According to research by IHS Technology, a UK consultancy firm, the number of people using top messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and SnapChat increased by more than a billion in 2015 to a combined 4.2 billion active users.
Messaging apps have effectively pushed out social networks to become the most dominant platforms and apps on mobile devices – and with good reason. These messaging apps have circumvented the entire model of SMS messaging services provided by wireless carriers. Most of these messaging apps are free to download, eliminating any texting fees users would have to pay. This benefit makes messaging apps especially appealing to areas with developing economies like Africa and India.
IHS Technology’s report found that the three most popular messaging apps, Facebook’s Messenger, WhatsApp, and China’s WeChat, make up over 70 percent of users on messaging apps.
As of February 2016, 1 billion people use WhatsApp, making it the second most popular app, after Facebook Messenger. Blogger Maron Price suggests WhatsApp’s usage has increased tremendously because users can now use WhatsApp on their PC.
However, even some of the original messaging apps are gaining a new following. In 2014, BlackBerry’s messaging app BBM had 113 million registered users and 85 million monthly active users.
The Yahoo Messenger, circa 1998, has undergone a recent revamp to compete in this expanding field. To keep up with the latest apps, Yahoo Messenger boasts special features like the ability to unsend messages and the ability to add GIFs to messages quickly. These new features are designed to attract a younger audience.
Gone are the days of basic messaging systems. To gain users and increase engagement, each app tries to find new and inventive ways to attract users.
One of the relatively new apps is Snapchat, which launched in 2011, has been a major hit among teenagers and young adults and has 100 million daily active users. It allows users to send both videos and photos that disappear after the recipient views them. The ephemeral nature of the app makes it an engaging one as the average number of photos shared every second is 9,000.
After gaining users and maintaining engagement, the next crucial step for app creators is to turn a profit, which can prove to be the most difficult aspect of free messaging apps.
China’s WeChat users are estimated to use the app for about 1,100 minutes a month. Not only have they engaged their subscribers, but WeChat has already mastered making money through selling virtual goods like stickers and games – which makes up about 85 percent of its revenue – and through businesses that use the app with an electronic payment feature. This allows users to do things like make restaurant reservations and pay for taxies.
Both Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp are planning to make money through businesses using the apps to communicate directly with consumers to help them make reservations and book flights, hoping to achieve the same monetary success as WeChat.
LINE is a Japan-based messaging app, and it too has begun to turn a profit with 20 percent of its revenue coming from the sale of digital stickers and about 60 percent coming from in-app games. In 2014, the app had over 560 million registered users and 170 million monthly active users.
Another lesser known app is Viber. Acquired by the Japanese company Rakuten, in 2014 Viber had 711 million unique users in December 2015 and has hopes of expanding their mostly Asia-based users to the U.S.
Since messaging apps have only recently gained popularity in the U.S. compared to overseas, competition for creating the best method for making a profit seems to be the number one priority.
It is becoming increasingly popular for free messaging apps to include various in-app purchases or services as an incentive for users to spend money and time in the app.
Kik Messenger, a Canadian-based app, was introduced in 2009, but has only recently gained popularity among teens and 68 percent of its users are in the U.S. As of February 2016, Kik has 275 million users with an average of 250,000 new Kik Messenger users being added daily.
Kik’s appeal to a younger generation shows with its constant updates to create a better user experience, such as in-app games, a built-in web browser, a rotating selection of GIFs, and promoted chats that allow Kik users to connect with brands more intimately.
By making its advertisements subtle through GIFs and promoted chats, Kik has the potential to turn these features into revenue to achieve the successes seen by WeChat and LINE.
How quickly these free apps begin to turn their mega user bases into equally large profits may be their most difficult feat. But it is clear that for now, messaging apps are here to stay and they might replace the traditional texting provided by wireless carriers.
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