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What Skype’s purchase of GroupMe means for the future of mobile messaging

by Morgan Phelps

The mobile messaging landscape is set for another shakeup following Skype’s purchase of GroupMe, a mobile group messaging provider than was created at the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in New York in 2010.

"The GroupMe team has created an incredibly sticky group messaging experience that works across mobile devices and platforms, making this a perfect addition to the voice, video and text products in the Skype family," Skype CEO Tony Bates said of the deal, which is expected to close Monday.

Although Research in Motion initially had the edge on mobile-to-mobile messaging outside the SMS arena with BlackBerry Messenger, the competition has finally caught-on and may race ahead before the end of the year. Apple plans to include the iMessage app with its release of iOS 5, which will provide an iOS-to-iOS exclusive messaging system that bypasses carriers’ built-in texting plans. Some are also expecting Windows to implement some form of secure, exclusive messaging in WP7, made possible through Skype’s acquisition of GroupMe and Microsoft’s planned purchase of Skype. Additionally, Skype is already imbedded into Verizon’s smartphone offerings, meaning GroupMe could soon be included for free on its phones.

Outside of built-in, OS-specific messaging options other than text, in the past year there have been other offerings launched such as Facebook Messenger, textPlus, Google Chat, the Huddle feature on Google+ and GroupMe. Some of these applications only allow users to communicate if they both are signed up for the service – such as Facebook and Google – but they still offer a great outlet for communicating on mobile devices without incurring the fees of texting.

Skype’s acquisition of GroupMe, and the anticipated integration of Skype into Window’s mobile operating system with Microsoft’s purchase of Skype, will likely bridge the gap between OS-specific messaging services and third-party outlets. Others, including RIM’s market-leading BBM service, will have to work hard to outpace the growth potential of the combined force of Skype’s video capabilities with the mobile group messaging power of GroupMe.