Mobile Messaging Apps: A Primer

Posted: May 13, 2013 in Apps, GT, Mobile, Social, Technology
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The global mobile messaging app space is the new
social battleground. Startups that would have had
little chance of unseating Facebook’s dominance on
the web are attacking Zuckerberg’s empire by
refocusing social networking around the mobile phone
contacts book. Enter your phone number, and these apps already know who all your friends are. No need
to go laboriously recreating your social graph. Your
network is already sitting on your phone, just waiting
to be switched on. Smartphone growth is clearly fuelling the trend. More
and more cross-platform messaging apps are
exploding onto the scene to take advantage of the
powerful feature-set of a comms device that’s never
far from its owner – racing to leverage the opportunity
to disenfranchise Facebook and build comms and content empires of their own, adding more and more
social features to keep users engaged and socialising
within that app, not elsewhere — from photo-sharing
with built in Instagram-style filters, to HD video
calling, to meme-creation tools, to cutesy cartoon
characters. The phone is the tool being used to drive a wedge between Facebook and its users. Little by little, these mobile messaging apps are
eating away at the mindshare of grand web-based
social networks, even as they recreate their own
social content platforms online to extend and bolster
their mobile offerings. Facebook was slow to
recognise the threat but has since countered with its own Messenger app, and additional offerings like
SnapChat-rival Poke. How seriously Facebook is
taking the mobile messaging app threat now is
evident in its most recent mobile effort: Facebook
Home – an Android launcher that seeks to elbow its
way past rival apps by foregrounding Facebook’s own chat channel atop other apps. But Home may already be too little, too late. With
limited availability, the launcher can’t yet reach very
far – it’s had only around one million downloads to-
date — and will likely never make it onto iOS. There’s
no word on active users of Home but the launcher has
failed to impress those who are downloading it, with only a two-star rating on Google Play so far.
Facebook’s strategy of trying to stop the runaway
mobile messaging train by standing on the train
tracks looks like a pretty forlorn hope. A better bet is
for it to drive usage of its own mobile messaging apps
– but that’s where the geographical variation of messaging platforms poses a huge challenge. Different messaging apps are doing well in different
geographies. There’s huge and growing mobile
messaging variation, as more and more companies
wise up to the opportunity and launch their own
messaging attacks. A recent example is the Bharti/
Softbank telco joint venure messaging app, Hike, that has grabbed more than five million users since
launching in December. Another contender is U.S.
startup just.me, which launched its messaging play
last month in 155 countries and 32 languages. Add to
that Google looks to be readying a new unified
messaging play of its own, codenamed Babel. Below is a primer on some of the biggest mobile
messaging players in the space at present – it’s by
no means a comprehensive list, but even looking at
this handful of larger players gives a sense of how
diverse the space is, and how many serious
assailants are scaling the walls of Facebook’s grand social citadel. Zuckerberg and co are now fighting a
war on scores and scores of fronts. The big question
for Facebook is whether there can be just one social
messaging winner, and if not how can it stay relevant
when there’s so much chatter taking place
elsewhere? As Enders Analysis analyst Benedict Evans notes in
his latest newsletter: “There are so many mobile
comms apps with over 1m downloads on Google Play
that I’ve given up counting. Not clear to me that
there’ll be a consolidation, either.” [Top image by stevedotcarter via Flickr] Mobile’s Biggest Messaging Apps Skype Birthday: April 2009 (mobile app) Age: 49 months Basic service cost: Free Comms abilities: text, VoIP, group chats, send videos/photos Special powers: emoji, desktop client User-base: 280 million+ Geographical reach: Global Stronghold: Unknown Languages supported: 16 Latest reported revenues: $800 million when Microsoft acquired the company in 2011 * WhatsApp Birthday: July 2009 Age: 46 months Basic service cost: Free for a year then $0.99 yearly subscription; or one-off cost of $0.99 Comms abilities: text, group chat, share location/ photos/audio/video Special powers: preloaded on a dedicated hard key on Nokia Asha 210, anti-adverts User-base: 200 million+ Geographical reach: 100+ countries Stronghold: Spain Languages supported: 23 Latest reported revenues: Rumoured to be $100 million annually * KakaoTalk Birthday: March 2010 Age: 38 months Basic service cost: Free Comms abilities: text, VoIP, group chats/calls, send photos/audio/video, photo wall Special powers: games, stickers/emoji, celebrity accounts, Android launcher in the pipeline User-base: 90 million Geographical reach: Global Stronghold: South Korea Languages supported: 13 Latest reported revenues: $45 million in 2012 * Kik Messenger Birthday: October 2010 Age: 30 months Basic service cost: Free Comms abilities: text, share photos/images/videos Special powers: emoji, cards: aka HTML5 apps inside the platform including games, meme-generator,
sketches, YouTube videos etc; open API User-base: 50 million+ Geographical reach: Global Stronghold: Canada/Australia Supported languages: 13 Latest reported revenues: None yet * Viber Birthday: December 2010 Age: 29 months Basic service cost: Free Comms abilities: text, VoIP, group chat, desktop-to- desktop video calling, share photos/location Special powers: stickers/emoji, desktop client User-base: 200 million Geographical reach: 193 countries/global Stronghold: Monaco Languages supported: 27 Latest reported revenues: None yet * WeChat/Weixin Birthday: January 2011 Age: 28 months Basic service cost: Free Comms abilities: text, VoIP, HD video chatting, group chats, send audio/photos/location, walkie-talkie
mode, live group chat Special powers: emoji/stickers, photo wall, locate nearby/other WeChat users who are also looking to
connect, leave audio messages for strangers to pick
up, official accounts, desktop client, open API,
gaming platform in the works User-base: 300 million Geographical reach: 30+ countries Stronghold: China Languages supported: 15 Latest reported revenues: None yet * Line Birthday: June 2011 Age: 23 months Basic service cost: Free Comms abilities: text, VoIP, group chat, social timeline, share photos/location/audio/video Special powers: Kawaii characters with own cartoon show & merchandising, stickers, games, celebrity
accounts, desktop client User-base: 150 million registered users Geographical reach: Global Stronghold: Japan Languages supported: 12 Latest reported revenues: $59m in Q1 2013 * Facebook Messenger Birthday: August 2011 Age: 21 months Basic service cost: Free Comms abilities: text, VoIP in select markets, send photos/audio Special powers: stickers/emoji, Chat Heads (on Android), integration with desktop Facebook User-base: Facebook does not break this out but estimated 60 million in November 2012 Geographical reach: Global Languages supported: 22+ Stronghold: Unknown Latest reported revenues: Not disclosed

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