With 3,500 Paying Customers, HipChat Launches A Native Mac Client To Vanquish The Lousy Adobe AIR App

HipChat has been doing some good things since it was acquired by Atlassian back in March 2012, including updating its iOS apps with much-needed improvements, but the sorry excuse for a Mac app it offered built on Adobe AIR remained a huge sore spot. Today, the company is officially launching its native Mac client in beta form, and it’s already a complete 180 from the previous version.

The native HipChat app is the number one requested feature from user’s of the service, which is why it was put into the priority queue for development and arrives before native clients for other platforms. It offers a number of improvements, including improved speed for things like logging in, changing rooms and tabs, typing response and more. It loses a heck of a lot fewer system resources, occupies less hard drive space, and has an improved layout which can handle far more open chats. Scrolling is butter smooth, and it works with OS X’s native dictionary, spellcheck, accessibility and notification center features.

But all of these pale in comparison to what I consider HipChat for Mac’s number one greatest ability – it can now handle animated GIFs of seemingly any size, without causing a kernel panic. The AIR version used to quit so many times during the day that most users I know gave it up for the web version long ago. Now it’s time to come back to a standalone app, and revel in the difference.

“It’s clear just the way that they’re taking AIR that we could do a lot more stuff building native apps, which AIR was just handcuffing us on,” HipChat co-founder Pete Curley explained in an interview about the switch to native. “This was really our first foray into this.” But it won’t be the last: Atlassian and HipChat are also working on native apps for Linux and Windows, to be launched at a later date.

AIR, Curley said, was a great solution for HipChat in the early days, since it meant they could code once and deploy on multiple platforms, saving precious time and engineering resources. But it was a case of “death by a thousand cuts,” Curley says, with things like the introduction of Retina displays, constant updates for AIR itself breaking app functionality, and issues like the handling of GIFs adding up to making keeping things on AIR untenable.

A browser-based web app is available as an alternative, but that also wasn’t a long-term solution. “There are very few apps that need to be desktop, and chat’s one of them,” Curley said. As an active web chat user, it’s definitely one of the things I prefer to keep segregated from the tangled nightmare of tabs that is my typical daily browser experience.

Even without a native Mac app, HipChat has managed some impressive growth since the Atlassian acquisition, including a threefold spike in users over the past 10 months, and an increase to 3,500 paying customers covering both small and large teams. Those users send 25 messages every second, adding up to around 2 million messages a day, and 29 percent of them are also hooked up via a mobile client, with 20 percent preferring iOS and 7 percent opting for Android.

HipChat’s native Mac client is a pleasure to use, I’ve found over the course of weeks of testing, and the company is iterating quickly on the beta to address any issues that pop up. Even the bugs it does have pale in comparison to the experience of using the AIR release, so I suspect Mac using HipChat customers will adopt the pre-final software as their daily solution without much delay.