Telegram Messenger: App Review

Telegram Messenger: App Review
July 24, 2014 Julian Becerra

Lean, basic, and minimalist – no-thrills, no-frills kind of messaging app.

As opposed to Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, or Viber; Telegram Messenger is an app that allows users to send encrypted messages, making these completely private and secret, or so this is the claim.

Messaging and texting apps are all the rage at the moment, with Facebook launching Facebook Messenger; an app for messaging alone about a year ago. Not only that, Facebook also recently purchased the messaging app, Whatsapp, for $19 billion!

Although generally usable, Telegraph Messenger at times borders on the slightly unresolved. The use of iconography is clear and effective, but apart from that, there are a few usability issues and the terminology used to describe certain elements around the interface is conflicting and inconsistent; for example: Chats, Message, or Conversation. Couldn’t all these be one in the same?

Encryption is a big part of this app, and in order to access the key selling point of this app the user has make a conscious decision when creating a new message.

To create a regular message, the user does what is common in most messaging apps: 1. Create New Message, 2. Select Contact (from the list of contacts with the app), 3. Type Message, 4. Send.

However, to create an encrypted message or a “Secret Chat,” the user must: 1. Create New Message, 2. Select New Secret Chat, 3. Select Contact (from the list of contacts with the app), 4. Secrete Chat invitation is sent, 5. Contact must accept Secrete Chat, 6. Type Message, 7. Send.

The Secret Chat remains empty and inactive until both parties actively accept the chat. And that is because Secret Chats: Use end-to-end encryption, leave no trace on servers, have a self destruct timer, and do not allow forwarding. Albeit, the experience is a more cumbersome and complex one than usual, as users are used to quick, easy, type and go functionality. Could this encryption business really take off at the expense of the user’s time and patience in exchange for privacy and security?

“Chats” is the default screen in the app and all chats are arranged chronologically, with the latest chat on top. Above the list of chats is a search function to help users find information within messages or for specific conversations. When user selects a specific chat, a detail page is shown with the chat history in chronological order, latest on the bottom. These messaging and design trends showing chronological lists of messages either with latest on top or on the bottom (in the case of a detail page), are consistent with other messaging systems like Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp.

As a first-time user, the encryption feature is not entirely obvious but eventually it is identified as Secret Chat, depicted with a lock, and familiarity-of-use kicks in.

The header area includes actions that allow users to create a new message, and edit / delete messages from the list.

The footer navigation includes an icon for “Contacts” which leads to a list page with people who use the app listed first, all sorted in alphabetical order and organised by last name. However, the contact page also lists all other phone contacts who don’t have the app on their phones, and suggests to invite them. The contact section also has a search function with auto-suggestions. This section allows users to create a new contact, a new secrete chat, invite friends, etc.

The “Settings” icon is also in the footer navigation, which leads to a page where users can edit profile details, change the default background image, determine parametres around notifications, sounds, blocked lists, chat settings, default image-saving features in chat, and curiously it has an “Ask a Question” to Telegram option…interesting!

Obviously the biggest issue with this app is that it doesn’t have the critical mass required to make it effective, as the list of contacts or people using the app is still relatively small. So the $19 billion question should be: Is encryption a strong enough feature to motivate the masses to adopt a new messaging app while avoiding the Facebook’s and Whatsapp’s of the world? Sounds good in theory, more privacy is always good.

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Julian Becerra
Julian is the Director of Digital Strategy at Graphic Mint.