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Skype buys GroupMe, has eyes set on mobile messaging

Skype's latest acquisition shows it's keen to compete against BBM and iMessage, with group messaging its key feature.

Skype could be improving the group messaging in its mobile services, as it's just bought GroupMe, a mobile messaging app that focuses on just that, Engadget reports. Skype already has some support for this in both its desktop application and its current mobile app, but it's very limited.

By buying GroupMe, Skype is throwing its hat into the data-based mobile messaging ring, currently dominated by RIM's BlackBerry Messenger. Apple's iMessage will be the first real competitor to BBM when it's launched as part of iOS 5, but it will have the exact same core problem: it's a single platform app, so you can only talk to your friends if they have the same kind of phone.

In the same way that BBM is BlackBerry exclusive, iMessage will only exist on iOS devices. This is where applications such as WhatsApp, Kik Messenger and PingChat come in: they're cross-platform, so you can talk to anyone. But at the end of the day, they're relatively unknown, whereas Skype's user numbers stretch into the hundreds of millions.

But why would Skype buy a company like GroupMe when it already has a mobile app? The answer is simple: they have totally different purposes. Skype itself is very good for chatting, voice calling and video calling, but its mobile app is lacklustre, especially on Android, and is very data intensive.

GroupMe, on the other hand, is reasonably lightweight in terms of data usage, its group messaging is very well implemented, and its app is easy to use. Furthermore, if you have a dodgy data connection, GroupMe can use SMS messaging instead, which is a smart touch.

It's truly cross-platform too, with a newly released Windows Phone app complimenting the typical Android, BlackBerry and iOS releases. The only platform missing is Symbian, but nowadays that's not such a bad thing. There's even a Web Chat interface, although this does not support one-to-one direct messaging yet.

As far as integrating GroupMe with Skype's existing product, the intention is to keep it as a separate brand, but look for the two converging over time. So, with the backing of Skype, will GroupMe be able to compete with BBM and iMessage? We certainly hope so.

Do you think GroupMe will succeed where other cross-platform messaging apps have fallen flat? We'd like to hear your thoughts in the comments below, or on our Facebook wall.