The Speed of Sound

Ever since WhatsApp’s purchase last week, Telegram has been the craze for mobile texting. Hordes of users are adopting Telegram at a speed of over 100 new registrations per second.

Telegram’s main strongpoint when compared to WhatsApp are its security and privacy features. On top of that it offers an open API and protocol and is “cloud-based” (thanks to this Telegram has desktop clients).

But the thing you hear users talk about the most? Telegram’s speed.

Does Speed Matter?

Granted, although benchmarks are nowhere to be found, Telegram really seems to deliver messages faster than WhatsApp. Part of this might be the difference of scale. WhatsApp has approximately 450 million users and handles a huge amount of messages every day (e.g. 54 billion messages on the most recent December the 31st). We will have to see how Telegram will hold up to its promise now that so many users seem to be jumping WhatsApp’s ship. And right now, it’s not doing so well.

But does it actually matter that Telegram delivers messages a couple of hundred milliseconds faster than WhatsApp does? Yes and no.

Rationally it doesn’t matter that much. The bottleneck with mobile chat is typing. No matter how fast the infrastructure, typing messages on touch keyboards is still a dreadfully slow experience.

Emotionally, however, speed makes a big difference. Whenever you receive a text you are bound to read it immediately and fire of a reply. And this is where it gets interesting: users are interacting with the app in short bursts of attention throughout the day. Telegram might not get as much continuous interaction as Angry Bird gets, but Telegram has hundreds of interaction moments per user per day. And every interaction moment is an opportunity to delight the user. Telegram understands this point very well.

WhatsApp vs. Telegram

Let’s compare WhatsApp’s “message sent“-sound (on the left) with Telegram’s (on the right).


Both of them are short, yet Telegram’s is higher pitched. Telegram’s sound, combined with the speedier process of getting the typed-in message into the chat window, makes the overall process seem faster and conveys a happier feeling. It makes me feel good. And the first few times I experienced it, I quickly wanted to send another message.

WhatsApp’s sound is more of a formal end-of-the-road kind of notification. Translated to voice, WhatsApp says “It’s done, now move on please.”. Telegram says “Done! Anything else I can do?”.

Sound Plays an Important Role in UX

Sound plays an essential role in the experience a user has with your mobile product. This is something where the web is clearly lagging behind, as sound in web apps is incredibly uncommon. We don’t really expect (or want) most desktop apps to produce sound – safe for apps like OmmWriter which have it as their core feature – but sound is very much accepted and expected in mobile experiences.

Yet, most web apps don’t feature sound. To prove my point at the hand of another recent craze: even the HTML5 version of Flappy Bird doesn’t feature sound.

Getting Started

With the coming of HTML5’s audio tag there are less technical hurdles to overcome when using sound in web applications. Hopefully sound won’t be treated like an after-thought in web apps soon. But just as with everything else: use where appropriate. I, for one, will definitely experiment with sound in the next mobile web app project I work on.

Want to experiment with sound in web apps yourself? Here are some excellent resources to get you started:

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