Your iPhone is a great tool for helping you get things done and group chat services are no exception. Whether you want to keep up with work topics and check in with colleagues, or keep the whole family connected at home or on a trip, a good, private social network can be invaluable. Campfire, Glassboard, and HipChat are three popular group chat services that also happen to have iPhone app counterparts. The question is, which one is best for you?
Campfire vs. Glassboard vs. HipChat: User interface & design
Campfire's official app is simple enough to navigate through and start using right out of the gate. Upon launching the app you'll be asked to sign into your 37Signals account. Once you've done that you'll be taken to a lobby where you can see all the networks and rooms you currently belong to. Underneath the room title you can see how many people currently occupy it. You can tap into the room you'd like to join and you'll be taken to the chat area.
Inside the main chat area, almost the entire window will be taken up with conversation. Along the bottom you'll find the usual suspects including a place to type your message, send it, and a button to append a photo or video to your message. Basically, if you've ever sent a text or iMessage from your iPhone, you'll be perfectly at home. It's simple but it gets the job done.
Once inside any room you can tap the info button in the upper right hand corner in order to view more information on the current room. From here you can add a topic and turn in-app notifications on. Underneath that you have the option to leave the room, view who's currently in it, and what files have been recently uploaded. Tapping on any file name will show you the image or file.
You can access Campfire's main settings from the lobby area. Tapping the gear in the upper right hand corner gives you a few more options including if you want Campfire to remember the last room you entered and take you immediately there, enabling or disabling landscape support, and enabling messaging notifications by default. Beyond this, there isn't too much in the way of basic functionality to change. While the native Campfire app doesn't give you a ton of options, it gets the job done and while on the go, it's easy to just pop in and quickly see what's going on.
Upon launching Glassboard's app and signing in, you'll notice that your main view combines all your boards (rooms) together. If you prefer views of your boards separately, you can tap on the menu button in the upper left hand corner to pull out the main navigation. From here you'll be able to see all the boards you belong too and settings for them. Tap a board to open it.
Underneath boards on the main menu you've got options to edit and view your own profile, as well as change some in-app settings. Glassboard for iPhone supports quiet hours so if you don't want to be bothered with notifications during certain hours, you can disable them easily within settings one time and Glassboard will abide by it indefinitely.
You'll also be able to add people to boards you manage via the main menu or enter invitation codes to join other's boards. The last option in the main menu allows you to filter only photos and videos people have posted which is nice if you're looking for a specific file that a colleague has posted.
The last option in Glassboard's main menu is for notifications and this does exactly what you'd expect it to do, aggregate all your notifications for all your boards in one place for easy review.
Upon launching HipChat for iPhone you'll be presented with a cleanly laid out screen that has two sections - rooms and people. Anyone you've added on HipChat shows up under people while any room you've joined shows up on the top. Along the top you can search for contacts while along the bottom you'll see three tabs - lobby, chats, and settings. These tabs remain static throughout the entire app for easy access.
Tapping into a room will bring up the main chat area. This is where you can see many similarities to Campfire. The chat room is very basic and only consists of conversation content and an area to send your messages. In this case, simplicity is better than too many confusing features.
From the main menu you can also choose to tap on any person's name and send them a personal message outside of a main room. You'll see an icon next to their name showing their status. A mobile phone indicates that they are online from their device while a green bubble means online on a computer and grey means offline.
Tapping on the chats tab in the bottom will show you any conversations and rooms that you currently have active. You can tap into any one of them to be directed to that room or private chat.
The last tab is the settings tab which lets you customize certain aspects of HipChat. Among the things you can customize in settings includes push notifications, sounds and alerts, and your account information. Beyond that, there really isn't too much to customize.
When it comes to user interface and design, HipChat is a nice compromise. It isn't as complicated as Glassboard's sidebar, yet not as bare-bones as Campfire.
Campfire vs. Glassboard vs. HipChat: Message boards, chats, and more
Campfire utilizes rooms where you can chat with colleagues and co-workers. Once you log in to Campfire you can choose the room you'd like to access via the lobby. Tapping into any one of them will bring you directly into live chat. From here you can upload images and messages.
Campfire doesn't offer private chats between users, so if that's a feature you'd like to have, you'll need to look elsewhere. Campfire for iPhone is as simple as the web service. It is meant to be used for basic chats and image sharing between users, nothing more and nothing less. Users aren't limited to the amount of boards they can be a part of, but outside of basic chat, there isn't too much else that Campfire offers.
That isn't to say 37Signals doesn't have many other product offerings that compliment campfire. Their Basecamp service is a dedicated project management service while Highrise allows you to manage all your business contacts. If you're looking for a suite of apps, then Campfire is a good option but if enhanced chat is your main concern, Campfire isn't the best bet.
Glassboard works more like a message board than a live chat room. You can choose to view all boards you belong to or you can view them separately. Once inside a board you'll notice that messages appear in a threaded manner. Any message that a colleague has replied to in Glassboard will show up nested underneath the original message.
One thing unique about Glassboard is that you have the ability to like messages. Once you tap into a thread you'll see a star next to it with a count. The count is how many people have already starred that comment. Tapping on it allows you to like it as well. For office productivity, it's irrelevant how much something is "liked", but if you're using Glassboard for a conference or group of friends, it's a great feature.
HipChat utilizes rooms in the same way Campfire does. On your main screen you'll see a list of rooms and a list of co-workers. Unlike both Campfire and Glassboard, you can chat individually with any of your HipChat contacts outside of rooms. This is a great if you want to discuss sensitive issues, or simply to keep a couple people's personal conversation from swamping everyone else's discussion (notification pollution is a thing, you know?)
There aren't too many options to enable or disable inside of HipChat and like Campfire, it just works once you log in. You can, however, tweak notification settings but you can do that in Glassboard and Campfire as well.
Glassboard is best suited for ad-hoc gatherings like conferences and shows where the social aspects give it a huge advantage. Campfire and HipChat are both better suited for simple work environments, and in that regard, HipChat's private messaging gives it the edge.
Campfire vs. Glassboard vs. HipChat: Push notifications
If your group chat needs include push notifications, you can rule out Campfire as it offers no native support. There are workarounds with Prowl but it's probably past what most users would want to fuss with.
Glassboard and HipChat both support push notifications within their official iPhone apps. Both work extremely well so when it comes to push, it's a tie between Glassboard and HipChat.
Campfire vs. Glassboard vs. HipChat: Cross-platform support
Campfire is a widely known service that has been around for quite some time. That means where are plenty of apps and platforms that support it. First and foremost, it works on the web. There's an iPhone app, of course, but no native iPad app. There are third-party alternatives, however, including Sparks which is optimized for both iPhone and iPad. There are also 3rd party Mac apps like Propane and Flint, if you prefer native over web (and who can blame you?), and 3rd party Android apps such as Campyre.
Glassboard currently offers support for the iPhone, Android, and the web. There aren't currently any native iPad or Mac clients, nor are there 3rd party alternatives.
HipChat's official app offers universal app support for both iPhone and iPad . They also have an Android app, and a native client for both Windows and Mac PCs. You'll need to install Adobe AIR in order to use it but that probably isn't a deal breaker for most [Deal breaker! - Rene].
When it comes to cross-platform support, Campfire is the most widely supported. Not only do they have native versions of their apps on almost every platform, they have a robust 3rd party ecosystem that's filled a lot of gaps. If you need cross-platform options, Campfire offers the most.
Campfire vs. Glassboard vs. HipChat: Pricing
Campfire, Glassboard, and HipChat are all free downloads from the App Store but the app isn't really what you're paying for -- it's the service itself. So let's take a look at the pricing breakdown for each.
Campfire does offer a free plan but it doesn't give you much. You're limited to 4 users and only 10MB of media store. Their actual plans start at $12 and go all the way up to $99. Here's a breakdown of what each plan gets you:
Glassboard also has free accounts and if you're using it for family, friends, or conferences, it's probably more than enough. Paid accounts are $5 a month per user, or $50 a year, and the board limits are determined by this fee. Here's a comparison as to what free vs premium gets you:
HipChat's plans are board based. Their pricing is $2 per user, per board, per month. You get unlimited storage on each board you pay for. Obviously if you have multiple boards, each will require a membership.
As far as pricing goes, if you're only need something for friends, family, and traveling to tradeshows or conferences, Glassboard's free account is great. If you only have 1 or a limited number of rooms you need access to, HipChat offers the most bang for your board buck.
Campfire vs. Glassboard vs. HipChat: The bottom line
Group chat isn't just for offices anymore. Everything from peer networking to family and friends a vying for our personal social attention.
Glassboard has the least cross-platform support of the three apps we tested, and is more of a discussion board than a group chat room. There are businesses being run on Glassboard, but it seems best suited for less formal, more social activities like conferences, trips, events, etc. If Twitter is too public, but you still want to stay in touch with a group large or small, Glassboard is for you.
Campfire has the most support across the most platforms, and if you've got users on iOS, Android, PC, and Mac, you'll find tons of options including third party apps to choose from. 37Signals also has other productivity tools such as Highrise and Basecamp which may be a consideration for some work environments. If you need your chat everywhere, Campfire is for you.
HipChat is the most chatty. While it's cross-platform support isn't as extensive, it does cover most of the major ones, and it offers push notifications as well. Putting it over the top, not only can you chat within rooms but you can chat privately with any HipChat contact as well. If you're looking for a good group and private chat client for your group or office, HipChat is for you.