You’ve likely heard of Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, and Snapchat, but did you know there are several other growing companies looking to capitalize on the global mobile messaging trend? A host of instant messenger app competitors with names such as Kik, Line, and Viber aim to conquer the relatively new market.
What’s the appeal of these apps? First, they do not use up SMS (Short Messaging Service) allowances or other data when connected to Wi-Fi. Second, they allow for more private communication than traditional social platforms such as Facebook or Twitter while meeting various needs that plain old texting may not satisfy. Some, particularly in Asia, have become massive media, entertainment, and e-commerce hubs.
The practice of sending instant messages through an app has been popular overseas, but the US is poised to catch up, especially among the Millennial set. The trend is reflected in the analysis conducted: 2015 marks the first time Pew Research Center asked specifically about mobile messaging apps as a separate activity from traditional cell phone texting. More than one-third of US adult smartphone owners (36%) and nearly half of US smartphone owners ages 18-29 (49%) use messaging apps, according to Pew’s recent survey on mobile messaging and social media.
Facebook Messenger is the #1 messaging app in the US (in terms of the percent of smartphone owners opening the app at least once per month), followed by Google Hangouts and Snapchat, according to Forrester research cited in AdAge. All offer free text messaging, but are adding services such as games and social networking at a rapid clip, with the goal of attracting more users and advertisers. Let’s take a look at a few of the others.
- Kik — Canada-based Kik joined the unicorn club recently to reach a $1 billion valuation in its latest round of funding, when it received $50 million from Tencent (the biggest Internet company in China). The app has 240 million registered million users and is attempting to monitize its services through advertising and digital currency. Tencent also has its own popular IM apps, including WeChat and QQ.
- Line — Line is a unit of South Korean Internet portal operator Naver Corp. and has more than 200 million monthly active users. This app is popular in Asia, where the middle-class population is set to grow to 1.8 billion by 2020; specifically its major markets are Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia. In addition to messaging and voice, its services include mobile payments, taxi-hailing, online shopping, and music streaming.
- Viber — Founded in Tel Aviv less than five years ago, Viber was acquired by Japanese Internet firm Rakuten in 2014. The app gets most of its revenue from selling stickers and emoticons to users, which number about 600 million globally. The company is just starting a US marketing push.
- What’sApp — This company made headlines in 2014 when Facebook acquired it for $19 billion. Facebook was no doubt attracted to the firm’s large user base, which has reached nearly 800 million monthly active users. What’sApp gained success marketing its free texting service. Users can also set up chat groups and send unlimited images, videos, and audio messages.
Amy Schein is an Industry Specialist at First Research, where she covers various aspects of the media industry. She earned her BS and MA in media studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Follow Amy on Twitter.