While tech enthusiasts in the US debate about why Apple should open iMessage to Android and how much the company should charge Android users for iMessage, the rest of the world has moved on to cross-platform instant messaging apps for all their daily text-based communications. WhatsApp is the biggest messaging platform in the world, so much so it actually has more monthly active users than parent company, Facebook. But with recent reports that Facebook plans to integrate the backend of WhatsApp with Instagram and Facebook Messenger, concerns about user privacy have resurfaced. Personally, WhatsApp isn't my main messenger. The only reason I need to use it is because it's the most widely used messenger in Malaysia, so I need to use it for work. For personal communication with family and loved ones, I use Telegram.
I've been using Telegram for several years now, and it continues to be my favourite instant messaging platform ever. The development of the platform is miles ahead of WhatsApp, with so many incredible new features that WhatsApp keeps on copying several months later. The thing is, no matter how many features WhatsApp takes from Telegram, the latter still has the better overall feature set. So these are some of my favourite features of Telegram and why it remains my messaging platform of choice.
Edit sent messages
One of the most embarrassing things you can do is send a text to the wrong person. Both platforms allow you to delete your messages after sending them, so that problem's solved. But Telegram does WhatsApp one better by allowing users to edit their sent messages. Typos can be rather embarrassing too, or can make a message incomprehensible, so being able to edit your messages after sending them is extremely useful. I've edited typos out of my messages many times in Telegram, but it's still annoying needing to "fix" typos in WhatsApp with a second follow-up message to explain or correct the typo.
Better group chats
Group chats are one of the main features of both platforms, but I feel like Telegram offers better features. For starters, admins can pin messages in groups, which places the message on top of the chat window permanently for all to see. This can ensure important information is never lost under a sea of new messages. Combined with the ability to edit messages like I said above, this could for example allow you to pin a message with details of an upcoming meeting in a chat group with your colleagues, and later edit the message if anything changes, negating the need to post a brand new message every time something changes. Group chats also hide users' phone numbers, unlike in WhatsApp where joining a group means your phone number becomes publicly visible to all members, even people you don't know (a huge negative to user privacy). One of the more recent improvements to group chats in Telegram is the addition of polls, making it easier for large groups to decide on where to go for lunch. Telegram has placed a huge focus on group chats since 2015, which explains why they're so good. WhatsApp has been playing catch-up ever since (the ability to quote messages for example only came to WhatsApp more than a year after it launched on Telegram), and though group chats in WhatsApp have improved, with some features that Telegram doesn't even offer, I still believe Telegram offers the better overall group chat experience.
This is another feature which both Telegram and WhatsApp have, but like most new features shared between the two, Telegram had it first (WhatsApp launched stickers more than three years after Telegram) and implements it in a better way. Stickers are so easy to use in Telegram that you don't really need to do anything out of the ordinary to use them. Once the setting is enabled, all you need to do is use any emoji you want and if there are any associated stickers, they will show up in a scrolling list for you to choose from. It's that simple. You don't even need to install any sticker packs to use them (though you can install sticker packs that you like). Telegram was spot on with their announcement post. This is stickers done right.
Multi-device support (and online backup)
Pretty much any online service (apps) can be synced and used on multiple devices. Gmail. Spotify. YouTube. Twitter. Chrome. You name it. But not WhatsApp. You can only use it on one smartphone. You can't use it on tablets (not sure if there's a workaround, but officially tablet support is "limited"), and you can only use it on desktops if your phone is connected to the internet. What happens if you lose/break your phone? Well, unless you had backed up your chats recently, they're all gone. I've come across many people who lamented losing their WhatsApp chats because they weren't backed up, and many people who had to send out "My phone broke so I can't reply WhatsApp messages" on Facebook when their phone stopped working. None of these issues plague Telegram. You can use Telegram on multiple devices, it has standalone desktop/web functionality which you can continue to use if your phone isn't connected to the internet, and all chats are synced/backed up online so you'll never need to worry about losing your chats.
Messenger apps aren't really media consumption tools, but we share a lot of media with friends and family via these platforms, so it makes sense for them to provide us with great ways of consuming that media, and Telegram does. YouTube videos can be viewed within Telegram itself just like WhatsApp, but again, Telegram's implementation is better. Though both platforms support picture-in-picture viewing, you need to be in the chat where the YouTube video is shared to be able to view it in WhatsApp. If you leave the chat, the PiP video will close. This isn't a limitation in Telegram where you can continue to watch the video even if you exit the chat. Audio and video messages sent from your contacts can also continue playing if you exit the originating chat as well. Instant View is a cool tool that allows users to open links within Telegram with zero loading time. Webpages are rendered in an easy to read format with no ads or visual elements from the website, just the article, which allows them to load instantly as soon as you tap on the "Instant View" button.
All the small things
To close, there are a few small features which I feel contribute greatly to the user experience. Telegram allows users to customise the colour theme of their app, and it also has a night-mode, which WhatsApp doesn't. As an extra bonus, the night-mode can be toggled on automatically either according to a fixed schedule, or when you're in a dark environment, like when you turn the lights off in your room or when you enter a cinema hall. There's a built-in support chat in Telegram if you need help, and they are very active on Twitter as well (WhatsApp on the other hand hasn't tweeted since August 2016). Telegram has an awesome bot platform. I myself use bots to search for gifs and to share YouTube videos, but there's so much more you can do with bots. Telegram allows you to save messages from other contacts, similar to WhatsApp, but it also allows you to send messages to yourself, giving you a way to save files, images, videos, links, or anything else you need, making them readily available to you from any device you use Telegram from. There are many more features like drafts which sync across devices, locking your app with a passcode of fingerprint, secret chats which self-destruct after a certain period of time, usernames so you can connect with people without sharing your phone number, and advanced search options which allow you to search for messages by date or by specific group members, but I think this post is long enough.
Telegram will probably never amass a user base as large as WhatsApp, but the platform is growing. Founder Pavel Durov stopped short of divulging any specific details, but he shared that 2018 was a huge year for Telegram, and that 2019 will be the biggest in the company's history. Considering how great the platform already is, I'm excited to see what they have planned. Meanwhile, WhatsApp will probably become less and less about feature innovation and more about revenue generation as Facebook looks to cash in on its largest acquisition ever.