Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Android chat app imo: a facelift gone bad

Update: imo is dead!

One app to rule them all...

Multi-network instant messenger imo is one of my favourite weapons against chat network fragmentation. Instead of running a bunch of apps that only talk to one network each, imo lets me squeeze most of 'em into a single app. Only WhatsApp and Viber play difficult.

And then imo released an extreme makeover of their app. It looks completely different from the previous version. According to the description on its Google Play Store page the new imo has a "beautiful new streamlined design."

They're wrong. The new design is neither streamlined nor beautiful. They managed to do just about everything wrong that they could do wrong.


First thing you see when you launch an app is its icon. The new imo icon is a big white rectangle with rounded corners (Apple, go sue 'em!) which looks horrible on most homescreen backgrounds, except for the 0.000001% who wallpapered their homescreens to look like a field of snow.

When you get into the app you'll notice that the mostly white user interface is even whiter than it used to be. A bright white background works for paper and eBook readers, but it's a really bad idea for apps that run on backlit displays (read: most Android phones and tablets). If your Android gadget has an AMOLED screen things get even worse, because all those bright white pixels suck your battery dry.

This is where imo could have improved their design. A simple button in the settings to switch between a light and a dark theme would do the job. After all, Android is all about customising everything until it works and looks they way you want it. If I wanted one-size-fits-all designs I would have bought that other phone. You know, the one with a patent on rounded rectangles.

Tabs and taps

The old imo had a very simple and effective tab design. A tab for your contacts, a tab for your chats, and another tab for your accounts. It worked so well that you'd even forgive them for ignoring the menu button and the action bar overflow menu.

The new imo lost the tab with your chats. Your open chats now sit on top of your contacts, making the long list even longer. It also makes the contacts you're talking with appear twice in the list, which makes the clutter even worse. Swiping through your open chat windows? That's something of the past.

The accounts tab is something of the past too. It turned into a window that you can get into by swiping to a new tab that's full of things that would fit better under a menu button or overflow menu. Signing in and out of your accounts now takes an extra tap compared to the old version.

Heads off

The old imo had the annoying habit of putting all your Facebook contacts in their own contact group. Taking them out and moving them around was pointless, because next time you logged into imo they automatically reappeared in the Facebook group.

That problem got fixed with a sledgehammer. The new imo won't let you group your contacts into lists at all. That's not just a cosmetic issue, it gets in the way of functionality too. If you enable Facebook chat in imo your contacts tab gets cluttered with hundreds of Facebook friends that you never chat with, which makes it hard to find the contacts that really matter. There used to be a time when Motorola and others would add a "helpful" option to auto-insert your Facebook friends into your Android phone book. One look at the giant monster killer list of contacts was enough for most people to switch that option off.

To make up for the long list, imo added a cure that's worse than the disease. There's a contact search bar on the bottom of the tab that pops up whenever you scroll around. Most of the time it just gets in the way, it's useless clutter on phones with a search button, and for phones without real buttons the search option would be more at home in the action bar.

Next new "feature:" your contacts lost their head. Avatars on chat networks, forums, social networks, and the contact list of your phone are sqare pictures. For some reason imo decided to make all those square pictures round by cutting the corners with a guillotine. If your friends faces are not exactly in the middle of the image imo bluntly chops off their heads.

Power gone

Good old imo came with two very useful switches. One button to switch autostart on or off, because not everyone wants all their chat apps to launch automatically when they boot their phone. The other button was to let you choose whether imo should automatically sign you into your accounts upon app launch, or wait for you to tap a button to sign in.

The new imo automatically starts on boot, and there's no off switch. The only way to stop it from autostarting is by taming imo with an autostart manager.

You can't let imo auto-sign you into your accounts either. Now you always have to flick the switch yourself, each and everytime you fire up the app.

Taking your startup choices away is a really bad decision. Why does imo need to copy the bad habits of WhatsApp and Viber?

The new fresh imo may be very white, but it's not green at all. The battery consumption went up since the update, which is something that an app meant to run for hours on end should avoid at all costs.

Finally, imo inherited an annoyance introduced in a previous update. Its status bar icon is always grey, no matter if imo is online or not. Why not offer a choice of green when connected, red when incommunicado, orange when connected to some of your networks but not all?

Why keep imo?

With so many "improvements" that don't improve anything, you may be tempted to look for another chat app. According to the Google Play Store comments you're not alone. The new dumbed down user interface annoys lots of people. Not because it's new, but because it kills function.

Unfortunately it's really hard to escape from imo. There are two reasons for that. First, imo lets you sign into multiple accounts on the same chat network, which most instant messenger apps won't let you do. Second, imo has Skype chat, which was yanked out of competing apps like Nimbuzz and fring.

So I keep imo on my phone. Not the crippled new version 3.0.0, but the much better v2.7.5 that I backed up before updating. I'm gonna keep the old version until imo cleans up the mess.

the latest imo (Google Play Store)
imo v2.7.5 (Google search, watch out what you download)

Update: imo is dead!

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  1. I also am dissapointed with the update. I also did a backup but it is 2.7.1 it seems I missed 2.7.5

  2. In the new version I don´t see how to group contacts by network (Skype, MSN, etc)

  3. What about this website for old versions?

  4. imo 2.7.5 copied from my own phone:

    ( deletes files after 30 days of inactivity, so grab a copy while you can)

  5. New version now has OAuth for Gtalk. This is better I think, I never used Gtalk because I feared sharing Gmail password.

  6. It seems the old version does not handle Yahoo anymore.