Mobile messaging apps: A global growth phenomenon
Many of us cannot fathom a world without mobile messaging apps. For South Africans, WhatsApp has replaced BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) as the app of choice. According to Arthur Goldstuck, MD of technology consu l t a nc y World Wide Worx, WhatsApp has surpassed t he 12m mark i n SA, with r i va l WeChat hovering at around 5m users ( BBM and Mxit are both on course to drop below 4m users this year, based on rough estimates).
Our addiction to instant messaging ref lects a global trend – according to Flurry, a US-based mobile analytics firm, the use of mobile messaging apps grew by 103% worldwide during 2014.
Facebook- owned WhatsApp i s arguably the leading service, with more than 700m monthly active users, while other popular options include WeChat, with well over 400m monthly active users; Viber, which reports it has more than 200m monthly visitors; and Line, Japan’s most popular messaging app, with 170m users.
SO, WHAT IS DRIVING OUR FIXATION ON THESE APPS?
Goldstuck believes that it has a lot to do with what he calls the “network effect”, and the ease of use that they offer. “The key to WhatsApp is that it’s so user-friendly and it ’s simple to add people onto your WhatsApp – all you need is their cell number,” he explains. “On other platforms, like BBM, you have to i nvite someone to connect with you, which doesn’t lend itself to ‘ f indability’.”
The ‘ f indability’ factor could also be a major reason why rival WeChat, owned by the Chinese internet giant Tencent*, hasn’t been able to challenge WhatsApp in SA – at the moment, South Africans “don’t f ind enough other people on it”, says Goldstuck.
MORE THAN A MESSENGER
When looking ahead at the potential future of these apps, however, WeChat is pioneering an entirely different concept to its rivals: it is essentially a social platform, with instant messaging being merely one of many services it offers.
In China, for example, WeChat is used to make payments, book plane tickets and play games – among many other things. According to analysts, WeChat i s now one of t he major portals for Chinese consumers to f ind new mobile games – last quarter, Tencent’s mobile games revenue alone was around $420m (R4.8bn).
I n S A , We C h a t ’ s u n i q u e microjobbing service, M4JAM (Money for Jam) is proving to be popular, having hosted multiple campaigns for over 40 major local brands since its launch six months ago.
“Microjobbing is the big success story [for WeChat in SA] thus far, and it reveals the extent to which WeChat can be adapted to local services and needs,” adds Goldstuck. *Naspers owns a stake in Tencent. Media24, which publishes Finweek, is a subsidiary of Naspers.