. Super!

I really like Google+. I use it a lot. However I think they really screwed up a few things with their launch:

  • Restricted invite-only launch (you can't be social without your friends)
  • No apps for iOS/WP7 at launch
  • No tablet apps at launch
  • When iOS app finally launched, won't even install on iPad/iPod Touch (for seemingly no reason)
  • No access to huddles in web app/desktop/iPad
  • Google Talk and Huddles are not the same...?

Anyway, getting back on track... Not having access to Huddles on my iPad, my iPod Touch, my Windows Phone or my desktop got me thinking about the state of instant messaging... I wondered whether any of the networks actually work on all popular mobile platforms... There are third party client for most networks on most platforms, however they almost always require you hand over the login details to an account that controls far more than just chat. This is completely unacceptable in 2011, the year Sony got ripped to shreds by hackers.

I posted earlier on Google+ that I found it quite incredible that in 2011 nobody had bothered to make their platforms support all instant messaging networks, or that no instant messaging networks had bothered to make sure their network was available on all platforms. Is it so difficult to comprehend that I might want to organise a night out with a group of friends via instant messaging? Google+ Huddles seem to have been designed specifically for this sort of thing, yet you'll see in the table below that it fails, badly.

I created a table to compare the various instant messaging options across platforms. There are a few basic requirements that must be met for a network/platform combination to be considered fulfilled.

  • Access must not require handing over a password that controls more than just chat to anyone other than the owner of the network, or the device/OS.
  • Access must be "native" to the platform (eg. no iPhone apps on iPad).
  • Must be true "instant messaging" that gives useful alerts/push notification (eg. Email notification does not count).

Here are my findings so far. If you spot a mistake, please let me know and I'll update accordingly.

Edit: Added Skype, GTalk on Android Tablet, G+ stuff on iPod Touch.

NetworkWinMac OSWebiPadiPhoneiPodAndroid TabletAndroid PhoneWindows PhoneBlackberryNum Platforms
G+ Huddle3
G+ Hangout1

Items marked * do not support group chat :o(

To me, this is a pretty poor show. Out of 10 popular platforms, not one service is available across them all with built-in/first-party apps (third party apps excluded on security grounds). Messenger and Skype seem to come closest with support on 7 platforms, though Messenger has no support for tablets - you know, those things that are massive this year :-( It's particularly annoying for me to have Messenger on my Windows Phone and have to respond to messages on a tiny on-screen keyboard with my iPad sat next to me doing nothing!