Best free app replacements for leaving WhatsApp

Why they matter and who is behind them

WhatsApp has been bought by Facebook and you don't want to use it anymore. It could be concerns with privacy, how your data is used or you simply don't want anything with the social network. No problem, there are a bunch of established and new alternatives out there for people that feel like you. Depending on the features you rely upon most on WhatsApp you will find something that does just the same and you could even discover new uses and cool things to do with your messaging.

Instead of just listing everything available I'm going to focus on the four I have used more and discarding Facebook Messenger, as it could fall under the same reasons why you are leaving WhatsApp in the first place. These are my recommended messenger replacements for people jumping off the the WhatsApp bandwagon.

Viber

Launched in December 2010, four months later than WhatsApp, this probably is the best bet if you want to go to a platform with a substantial user base — in my last count this January, 46 of my contacts were on Viber compared to the 74 recognised on WhatsApp.

My biggest gripe lately is the old build on the App Store, which is not compiled for iOS 7 yet despite all the time they had to update. This is too obvious on the keyboard (showing you the old grey and not the flat white other apps use). Apart from this, Viber's killer feature is audio calls to your contacts over cellular data or WiFi, which is extremely convenient for free or cheap international calls.

The option to move from a text message conversation to an actual call right there on your phone when you are out and about makes it perfect if you want a messaging service for close friends and relatives, especially if they live in a different country than yours. Other than that, Viber is kitted with popular features such as group chatting, audio clips via message and stickers.

  • Who is behind it? - The service claims to have 100 million active monthly users and it's backed by the Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten.
  • Who is it for? - Even if it's not used for everyday texting, keep Viber installed for the occasional call with friends who don't have a device with Apple's Facetime.

Line

By the time Europe and US discovered it, LINE was already a household name for messaging services in Asia. I only heard about it in late 2012 when my most design-conscious friends started using this very exotic app that had — finally! — a decent user interface: for the last year this wasn't only the best looking of the messengers, but showcased some good interface ideas to cram the never-ending list of LINE related features with every update, which include audio calls, stickers, games, companion apps and profile blogs.

As noted on my updated review earlier this year, LINE has struggled to adapt to the new design language in iOS 7 and has chosen to go for themes or skins to customise the look. Although I'm much more confortable with a unique native look that blends with the rest of the system, it seems that LINE wants to capitalise on this: the app is playful, fun and full of quirky details taking inspiration from its popular sticker packs — original and third-party IP. LINE's heavy bid on cute cartoons and manga might put off certain Western audiences, making it a perfect messaging ground for teens looking for a network without parents.

  • Who is behind it? - LINE is backed by the South Korean search giant Naver and claims 300 million monthly active users.
  • Who is it for? - Ideal for lovers of all things cutesy, keen on experimenting with features.

Skype

The word synonym with video-conference is also the last stand of desktop instant messaging in a era where messaging is mobile. Thanks to the brand recognition and the fact that everyone you know has registered at some point, Skype could be a conservative bid for a WhatsApp replacement. I have found the chat platform reliable, but even on the Windows phones it comes bundled on, people were installing WhatsApp.

The biggest drawback could be the association with paid calls for a service that everyone wants to be free and where the signature feature — video calls — are done free with things like FaceTime to even bother and install the app. Despite it's huge user base, people might be wary of giving or exchanging usernames or emails to add each other as contacts, or that at least is not as quick as apps recognising users on the platform using their mobile numbers.

  • Who is behind it? - Skype is owned by Microsoft after changing hands a couple of times. The service has claimed 663 million registered users as of 2010, 800 million more recently with 280 million being monthly active. The Skype Numerology expert can explain it better.
  • Who is it for? - Skype is still best for work on the computer as a reliable chat client that allows you to conference call and start a videoconference without frills.

Telegram

Only installed recently, Telegram is positioning itself as the clear destination for the WhatsApp exodus. The app prides itself in its speed, which is apparent from the first launch. Security encryption as well as auto-destroy messages in a similar fashion as Snapchat, can certainly make some people feel safer.

Lacking certain features such as audio clip messaging or stickers is compensated by the file transfer (up to 1GB). Those who find the other entries of the list bloated will features they are not going to use will find on Telegram a simple, easy to navigate and use interface without much more. The user interface on iOS is plain and minimalist, looking very current and tasteful.

  • Who is behind it? - Telegram is owned by the founders the Russian social network VK and reported 4.95 million signups during WhatsApp downtime this February.
  • Who is it for? - WhatsApp users concerned about service downtime, message delays and privacy.

Top image by Garry Knight