Top 5 iPhone Messaging Apps

NEW YORK TheStreet As the Apple ( AAPL) App Store approaches 50 billion downloads, it's a good time to pay homage to one of the most popular app trends. Messengers are all the rage these days. Cell phone providers beware, free calls and texts are easier than ever. With all the choices in the App Store, the hardest part is determining which platforms are the best.

Facebook ( FB) recently took note of the trend. Its messaging app is more popular than its regular app. Messaging is also integral to the newly launched, Facebook Home.

Even with the popular Facebook Messenger being available, there are still plenty of options for staying in touch with your friends. Sometimes social media just isn't enough. TheStreet took a look through the app store and created a list of the best messaging apps. Goodbye, smartphone bill.

Skype

You've officially been living under a rock if you haven't used Skype. The Luxembourg-based video messaging platform has been around for a decade. Even my 88 year-old grandmother knows about it. (Granted, she calls it "scope").

Founded in 2003, Skype was snapped up by eBay ( EBAY) for $2.5 billion in 2005. Microsoft ( MSFT) then purchased the video messaging service from eBay and a consortium of private investors for $8.5 billion in 2011. Today, Skype has upwards of 250 million active users. That's not including the Windows Live Messenger users that were converted last month.

Skype has a free app, currently among the top 50 downloads in the iTunes app store. The app allows you to place free video calls around the world. It also has an instant messaging service, that makes it easy to share photos or communicate via text. The Skype family also owns Qik video, an app that enables video calling with Instagram-like filters.

This free app is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, but requires iOS 5.0 or later. It is also available for Google's ( GOOG) Android.

WhatsApp

If you know what's up, you use WhatsApp. The app is consistently one of the top downloads in the iTunes store. It may cost 99 cents, but it essentially enables text messaging for free. WhatsApp also makes group messaging easy.

WhatsApp lets you put a status update, such as "at the movies," or "battery about to die." That way your contacts know why you're not getting back to them. WhatsApp also enables read receipts, so there's no need to confirm that your message was seen. Even before you send your message, it will tell you if your contact is active.

The messaging app makes it easy to incorporate video and other images (such as maps) into messages. It also lets you send voice messages to your friends throughout the globe. The service is especially popular in countries with expensive SMS (standard messaging services) rates. And with over 200 million active users, WhatsApp is bigger than Twitter.

WhatsApp is so popular, that it keeps fighting billion-dollar acquisition rumors. No, they are not in talks with Google or Facebook, but that doesn't mean they won't be, some day!

The app is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, but requires iOS 4.3 or later. It is also available for Android.

Voxer

Remember walkie talkies? They were the coolest, back in the day. (I recall using them on the ski slopes...before cell phones)! These days, Voxer aims to be a modern walkie talkie.

Voxer's app lets you send audio messages to friends anywhere. There's no need to call and wait for it to hit voicemail. Send a photo while you're at it. Voxer also makes it easy to send texts.

The best thing about Voxer is it lets you send audio messages to groups. Instead of calling all your friends and leaving voicemails, just record a quick voice note to share the same story with everyone. Keep the conversation flowing, by saving all your close friends in one group. In this era of typing and texting, sometimes it's just better to hear someone's voice.

This free app is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, and requires iOS 5.0 or later. It's also available for Android.

Kik Messenger

You'll get a kick out Kik Messenger. Similar to WhatsApp, Kik lets you send and receive unlimited messages, but at no additional cost. You can see when someone's read your message and know when they're about to type.

Like other messaging services, Kik enables photo and video sharing. But Kik is not for kids. You must be at least 17 years old to download it.

As far as privacy goes, Kik does not require you to reveal your phone number. These days, it's easy to find social media profiles by syncing your address book. But it can be nice to keep your social media profiles hidden from new acquaintances. Next time a guy asks for your number at a bar, give him your Kik. He won't know your last name...until you want him to.

This free app is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, but requires iOS 4.3 or later. It is also available for Android.

Viber

Viber will make you wonder why you even have a cell phone bill. The free service makes it easy for you to call anyone around the world...for free! Viber's app is pretty straightforward. It's designed to look like a normal phone call.

Users can send their contacts texts, photos and video messages as well. With 200 million users, the 2.5 year old start-up is a badly kept secret. That's up from 140 million users in December, and shows just how fast Viber is growing.

Viber is also great for conference calls. Connect with up to 40 participants. International calls won't cost you a penny. And it's ad-free.

This free app is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, but requires iOS 4.3 or later. It is also available for Android.

--Written by Katie Roof in New York--