If you’re reading this, then you have a messenger on your phone. Whether be it the default SMS client or a 3rd party messenger like Telegram. Now, some of these apps do their job really well, but obviously no app is perfect, some are bad at design, some are bad at security, some are even bad at basic functions. Because of this I decided to go ahead and write a recipe for the perfect messenger.
Functionality and features
The most important characteristic of any messenger is how functional it is and what features it has to offer for the user to assist and enhance their messaging experience. Of course all messaging apps can send messages and pictures, sometimes even voice messages (usually to people who also have their messenger installed) but that is no longer enough to make you stand out from the crowd and make for a good messaging app.
Here in 2016 there are a lot of ways people like to communicate besides the old text and picture message. These fairly new messaging types include but are not limited to: GIF’s, stickers, music sharing, video sharing and etc. Some messengers understand this new medium and have started to implement these into their apps. A great example of this is Telegram.
Before any messenger decides to move onto the newer features of messaging they should first get the two basic forms of messaging spot on. That is of course, text messaging and picture messaging.
First feature that all messengers should have is of course: Quick reply. This feature is missing from some places and and included in others. The weird thing about it being included in some places and not in others is the fact that most of the places that actually include quick reply include a a flawed form of it. What is a flawed quick reply feature you may ask? Well, a flawed quick reply is one of those boxes that show up in the middle of your screen prompting you to reply to a message. You may be wondering what is so flawed about them? Well, let me explain: A quick reply should be a non disruptive option, which means it doesn’t disrupt what you are currently doing; this is portrayed in the GIF above. Having the quick reply feature be accessible from the notification means you can choose not to reply to them and treat the notification as a notification, and if you want to reply to them you can simply pull down on the notification and reply simple from a small extension of the notification on the top of the screen. This is much better than having whatever you are currently doing disturbed by a box which is basically saying to you ‘You received a message, reply now!’
Now that I have expressed what feature should be added for all messengers that have text messaging support (so, all of them) I now want to spend a little time talking about the picture messaging features. Of course the first feature is going to be being able to send a picture as a message, but diving in a little more, one of the features that messengers usually don’t have in regards to picture messaging is the ability to edit images on the fly, this means you select a picture you want to upload and then the messenger prompts you with an option that allows you to edit the image, whether be it changing the contrast or adding some text you would be able to do it. Easy, but really useful.
Advanced features of the messenger
Now that I have very briefly covered a feature or so that all messengers should have I am now going to talk about some more advanced features. These features are scarce throughout the messaging world. Only a few messengers are supporting them at the moment. Lets get started.
GIF’s are the new pictures, everyone is slowly but surely becoming more and more on-board with the whole idea of GIF’s. The whole idea of being able to express something through a set of repeating picture is awesome. Now that expression could be anything, could be comedy, could be sympathy or hell it could be something completely different.
Now to some stickers may not be a very awesome feature but you have got to understand their power. Most people use them as a sort of 3rd party emoji service. For example, Telegram allows you to create your own stickers and its user base just make funny emoji out of them and because of them being supported across Telegram, should a user like the sticker he can tap on it and download it.
Replies are something that everyone likes, yes they may not be the most useful thing in a one to one conversation but in a group chat where it could get confusing who is replying to who a reply feature is a deal breaker. Replies also allow you to keep your conversation in check. For example if you are talking to one person and you get two or more questions from them you can individually reply to them with the reply feature, this would mean the sender knows which of his questions you are replying to which can really help the conversation.
There are a few ways that replies could work inside a perfect messenger, the first (being the most adopted) is the usual tap on a message to reveal message options and then tapping reply. Telegram’s replies work this way, but this is very dull and un-intuitive. A more interesting way replies work is with gestures. Now iOS is great with gestures but Android not so much. Of course Material Design aims to fix this problem so i’m just going to go ahead and talk about it. Swiping right is of course the gesture for dismissing a page (discussed more in the gestures section below) so that is a no go for replying to comments, one gesture that is available is the swipe left. Swiping left on a message specifically would allow you to reply directly to that message. This would allow you to quickly reply to messages with smooth and easy gestures.
Also, slightly above your reply to the message would be a small snippet of the message you’re replying to. Click on this snippet would take you to the message you have replied to.
Voice messages are now so far and spread that they may not even be an advanced feature anymore, but lets just leave it in the advanced features for now.
Voice messages are usually used to communicate in short snippets of voice. Think of it like a walkie-talkie. Yes there is no real way these could be improved more than they already are because of what they do (send audio messages) besides the obvious ‘faster response and higher quality.’ If you have any ideas of how voice messages could be improved please leave a comment in the comments section and if i like it I will update this section!
This may not be a very large feature on iOS because of how closed off iOS is but it can be utilized extremely well among the Android users. Being able to send music, documents or whatever to your friends without leaving a messaging app is really appealing. Some messengers offer this but I have yet to encounter a messenger that lets you save the files you receive to your phone (I know you can go to your file explorer and find them that way but, why the hassle?)
Every day we dive deeper into media consumption and a messenger should have a dedicated section that allows you to view and manage all the media you have received in chats. Telegram has a media library like this and it is one of its best features. Being able to view everything sent to you in an organised page is convenient. Looking for a certain document you were sent? No scrolling needed, simply head over to the media library, tap on the documents section and look for your document in the received documents list. This would of course be for every media type not just documents.
Media could quickly get out of control an easy way of managing them would be great. The best way of managing them is through the multiple selection Google introduced with Google Photos, the one that you hold down and select. No more tiring tapping to be done just so you can delete some of those pictures. Explained further in the gestures section.
One feature of everyday messaging that we use and love (or hate) but is not perfect on all messenger is the message status. Sent, delivered and seen. Three words that express a lot of information for us. Hands down the best seen system (probably not the correct name of it but yeah) that I currently know of is Facebook’s Facepile. Simple and extremely powerful. A circle meaning it has been sent, a circle within a circle (radio button looking) meaning delivered and the user’s avatar meaning they have read it. The power of this is how you can see the last message someone has read during your conversation. For example, only the latest message has a status of sent or delivered showing but the users avatar which signifies all messages above being read can remain in place meaning if they haven’t read the latest messages then the avatar will not progress down to the latest message, rather it will stay next to the message the user read last. This is powerful because usually messengers only show the status of a message on the latest message.
Design is extremely important when it comes to messengers. This is because you are always looking at one thing: your messages. Its all good if the features of the app reflect good user experience but if the design is not really good it is not really a great user experience. What features make for a good user experience and a beautiful app? Let me show you.
What is the thing you look at most when you are on a messaging app? The messages. What holds these messages? The chat bubbles. If the chat bubbles are not designed very well then they can be distracting and can take from the user experience. Another aspect of the messaging experience is the animation of the chat bubbles which make the chat feel alive and interactive.
Chat bubble design
A good chat bubble design is…well, a bubble. The 3 best chat bubble designs I have seen are: iMessage’s chat bubbles, Hangout’s chat bubbles, and Facebook Messenger’s chat bubbles. Good chat bubble design is not just one design either. It should be at least 3 designs to make the chat interesting and lively. The 3 different chat bubbles should be: The first message chat bubble (used for the first message), the body chat bubble (used in between the first message chat bubble and the last message chat bubble), and the last message chat bubble (for the last message chat bubble).
Chat bubble animation
Animation allows the user to understand what is happening in a delightful and interesting manner. One of the most important places for animation to be in an ideal messenger is the chat bubbles. This is because they are where most of the user’s attention is pointed toward so if you can make them a good experience then you can give the user a good experience. There are of course many ways to animate chat bubbles but the most important one is movement and buoyancy of them. This animation is expressed in the GIF below, of course in reality they would be tighter together and faster but the animation is there so you can understand what is meant. I have yet to find a messenger on Android that animates the chat bubbles in any way. On the contrary, iOS has a lot of apps that have their chat bubbles animated, the best of them being iMessage which actually has this buoyancy animation and believe me it adds to the user experience. I would like to know why chat bubbles like the iMessage chat bubbles are no where to be seen in Android. Is it something to do with not being able to develop it for Android or is it just the developers being lazy? If you know please let me know in the comments.
Other types of chat animation that could add to the user experience of the chat are simple yet very powerful. For example, if you decided to reply to a message the message should slide down to just above your compose a message box in a fast and elegant manner. This allows you to understand that you are indeed replying to a certain message and also gives you some context of where the message is coming from.
Gestures are getting used more and more everyday by developers and this is amazing news. The whole idea of being able to do something with less effort and more intuition is just exciting.
My favourite gesture by far is the swipe right to dismiss. I truly believe this gesture should be on every app possible. I love how I don’t have to move my finger to my navigation buttons just to move back to a page. Diving in a little more into navigational gestures you can see that they can quite literally be used in almost anywhere you can think. Whether it is a few pages you can navigate by swiping left and right or a few hundred. An app that has gestures seriously under control is Relay for reddit by Dbrady. My hat goes off to him!
Of course there are hundreds of gestures that could be implemented into a messaging app but I am only going to cover another one that I think is essential. That is of course (as mentioned above) the media library. The gesture would be used to select multiple files and images so you can quickly move/edit/delete them instead of spending time selecting each and every one manually. Genius.
Animations create a sense of position and also give us cool fancy aesthetics. They also make for some cool transitions, for example some of the icon transitions that Google has come up with are really cool to look at, are meaningful and most importantly, contextual.
In an ideal messenger animations would be used throughout to add to the user experience. Whether be it a cool icon transition or a more complex text message opening animation. The smallest things can make the biggest differences. Most important animations that the perfect messenger would need to have would be: transitional animations (from page to page), chat bubble animations (explained above) and touch feedback.
Security and performance
Security is something a lot of people take a lot of care in. The same can be said for performance. If an app is unsecure or slow then immediately the user is detered and given a bad experience.
Performance can be optimized so that you get the fastest messaging experience possible. Of course not all of the messaging experience comes from the device; a lot of the experience also comes from the messengers servers. Being able to send your message and receive messages are just as if not more important than having a well optimized app. Both need to be optimized amazingly so that the user cannot tell where one ends and where one begins.
In terms of security i’m going to admit I don’t really care that much about security of a messenger besides the obvious “my information not being stolen.” But, there are some people who actually care about who gets access to their information and who gets to see their chats. For those people security is key, so the way forward is end to end encryption. Your messages being encrypted end to end means that only you and the other person messaging can read the messages. No one can ease drop into your chat to see what dirty secrets you have. This would allow people who are very serious about their serious to actually use your app knowing that no one else besides them can read their messages.
That is all of the features that I believe would make a messenger as close to perfect as possible. Of course I will have missed some things. If you have any that I have missed, leave a comment down below and if I like it I will add it into the post!
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