Meebo, the reigning champion of web-based chat, has just released their entry into the iPhone app arena. I had a chance to speak with meebo's CEO, Seth Sternberg, earlier today about the release, and they truly do have a surprisingly innovating iPhone app on there hands. Simply point MobileSafari at meebo.com and the site will send you to the iPhone portal (a technique about which our own Scott McNulty had a few thoughts to share) where you can sign into any of Meebo's supported services - including AIM, Yahoo!, MSN and Google Talk - or you can sign in with an account you have already registered with meebo. From there, things get very interesting (note that the screenshot below was snapped in Camino since I'm just not cool enough to get Erica's iPhone screenshot utility up and running).
First, if you registered an account with meebo and added your credentials for one or more chat networks, you'll appreciate the fact that everything transfers over to the iPhone app. Custom status messages, your buddy icon, even the history from chat sessions on your desktop computer - they all appear in the iPhone app. Your buddies are listed alphabetically, but any current chats float to the top of the buddy list for easy access, and this is a bit of UI where meebo has some unique innovation going on: the entire iPhone meebo experience centers around a home screen that is your buddy list; it takes up the entire display, and it even rotates and scales gracefully for landscape mode. No tabs here, which can be a mixed bag for the experience.
Tapping on a buddy slides over to a new chat window with nothing but an icon to get back to your buddy list, a box to type in and the send button. Chat history (if there is any) populates pretty quickly, even over EDGE, which is an area that Seth said the company focused quite a bit: ensuring the entire app was light on data, simple to use and ultimately fast. Tapping the buddy list icon of course gets you back to the list, and any chats you started automatically float to the top. This is where the lack of tabs can be both a blessing and a curse: while the buddy list is nice and large, making it far easier to to read and navigate than any previous iPhone chat apps, it still takes at least two taps - not including any potential scrolling - to get out of a chat, back to the list and into another chat; more taps if you need to scroll. It's a unique approach to solving this kind of a problem, but ultimately, I think meebo made the right choice.
All things considered, meebo's iPhone chat app is hands down my new favorite. I haven't been chatting much on my iPhone yet, but meebo's streamlined experience, fast load times and easy navigation make this a slam dunk that has finally sparked my interest in trying out mobile chat. I was even more surprised about how well they've done on this 1.0 app when Seth shared that this is meebo's first mobile app of any kind. While the company has done web-based chat for years now, they've never ventured onto any mobile device platforms. That said, I think they just about knocked this one out of the park. If you own an iPhone and need to chat, meebo.com is easily one of the best options available.