While Nik Fletcher at our sister site Download Squad discovered that Meebo works decently on an iPhone, it isn't without some catches. Meebo, for those who have never experienced, is a leading web-based multi-network chat service; in other words - chatting in a web browser is their business, and they've been doing it for a long time. Even though Nik is right, and Meebo might fill in for the lack of any kind of chat in the iPhone, it isn't without some UI quirks that can make the experience less than pleasing. Of course, it is entirely plausible that the Meebo team are already hard at work on getting their product to play nicely with an iPhone, but until then, I figured some tips and tricks were in order for those who are just dying to chat across AIM, Yahoo!, MSN and even ICQ on their iPhones.
Save time logging in: You should probably make it easy on yourself and register a Meebo account with a real desktop browser. While you always have the option of manually signing into one or more services each time you visit Meebo, if you want to chat on more than one network, it's going to be a pain in the butt to keep zooming in and out while typing in your login credentials each time. From what I can tell, iSafari (Safari on the iPhone) doesn't properly save your login name and/or password, so it might simply be easier to create a Meebo account and attach all the network logins you want to it so you can simply log into all of them with one master Meebo account.
The buddy list works - mostly: I'm no web 2.0 designer, but from what I can tell, Meebo is a pretty complex web-based chat app. Since Meebo is providing some pretty powerful functionality, I'm not surprised that it doesn't work quite right in iSafari, and the quirky buddy list is probably the first thing you'll notice. If you try to tap on any contacts, the entire buddy list gets that dark translucent overlay as if you just tapped on and selected the entire thing. What's worse, you might not even see a new chat window open up, even in landscape mode. Fret not, however: for some reason, Meebo (at least on my iPhone) places new chat windows far, far to the left. If you pinch and zoom out a bit, maybe even scrolling a tad, you should see any and every new chat window you opened by tapping on the buddy list.
Handling windows: Once you get over that buddy list hump, the rest of Meebo works fairly well. Tapping in the text field area of a chat window will bring up the iPhone's keyboard, and I find that, given how much space the keyboard takes up, using the iPhone in typical portrait mode (vertically) here gives you a bit more space to see what you're typing and maybe the last word or line of what your buddy said. Simply pressing the Go button in the lower right of the keyboard will actually send your chat message. While windows don't seem to be drag-able, you can tap on their title bars to bring one or the other to the front, allowing you to tap in the text field and get typing. This, of course, is all going to require you to get real comfortable with zooming in and our frequently, because the iPhone will zoom in on the text field area when you want to chat, forcing you to zoom back out to see what your buddy is saying or any other chat windows you have open.
It isn't perfect, but it works. Chat junkies will likely rejoice since they won't have to burn through SMS, and Meebo offers a better experience and more chat networks than that AIM-only experimental app we found last month. Aside from waiting for Apple to get on the ball here, keep your eyes on Meebo, as I would not be surprised if they're working on optimizing their web app for the iPhone.