One problem with online messaging on smartphones and other devices is managing all of the different accounts and apps. Unified inbox solutions try to address this issue by integrating multiple email accounts and SMS. IM+ Pro by Shape.ag is a multi-platform instant messaging client that unifies multiple IM services, including MSN, Facebook, Google Talk, Skype, Yahoo, ICQ, Myspace, Jabber, AIM, and more.
Most of us have contacts scattered across several different IM environments. Since it's not practical to have all of these IM apps open at the same time, IM+ Pro allows you to stay available and keep in contact across these services by consolidating them into a single interface. It's available for all popular mobile platforms, but this post will focus on the Android version — IM+ is free (but has ads) and IM+ Pro costs $4.99 (USD).
After installing and configuring my accounts, allowing the necessary permissions for the app to integrate with Facebook chat, my contacts were all imported into an easy-to-browse list by service. All my Facebook contacts were grouped together, then Google, and Skype. My offline contacts were also listed alphabetically at the bottom, with an icon to the right that showed their service affiliation.
I was quickly able to initiate multiple chat sessions over my 4G connection. The first was a contact in Louisville, KY, via Google Talk, and the other was a friend in Asia using Skype. Using my Droid 4 in landscape mode with the keyboard slider, switching rapidly between the two windows was a breeze. You can also send pictures as attachments.
IM+ includes a feature called Beep that requires you to enter a SMS-enabled phone number to activate. Only one device can be registered to and activated for Beep per phone number. If you want to use Beep on both a phone and a Wi-Fi tablet, you'll have to pick. According to the FAQ:
Beep "is an instant messaging service, available in IM+... that uses your existing Internet connection to send/receive messages to/from your address book contacts, and can be used as an SMS replacement."
In my testing, the only available contacts for Beep are IM connections. You cannot send an actual SMS from Beep to another SMS number. It seems like this service may store IMs on a Beep server, delivering them later when a contact comes online — but the benefit wasn't clear. An offline IM delivery service that pushes queued IMs when a contact becomes available doesn't quite live up to the claim of providing "free SMS."
What I like
- The app does a great job of centralizing, managing, and using diverse IM platforms
- Unified IM means less apps to manage and less apps to learn how to use
- The ability to quickly and transparently switch from one active chat session to another across separate IM platforms worked seamlessly
- The interface is polished and intuitive; setting up accounts and getting online using IM+ Pro is very straightforward
- IM+ automatically detects and reformats for phones and tablets
- You can choose to exit completely or leave IM+ running in the background when closing the app
What I don't like
- IM+ Pro is a reputable app that's available for a huge range of devices and platforms, but I still felt a little uneasy about consolidating all of my accounts and passwords through a single app. During setup, you have to configure your accounts and passwords for the IM services you want to access. You also have to grant access permission when IM+ plugs into the Facebook API. Thus, you're potentially putting all of your eggs in one basket as far as account security.
- I don't understand why Beep needs your device's phone number to activate, or exactly what value Beep adds to the program
- It's too bad that this app doesn't offer truly universal unified messaging. A fully unified app for SMS, email, and IM would greatly simplify communications and be easier on the battery than having several apps sitting in the background pushing or pulling data at random intervals.
- Advanced IM features, like video or voice chat, are not supported directly. In Skype, for example, you have the option to initiate a Skype call during a chat, but this launches and places the call through Skype. While this isn't unreasonable, it takes away some of the convenience of having one app as a single point for all of your IM needs.
If you're a heavy IM user who has contacts spread across a wide range of messaging services, IM+ Pro is a great solution to consolidate and manage your contacts and chats. It allows you to keep fewer services running in the system tray, while staying available across the widest range of IM services, and this can save you a lot of money on SMS and other "instant" communications. However, this app requires broad access to your IM accounts and the Beep service seems a bit redundant.
Do you use IM+ or another unified messaging service? Please share your experience in the discussion thread below.
Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his professional role is as a Linux support engineer for a fast-growing Linux/FOSS consultancy group. You can follow him @dcolbert on Twitter or his personal blog, located at http://donovancolbert.blogspot.com.