Although there’s a common belief it has died, IRC still exists as an essential chat protocol and is actively used by various communities and groups, notably for for colloborative communication, community support, or simply subject-specific chat. When it came to the iPhone, Rooms was one of the first IRC clients to launch on the app store. Rooms is/was quite functional, however the interface was unintuitive and features were generally lacking. Despite its shortcomings, Rooms was a solid IRC client for the iPhone and sat at the top of its niche even as other clients such as LimeChat and IRChon popped up along the way.
However in mid-January, Colloquy, the open source Mac IRC client broke ground in the App Store with their also open source (though paid) iPhone client. Due somewhat to it’s already established presence as a Mac desktop client and simply because it was functional, held an attractive interface, and presented innovative features, Colloquy for the iPhone quickly climbed it’s way to the top of the App Store charts.
Now a new player, FlowChat, has jumped into the game and is eager to get it into action. FlowChat boasts impressive new features that complement mobile IRC in a way many had never even thought of. Furthermore FlowChat features a somewhat astonishing interface that’s just a flat-out joy to chat in. Having now bought both clients myself, and seeing push so close on Colloquy’s roadmap I sat indecisive pondering upon whether to leave my beloved Colloquy.
Firing ‘Em Up
Upon the first run of either application, the user is presented with a somewhat similar interfaces between the two apps, both using the tab bar seen in at least 50% of all App Store applications. Colloquy tries to keep it simple having but two tabs, ‘Connections’ and ‘Colloquies (Channels)’—keeping its settings in the Settings app. FlowChat too has ‘Servers’ and ‘Chats’ but lets its settings chill right there in the tab bar next to another tab, ‘Logs’. Setting up a new connection is much akin in both applications, however I find Colloquy has better organized their interface for this action.
Once the connection is set it can be seen in an interface that’s almost identical between both applications, creating the idea that FlowChat may have taken some inspiration from Colloquy (or perhaps simply that it’s kinda a common sense setup).
Before We Jump Into the Chatter…
Here’s where things start changing a bit. Both applications provide a relatively similar interface for displaying currently connected channels. However FlowChat starts changing things up providing a rather attractive listing of channels and squeezing in additional info in a space-savvy manor. Both applications display continuous line-by-line updates, though FlowChat helps you out by givin’ you an extra line to work with. In addition to that, both applications provide a continuous ‘missed-lines’ update, but Colloquy is the only one to incorporate the amount of times your nick was mentioned in-channel.
Also from this screen both application provide the option to join a new channel or PM a user simply by tapping the addition icon. The drastic difference (and again, where I believe FlowChat wins out) is Colloquy provides and entirely new screen to enter channel details, whereas FlowChat provides a simple ‘one tap and you’re in’ solution that only overlays half of the channels interface.
Both Colloquy as well as FlowChat provide simple interfaces for the actual chat view, not throwing in any fancy new twists. By default the applications provide a completely opposite contrast of colors as Colloquy does black on white by default but FlowChat switches it up using white on black in attempts to keep consistent with it’s interface. Don’t let that create your decision though, Colloquy provides transcript styles and FlowChat provides themes to completely change the colors (and style) the text is presented in.
Beyond the actual conversation view, FlowChat provides a scrolling list of channels you’re currently residing in, with the option to badge updates atop the channel name. This badging provides a handy little reference to see what channels the activity is coming from without having to go back to the channels page as must be done in Colloquy (however I don’t think update can be provided for times your nick was mentioned, which is really the more useful feature). FlowChat goes even further in mixing things up by completely removing the tab bar within this view and replacing it with a toolbar of new and (semi-)exiciting functions detailed below the Goodies header.
One item that does exist in both applications is a button for the userlist. It’s a simple listing of all users present in the channel in both applications, but Colloquy gets a bonus for real-time search of the users. FlowChat once again comes out on top providing a beautiful interface that (graphically) offers many more options than Colloquy. All of the options FlowChat offers in this user context menu are present in Colloquy, however they’re simply accessed in a different fashion.
The two options here I was most impressed with were the photo uploading and the manual instigation of the inline browser. Now, Colloquy does too allow for manual instigation of the inline browser, however it’s done through a command, just as many of Colloquy’s additional features are. I think the issue may be either that Colloquy is based around more IRC-savvy users who are accustomed to the normal commands of IRC and find it easy to instigate additional features in the same fashion, or perhaps because Colloquy hasn’t found a usable method of implementing these features graphically.
Colloquy also doesn’t currently have a logging feature. By default FlowChat logs all conversations (currently there’s no option to turn this feature off, but I got word it will be in a future update). The logs are great to view for later reference and FlowChat went a step further by implementing search throughout the logs which I know will definitely come in handy for myself and many others.
On the other hand, one feature Colloquy still holds that I haven’t found in FlowChat is word highlighting. Word highlighting is the beloved feature of many and Colloquy has had it available since 1.0, allowing you to define words of your choosing and to provide a vibrational alert when said.
Finally, Colloquy has Push on the roadmap… and it’s scheduled to be coming very, very soon. The developers of FlowChat have mentioned they have thought about push in FlowChat as well, however they currently do not have an ETA which makes me think I may be jumping back to my beloved open source Colloquy sooner than I expected.
Really, I felt it was kind of unfair to compare these two. Sure, it provides a current ‘to date’ comparison of the features between both applications, but the issue here is that FlowChat has simply had the time discover what options are available in Colloquy, add them all to FlowChat, and then go one step further by adding features such as image uploading and full logging. Colloquy has only had one minor little bugfix since launch, so I’d say this is a rather fair comparison of 1.0s.
Currently I’m sticking with FlowChat ($4.99). Push and my love of open source may make me go running back to Colloquy ($1.99) begging for forgiveness. Now that I’ve provided you with a fairly detailed comparison / contrast, I hope you can choose between the two. So, which application will it be?
Patrick Patience is an open source addict and is also ‘hooked to the fruit’. You can follow his mindshares on twitter @PatrickPatience.