The race to kill SMS is on. Instant messaging apps have flooded both the App Store and Android Market, with WhatsApp and others seeking to replace SMS by offering free, cross-platform messaging in (sometimes) fancy-looking apps that allow not only the sending and receiving of text, but also the sending of pictures and video.

Even Samsung is set to join the fray, with ChatON being the company’s first foray into the world of instant messaging. Samsung promises to release apps on just about every platform. It seems that everyone has it in for SMS, and the carriers must surely know what’s going. And let’s not forget Apple’s iMessage…

iMessage will launch when iOS 5 is released in the coming weeks. Where iMessage falls short compared to the alternatives is its iDevice-only compatibility. That’s obviously not a problem if all your friends and family have iPhones, iPads or iPod touches, but if that isn’t the case, you’ll find yourself resorting to third-party solutions or, more likely, falling back to the world of SMS and its extortionate prices.

BlackBerry was the first to start the move away from SMS with the BlackBerry Messanger app – a service which has since served as a key differentiator for the platform. Business users and teenagers alike have latched onto the free messaging service. And once you’re in, it’s hard to get out.

While the entire mobile industry is scrambling to replace SMS with something better, cheaper, and completely carrier-agnostic, Google may have already done it, and nobody is really taking notice. Gtalk has been around for a good while now, and if you have a Gmail account, then you already have a Gtalk account waiting to be used.

Gtalk has all of the advantages we look for in an SMS replacement. It’s free, as with so many things that come out of Google, and it’s cross-platform, thanks to the hundreds of apps that support it on just about every app store you wish to name. Discoverability is easy, too. If you know someone’s email address, you know how to contact them on Gtalk. No new numbers. No silly BBM PINs. Nothing new to share. That doesn’t mean anyone and everyone can spam you, though, thanks to the need for users to accept new contacts in order for them to be able to send and receive messages.

Perhaps Gtalk’s biggest advantage is its integration with Google’s suite of web apps. If you live in Gmail, or even Google Plus these days, then Gtalk is always in your sidebar, sitting there patiently waiting for an incoming message. And that’s what makes Gtalk so powerful.

WhatsApp, BBM, iMessage — none of them have a desktop presence. It’s mobile only, which can be somewhat limiting in real-world use. With Gtalk, you can start a conversation in your browser, move to your smartphone and continue it, and then finish it on your tablet. You can be signed in on multiple devices, and Gtalk never grumbles.

And Gtalk is searchable. Archived conversations can be retrieved with a couple of keystrokes inside the Gmail web app. Nothing is lost, and it can be a god-send if you have the memory of a goldfish, just like me.

On the application front, and if you’re an iOS or Android user, you’re in for a treat. Gtalk apps are plentiful on both platforms, with some real standouts such as Beejive and IMO amongst them. Things are even better on Android handsets, with Gtalk heavily integrated into the phone’s list of contacts, and a dedicated ‘Talk’ app already installed on all hardware. If it was made by Apple I’d be tempted to say that “it just works,” but it isn’t, so I won’t.

With so many companies jousting for the position of the king SMS replacement, do we all run the risk of forgetting what we already have?

  • OCD Steve Jobs

    yahoo messenger does all that, video and free sms to feature phones which can be sent to phones in around 7 or so countries. all that for free. but no one uses yahoo messenger anymore dang 🙁

    • Yahoo messenger fell off for several reasons. They refused to come up with ways to keep their chat rooms “under control”. That chat rooms are now dominated by annoying bots that tend to follow you OUT of the chat rooms and into your personal IM windows for weeks. Secondly, their webcam chat feature never seemed to quite work regularly. It was always slow & buggy leaving them to be beat out by other programs like ooVoo and Skype with better video chatting capabilities. Lots of people still have yahoo accounts but yahoo just isn’t quite keeping up like they used to.

      GoogleTalk is it for me. Although now that I have a MacBook Pro, I will be looking into Apple’s other stuff.

  • Selcuk

    “Business users and teenagers alike have latched onto the free messaging service. And once you’re in, it’s hard to get out.” BBM isn’t free.

    • Kent

      Actually yes it is. It’s included in all blackberry plans.

      • Mike

        Blackberry plans are free now?

  • Sorry Google….

    But you already KNOW far too much about me already! I’m NOT using your GTalk!!!

    – Eric

  • gaz

    Gtalk is still not released in Australia. So that’s useless. Viber seems to be a good alternative.

  • Gtalk is also an implementation of Jabber, which is a free and open technology, unlike all the other clients. If you have Gtalk, you can use *any* Jabber client, and any of the host of Jabber-enabled tools.

    You don’t even have to use Google to have a Jabber account. You can host your own Jabber server. But then you lose the “search old conversations” feature of Google’s servers.

  • Gertgerman

    Just started using iMessage and I think it’ll take off. I thought at the time of hearing about it what a waste of time but one thing I really like is the fact it’s integrated into the SMS feature on the phone. No need for an extra app and what I at times hate on the iPhone the delay for the app to connect. iMessage is also intuitive in the fact it’ll send via text or iMessage depending on what’s available. I had a friend in the uk where I am and we were sending iMessage to iMessage. He went to Germany and when he continued our conversation it sent via SMS as he had data switched off. At the time I was in a no signal area and the messages all came through fine. No need to switch between apps depending on where I am. Very user friendly. And it also highlights what has been sent via iMessage and what as an SMS. I like it but it is of course iPhone only so will be limited to who uses it.

  • Wolf

    Viber is much better than WhatsApp, its free, cross-platform service and you can talk with it. And all you have to know is the phone number of the dude, not Gmail acc, email address, user name, etc.

  • Wolf

    Viber is much better than WhatsApp, its free, cross-platform service and you can talk with it. And all you have to know is the dude’s phone number, not Gmail acc, email address, user name, etc.

  • Sorry, phone numbers are *not* easier to remember than en email address.

    • David

      Yeah, thats why you have the in your contacts app, because even when email addresses are more easy to remember, you are not going to remember the email address for all your contacts, right?

  • Mike

    Google update your windows app please!!! Native apps are just as important on desktops as they are on smartphones. We don’t live on the web, as much as you want to think we do. There’s a reason we haven’t all jumped to Chrome OS.

  • Marten

    I agree that gTalk is great… However, Google obviously doesn’t think so, since they chose to replace it with Huddle / Messenger rather than integrate it into G+. I’ve often requested they make an official gTalk app for iOS, but it never happened and now looks even more unlikely. If Google isn’t convinced, how can anyone else be? As with Facebook, what this really boils down to right now is user base. G+ doesn’t have it, so people continue to use Facebook. (And with the new iOS Facebook app far outclassing the G+ app, who can blame them?) iMessage is, by nature, beginning life with a massive user base, since it includes all iOS device owners. And if Apple integrates iMessage with iChat…

  • I love Gtalk. It is a great Instant Messenger, and it is often my prefered way to communicate outside of work (It’s not allowed. We have to suffer with OCS). However, I think that the differentiating factor of iMessage will be that you can’t “log out” of iMessage, just like you can’t log out of SMS. IM is expected to be in real time; SMS is not. I believe iMessage will feel the way.

    When I send an SMS, I know that (most likely) the person got the message (or they will get the message the next time they pick up their phone), and they will respond when then can. They might respond instantly, or they might respond in a few hours. On an IM platform, I know whether the person is “available” or not, and I expect to receive a response immediately or at least quickly. When people don’t receive a response on SMS, they usually assume the person is unavailable. When people don’t receive a response on IM, they get antsy. I don’t see any “status” on iMessage, or any way to easily log out, so I assume it will be more like SMS in this aspect. I like that.

  • Naterz

    Almost any type of data my SMS/MMS app on my Android device can send, so can iMessage on an iDevice. That’s why it’s a true SMS/MMS replacement. Want to send a picture from the Andorid Talk app, good luck. Want to see if a Message was delivered or read, good luck. Even SMS apps allow you to request delivery and read reciepts. It’s far from an SMS replacement. It’s as barebones as it gets. Google Talk even on Android is only usable with a third party client that supports file transfer, and then both people better be using it unless you want to inundate their Talk app with hyperlinks.

  • The features are nice, but the premier characteristic of an SMS replacement is: The ID needs to be keyed off the phone number of the user. Anything else is an instant messaging client.