Hands on with Touch: Is a solid product enough at this stage?

Messaging apps. The words could just make you sigh at this point. From Facebook to WhatsApp to Apple (s aapl), everyone has something to offer in this space. So can a new entry at this point possibly stand a chance? Touch, a new app available for iOS, and also BlackBerry (s rimm) and Android (s goog) devices, is sure hoping so.

Cross-platform: check.

Touch, has one thing going for it right away (besides a great bargain on a good domain name, touch.com) in that it’s immediately available for Android, iOS and BlackBerry. No “Android version coming soon” or “BlackBerry? Why bother?” for them, and that’s a very good thing in terms of encouraging user adoption. That’s mostly because it isn’t entirely new; it was PingChat, but has been rebranded as Touch, along with the introduction of its new “experience” sharing features. But long-standing leaders in the space like WhatsApp Messenger also have cross-platform access covered, and also boast a lot of momentum, so it alone won’t guarantee success.

Group messaging: check.

Another thing Touch has covered is group messaging. You can add people to group chats, see participants at a glance via profile pics, and leave group chats whenever you wish just by swiping to delete the message thread in your main list view. It all works well, and as advertised (though Touch’s servers are having some sporadic trouble at launch, so there’s been a few issues with messages getting through) but you won’t find too much that isn’t available in Facebook Messenger here.

With one-on-one messages, you’ll get “Sent/Delivered/Read/” receipts, just like you would on BlackBerry Messenger. You can’t, however, turn off read receipts like you can on iMessage if you’d rather not let someone know whether you have or haven’t check out what they said.

Photo sharing: check.

Touch’s major changes revolve around “experience sharing.” Essentially, this is photo sharing, wherein you choose a picture from an existing album or take a new one, upload it to Touch and select friends to share with. You also choose a name for the experience, and then friends you share it with can comment. It also reports whether or not your friends have viewed what you share. In this way, Touch sort of competes with Path, or with Instagram, but with a much more private audience, since you handpick individuals to share with.

A capable product in a crowded market

Touch is a good app; it’s cleanly designed, easy to use and strips away unnecessary features and frills to make conversation the real focal point of the experience. But it’s also in a tough spot; I found it hard to find anyone I know using it, despite its having taken over PingChat’s reported 12 million users. Plus, for photo sharing, Path’s gorgeous version 2.0 has it beat in almost every way, besides the ability to be more selective with who sees your photos, and a landscape mode for browsing and composing.

There are some things that work in Touch’s favor, however, including the ability to limit sharing but in a better way than most dedicated private messaging solutions provide. Also, there’s an HTML5 version in the works, which could open up Touch’s cross-platform appeal to a very broad audience, since it’ll allow desktop and all tablet users to participate, too.

Touch has a lot of polish and a lot of promise, and beats the user experience of WhatsApp in my opinion, judging by my trials on Android and iPhone devices. But its staying power will depend on whether or not it can convince more users to jump on board; tough to do at this stage in the group messaging competition.