@ThreemaApp Mobile Messaging

Threema Logo

Today Vadim blogged about Telegram, another in a long LINE (see what I did there?) of instant messaging apps. His comments on the privacy provided by Telegram reminded me of Threema though, which Ruben and I have been using these past few months.

Ruben first introduced this app to me as a great cross-platform application for chatting when Twitter DMs no longer reliably served us anymore. Given that I was using an Android phone at the time, and Ruben’s love of and concerns around privacy and security, it was a natural decision to try it out. He had heard great things from various technology podcasts.

Encrypted, or so they said

Just as Telegram is encrypted, Threema is also encrypted but uses end-to-end encryption, which despite having crashed Network Security classes for a semester is still greatly over my head — so I’ll leave that to Ruben to take apart if he wishes. Regardless, it means only you and the intended recipient can read your messages, even the server operators/admins cannot see the messages because they do not have the encryption keys. I don’t know personally if this is a guarantee that Telegram can also uphold.

Unlike Telegram, Threema doesn’t have options like that of Snapchat also, where messages can self destruct after a certain period — which is fine for me, as I like a record of messages I have received in case I ever need to go back and look for anything, which I have. I don’t believe a self-destruct is a feature I would personally use.

What has it going for Threema for me though is that when you first create an account with the services, it creates a unique key for you and sends you a SMS or e-mail for validation, to prove your identity. Then when you share your Threema ID with anyone online, or synchronise your contacts, public keys are retrieved from the server and bring the contact to ‘red’ (if not found in contacts) or ‘orange’ level (if found in contacts).

However you can take it a step further if you meet your Threema contacts in real life by scanning a QR code of their Threema ID from their physical phone, bringing them to ‘green’ level, ensuring these keys are entirely verified.

Designed with quirks

I don’t know much about WhatsApp, but Threema is said to have a ‘WhatsApp-inspired’ interface. Personally I’m just liking the fact that I am able to change the font to a size that I like, and my background if I choose to, and the time of sending is clear. Telegram’s operation where both users need to be online does not really work to my use case, as I assume then I wouldn’t be able to leave messages for the other party to check later.

It has its particular quirks, such as having to wait until the bar across the top goes from red to green (I can only assume meaning that you’ve made a connection with the server and its established your identity) before you can send or receive any messages, which can sometimes be aggravating in a low-signal area. Switching off the screen or switching away from the app before the message has properly sent may sometimes cause it not to be sent, and sent the next time a message goes through instead.

Nonetheless, this is very workable, and I also like the fact that the message received is not displayed on screen, but simply who the message is from — to avoid those prying eyes. Try sending read receipts from an iPhone 4 though, if you happen to still be using one, and you may quickly see it crash however.

Threema is a Swiss app with only three employees, which is now widely used by those in Germany after Facebook acquired WhatsApp earlier this year. If the Germans are using it, you can’t get wrong, right? Not to mention my boyfriend is half-German, so I can see why he would be attracted to the German take on things… Just like Vadim is interested in the Russian. Telegram sounds interesting, but for now and the forseeable future, Threema will be my app of choice.

Threema does come at a price, of $1.99. There’s also a TechCrunch article, if interested. Wouldn’t you be interested to know that they also have Groups now — I only have one contact there though. ;)