As WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber, Line and WeChat are taking over, we are asking: what’s that about these 5 most famous mobile messaging apps that made them hugely popular?]
Successful doesn't mean popular anymore when we talk about mobile apps, but it can’t be more true for messengers. They can only justify their existence when used by a large group of people. It’s a gamble to develop a mobile messenger: unless the app finds its audience and catches on, it will be abandoned. Even those who like the app won’t be able to use it for communication if their family, friends and colleagues don’t have it installed.
Still, the idea of having hundreds of millions of active users per month is an alluring prize for experts in both native and cross-platform mobile development, so they risk and deliver new messengers, hoping their app will become a new hit. Do they still have a chance now, when there are so many messengers around? And can they, in any way, control what people choose, and somehow ensure a growing adoption?
As SimilarWeb’s world map suggests, almost every corner of the globe has now settled with that one messenger that suits them best. So, there are definitely some specific cultural and technical aspects at play that made the following top 5 apps dominate in particular regions.
WhatsApp: Pioneers Take It All
With 900 million active monthly users and up to 5 billion installs in total, WhatsApp is reportedly the most popular messenger in the world. It is available in 53 languages and is the top used messaging app in 107 countries across Africa and Eurasia (including Russia and India) as well as the entire South America and Mexico.
Powered by Erlang and the customized XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol), WhatsApp runs on most popular mobile and desktop platforms. The app mainly offers general messaging app features: text and file exchange, audio and video calls. Compared to other messengers, WhatsApp has the largest number of participants in a group chat (256 users), but still doesn’t support conferences.
WhatsApp’s popularity can be influenced by a combination of factors: its early release, low cost (free for one year, $0.99 for annual renewal), and its basic yet stable functionality. It also came pre-installed on some popular Android devices, mainly those launched by Samsung and Sony, which gave it a good exposure.
Still, many WhatsApp users are frustrated with the lack of personal space in its interface. After the app gets a user’s phone number to create an account, it automatically connects with all the contacts in the phone book who have a WhatsApp account too. Connected users – be they close friends or business partners – will see each other’s profile icons and the last time they opened the app. In a conversation, users mark the other person’s message as ‘read’ the moment they view it, and say they feel pressured by the app to answer (yet the recently introduced status update function is about to fix the issue).
Facebook Messenger: Backed Up by the Brand
By the time Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014, the former had already developed their own messaging mobile app using the MQTT protocol. Among today’s top 5 messaging apps, Messenger was the last to be released. Yet, with the Facebook brand recognized globally, the app didn’t struggle to catch up with the competitors. Even now it has the highest growing install rate getting roughly 50 million new users per month, which adds up to the current 1 billion active monthly users.
Facebook Messenger has an extended functionality: the app supports conference calls with up to 50 participants, offers instant games that are available in 30 countries and a chat bot shop. In February 2017, Facebook and TransferWise Ltd launched a money transfer bot that is available only in the US, at least for now.
It would be logical to suppose that on the world map the popularity of Messenger would mirror that of Facebook itself. However, the latest stats show that Messenger has a long way to go to catch up. Although the app is the most preferred messenger in the US, Canada, Australia as well as in other 55 countries, it didn’t manage to win over the Facebook users of South America, India, Western Europe and most of Africa, who still choose WhatsApp for their mobile messaging needs.
Viber: VoIP as a Core Feature
With about 1 billion total installs, over 800 million registered and 249 million monthly active users, Viber is the hit messaging app in Eastern Europe, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Libya. Developed for Android and iOS natively, Viber later became available for a range of other mobile platforms (including non-mainstream ones like Samsung Bada or Nokia S40) and Mac/Windows.
As Viber was the first mobile messaging app to introduce free VoIP, it was referred to as ‘the mobile Skype’. Unlike many other mobile messengers, Viber’s voice calling wasn’t just added to it as a feature, but rather formed the app’s entire initial concept. This still makes the app’s audio and video calling more tightly and naturally ingrained in the functionality.
After other messaging apps started to offer audio and video calls too, Viber lost some of its ground, mostly to WhatsApp. As both apps don’t have the conference call feature yet, the one to add it first could probably gain some advantage.
Just as chatting apps WhatsApp and Viber’s accounts are tied to phone numbers, and the scan of the phonebook adds all the saved contacts to the app, which is uncomfortable to some users. Yet what confuses the audience most is the app’s long list of permissions, which Viber developers explain in details themselves.
Line: Fun and Security Combined
NHN Japan created the Line app for their own communication needs during a telecom breakdown caused by the Tohoku earthquake, and didn’t strive for any public recognition. Yet, after the app’s official release, it went viral in Japan, Thailand and Taiwan. The three countries’ high population rates allowed the number of installs reach 700 million and helped the amount of monthly active users hit the 220 million mark.
The app’s functionality differs from other messengers a lot and is heavily influenced by the specifics of the Japanese culture. To a western-world user, Line would resemble a social network app, with its timeline, home screen, and a possibility to follow celebrities’ accounts. It also offers media bots, games (puzzles, simulations, battles and others), as well the largest amount of free and paid stickers, compared to other messengers (about 10,000).
Security is Line’s strong side. Along with the end-to-end encryption that ensures that no one, not even Line, can read or listen to a user’s conversations, the app has a special SPDY protocol that checks connection health prior to sending a message. The app also features the ‘Total Delete’ option, which changes the text messages’ code to zeros, making it impossible to restore the contents. In addition, there’s even the Bug Bounty program that lets creators to quickly fix the app’s vulnerabilities.
Initially developed for Android and iOS, Line is now also available for other mobile platforms (including Firefox OS and tablet iOS), as well as for desktop MacOS and Windows. The creators didn’t expect the app to get popular and didn’t originally plan to expand its functionality, so they went for the fastest cross-platform mobile development on Cordova. Now, sadly, the hybrid code with all the specifics of Cordova app development gets in the way of the app’s rich functionality, causing occasional lags.
WeChat: the All-in-One App
Although WeChat hasn't been successful in penetrating markets outside of China where it originated, it has 1.1 billion registered users and about 800 million monthly users in the country alone. Powered by Erlang, just like WhatsApp, WeChat is now available for all mobile platforms, MacOS and Windows.
The most outstanding thing about WeChat is its range of additional features, which create the so-called ‘WeChat lifestyle’. One of the features is WeChat Pay – the origin of Facebook Messenger’s money transfer idea. Apart from user-to-user money transfer, the app allows China’s residents to get special offers and sale coupons, get a taxi, find a job and even book a doctor’s appointment.
However, with sensitive information like that, security is still an unsettling issue in WeChat. The app is the only world-popular messenger with no end-to-end encryption and has a number of reported security breaches. So along with being known for its convenient multi-functionality, WeChat is notorious in China for being tied to numerous crimes.
Is there room for another messaging app?
Everything that each of these 5 apps offers to their audiences is obviously the basics that should be in any app planning to beat the leader on its grounds. Mexico won’t go for anything less easy and stable than WhatsApp, while China won’t tolerate less functionality than WeChat now offers. Still, both markets would appreciate an app that, besides giving them everything they’ve already had, would offer more privacy in the interface or higher security.
Covering the gaps that frustrate users in existing solutions is one way to go. Another is to think outside the box and deliver something revolutionary yet high-quality. Take the Telegram messenger for example: it promised the possibility to exchange files of literally any size and developed their own powerful protocol for that. The app stood out in the crowd and now is already a hit in Iran and Uzbekistan, with the global install rates gradually increasing.
One more option for chatting apps is to limit the target audience from the start and cater to a community rather than an entire country or a region. Discord – a desktop and mobile messenger for gamers with over 25 million users – is one of such examples. The creators knew the needs of their audience and introduced a powerful chat that works fast no matter how overloaded the CPU of the device is with the running game. What’s more, the app has a special status line that features the name of the game a user is currently playing.
On a final note
Psychological studies say people don’t like abandoning something they’re used to. At the same time, they also say that people crave changes and love new things. Don’t let this contradiction confuse you and never give in to the thought that the chatting apps market has already seen everything. As long as people dream big and mobile app development technologies evolve, there always can be something new and better than what the world already has.
Note - This is a sponsored post published by noeticsophia on behalf of the Author Anastasia Yaskevich, Business Analyst at ScienceSoft.