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Software & Web Development

Cola Messenger review: Bubbles put the fizz back in SMS text messaging

Cola’s Where Are You Now? bubble is an easy way to arrange get-togethers without always sharing your location with others.

SMS (short message service) texting dates back to the early ‘80s, and has remained largely the same ever since. With billions of users across the globe, texting is ubiquitous and easy enough for anyone—although not always convenient, especially for making plans with friends or loved ones.

Tiny bubbles

Cola Messenger (free on the iTunes Store) hopes to alleviate some of the traditional texting pain points, without requiring users to completely abandon what they’re used to. That’s a good thing, because the app is currently exclusive to iPhone (it can’t be installed on other iOS devices) and requires a US-based phone number for registration.

On the surface, Cola appears to be just another messaging app. What makes it unique are “bubbles,” little extra bits of code that streamline some of the more common text message scenarios like scheduling the best time for a business meeting or get-together with friends, which typically requires a lot of texting back and forth.

Making a list and checking it twice with Cola’s To Do List bubble, it’s easy for everyone to get on the same page.

With Cola, it’s as easy as tapping the When Can We Meet? bubble, suggesting a few dates on the built-in calendar along with a length and title for the meeting, and tapping Send. If the recipient uses Cola, your message bypasses the Message app, routing directly to Cola as a chat bubble where the user can select their preferred event with just a tap.

Those without iPhones or who haven’t yet registered for Cola instead receive a standard SMS text message with a link that opens in any mobile web browser. All of the same options are displayed, and the sender is notified via push notification seconds after the recipient’s response has been recorded.

Group hug

Cola Messenger works well for one-on-one chats, but its real potential lies in group messaging. When bubbles are shared among multiple people, an otherwise average chat app becomes something far more powerful, with the potential to replace several standalone apps in the process.

Cola Messenger offers six other bubbles: Where Are You Now?, Take Photo or Video, Photo Library, Quick Poll, To Do List, and the latest arrival, How’s Your Weather?, which allows groups to share current conditions in the midst of a conversation. The first is a time-limited take on Apple’s Find My Friends, while the photo options are a great way to send images to numbers like Google Voice that aren’t equipped to receive multimedia (MMS) messages.

Cola’s When Can We Meet? bubble makes it easy to pick a few potential times to set up a meeting or group event.

The remaining options are easy, powerful ways to coordinate plans with others. Quick Poll can be used to quickly narrow down which movie to see, while To Do List is great for impromptu shopping lists. As items are checked off, each user in the group is notified, so there’s never confusion over who was supposed to pick up milk on the way home.

Although Cola is designed as a standalone messenger, the developers would do well to fully realize its potential by bulking up the bubble catalog. A Cola Bubble SDK is imminent, but support for Android and Windows Phone as well as SMS-less devices like iPad, iPod touch, and desktop PCs would make these bubbles truly pop.

Bottom line

Cola Messenger proves the future of text messaging can be bright indeed — not to mention more productive.

IDG Insider

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