How Mobile Changed the Way We Communicate

By Mohamed El-Refai

Smartphones have a major impact on our social life. Who would have imagined that a family within the same house would communicate by sending messages on their mobile devices instead of talking face to face? It doesn’t sound so bad, however, if you look at it from the point of view that this also allows that family to be connected in real time, all the time, even when not at the same location.

When the first few machines got connected through the Internet, it became obvious right away that instant communication is one of the essential use cases for the Internet. There are many instant messaging applications, and user loyalty to any one of these varies over time given the evolving features and social aspects they offer.

The instant messenger (IM) has gone through several reincarnations. At first they were simple point-to-point communicators, and then group messaging and status awareness features were introduced. After that, voice and video conferencing were added. Finally, social aspects were incorporated, such as geographic location features and integrated day-to-day services like booking a taxi.

Back in 1996, ICQ was one of the most popular instant messengers. Soon after that, in 1997, American Online, the most popular Internet provider at that time, launched its AOL Instant Messenger. But one of the most popular messengers came from Yahoo in 1998. Soon Microsoft caught up with the messaging wave and launched its Windows Messenger in 2001.

Another generation of voice-based communication solutions started with Skype in 2003, and voice and video features were later integrated in most instant messengers.

What is most interesting is that the usage of IM solutions skyrocketed with the popularity of smartphones. Everyone finds it much more convenient to instant message from their mobile phone and not have to be tied to a desk with a cumbersome desktop or notebook computer.

The following table summarizes feature adoption for some of the most popular IM apps currently being used:




From the chart below, we can see the release time for some of these IM apps:

Instant messaging apps

Every IM application has its respective features. With the development of technology, more and more functions have been added to the previous generation of IM apps. These IM apps have made our day-to-day communication more convenient and our daily life more interesting.

Microsoft Skype is one of the most popular Internet Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications. It has a diverse set of clients, and it can run from personal computers, cell phones, TVs or other devices that have a Skype interface. As its users know, it can help save a lot of money on international calls.  But it can also be used to transfer files, send text messages, voice chat, video chat and share emoticons.

Microsoft Skype

The app magicJack is used mainly for telephone calls. It can help you to make free calls to any magicJack user anywhere in the world or to physical US and Canadian landlines. It can receive calls as well. It is also a way to save telecommunication costs to call family members and friends from outside of the US and Canada.



You can use your mobile phone number to register for WhatsApp. Compared to the previous IM applications, there are some new and interesting features that have been added to WhatsApp, such as the ability to know if a message has been delivered to servers or read by the recipient. With the feature of building a chat group, several people can message each other in real time. You can also send your location information to your friends if needed.



FaceTime is built-in software that comes with iPhone, iPad and Mac machines. Its significant feature is video chat. The two parties in the chat must have Apple devices, since FaceTime can only run on Apple devices.

Apple FaceTime

With the popularity of smartphones, the new IM apps have introduced some very interesting features that allow people to have more fun when communicating with others. There are several features that attract users to WeChat. First, it can help send voice messages. You can also publish microblogs on it or share your pictures and life events with your WeChat friends. If you want to make friends with someone new, you can use one of these features: shake, scan QR code, nearby user awareness or WeChat ID.

You can also attach cards and bank accounts to the WeChat account, and with its GPS location awareness, you can call a nearby taxi when everyone around you is struggling to find one. Besides, WeChat payment, games and other neoteric plug-ins have made WeChat the most used microblogging application in the world.


Viber is a popular VoIP application. Any user can get a Viber account with his or her phone number. The biggest advantage of using Viber is that users can directly get a VoIP call without having to open the application. It has the ability to deliver high-quality calls under a normal General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) network. Similar to WhatsApp, Viber provides awareness after messages have been delivered to servers or have been read by the recipient. Viber also has a whiteboard feature that allows you to send immediate scrawls. In addition, diverse emotions, location awareness and chat groups can bring more fun to your messaging.



Line is an IM app that has a lot of similarity with Viber and WeChat. The feature that appeals to users most is its emoticons map, with more than 250 kinds of expressions, which gives users an interesting way to convey their mood.


Facebook Messenger has a similar interface to the Facebook website. Friends on Facebook can be added into Facebook Messenger’s friends list easily. It has Skype’s VoIP feature and WhatsApp’s location awareness and chat group features in addition to some fundamental features as an IM application.

Facebook Messenger

With all of these IM apps available, it is hard to decide which one to use, and most users have two or three of these apps that they use simultaneously. We personally do not expect that one IM app will dominate.

What other IM apps or features do you use that we have missed? Which ones do you find most interesting? Please leave a comment below.

This blog is co-authored with Ms. Theresa (Ning, Chun Fang), a postgraduate intern to IBM from the Dalian Nationalities University in Dalian, China.

Learn more about Entry level/Campus programs at IBM:

MohamedMohamed is an Executive Architect with GBS and the Chief Architect for IBM China GDC, where he leads architecture and delivery on key accounts. He is also the Delivery Project Executive for GBS Innovation Center focused on delivering innovative solutions for the IBM internal account and commercial clients.

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