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What are the non-voice options for communicating with iphone users to and from an android phone? Strengths and limitations of said options?

I don't have a smart phone but am thinking of finally taking the plunge. At least half of my family and friends are iphone users, and have been extolling the virtues of apple messaging. Watching them use it, especially involving multiple people at once, I see the attraction. However I don't want go the iWhatever route as I don't like the lock-in, but if by using a non-apple device I'm exiled from their conversations I may not have much of a choice.

So how about it, are there usable gates in the walled garden?

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SMS works on any phone. On Android, your phone will have an SMS client built-in (probably called "Messaging", but it varies between manufacturers), and you can also choose from many third-party SMS clients.

As well as plain old SMS, there are many instant-messaging systems that work on Android and iPhone, and other platforms too. Your iPhone-using friends may well have one or more of these installed already. Some examples are Skype, Jabber, Whatsapp, Google Hangouts, and Facebook Chat.

What you describe as "apple messaging" is probably what Apple calls iText: it's the SMS app on iPhone. It also has its own closed chat system built-in, so that if it knows the recipient of an SMS is an iPhone, it'll silently send the message through Apple's servers instead of through the SMS system. It still uses SMS for people on other phones, so you don't need to worry about being exiled.

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You mention iMessage, which is important to understand that it's a proprietary solution from Apple. There is no way to communicate with iMessage from Android, and there probably never will be. That said, there are a very large amount of third party cross-platform messaging apps, and if your friends and family would accept getting these (they might already use them), you could communicate via these. There are probably hundreds of them, but some of the most popular ones include WhatsApp and Viber — both of which offer iPhone as well as Android versions of their software.

The obvious strengths of any kind of IM software like this, whether it's iMessage, WhatsApp or Viber, is that all of your data is sent via your data plan, or even via WiFi if available. You'll be able to send images without paying an MMS fee, you'll be able to send audio without being charged for a call (VoIP) and you'll be able to send text without being charged for an SMS (via e-mail or IM).

There are no drawbacks as I see it, except for maybe backwards compability with non-smartphones, SMS definitely has the edge there.

  • When using something like WhatsApp and Viber, does everyone need to be using the same app? Can android-using-viber talk to iphone-no-3rd-party-apps, without being restricted to SMS? Thanks for the heads up about MMS, which was a new term to me. Now I have a new fee to watch for while scoping providers. – matt wilkie Dec 1 '13 at 8:09
  • Yes, everyone need to use the same app. No, android+viber can't talk to iphone+nothing. If I were you, I would just ask people what seems to be the most widely used among your friends and family and start using that. It could be anything really. Viber, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts (fingers crossed), and so on. – pzkpfw Dec 2 '13 at 7:38

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