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Messenger apps are changing the way the world communicates – and re-shaping the mobile market in the process. As part of MEF’s Future of Messaging programme, here is part one of an essential guide to ‘OTT apps’…

‘OTT’ messenger apps emerged in a sudden burst at the start of the noughties. Though BlackBerry’s BBM was launched in 2005, the dominant products of today (Line, Viber, WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook messenger etc) all launched between 2009 and 2011.

They flourished at first by giving users ‘all you can eat’ messaging as part of the monthly data allowance. They also offered richer features – closed group chats, notifications that a message had been read, easy photo sharing – than SMS.

Messenger apps by monthly active users Source: Statista

In time, some of these OTT apps took advantage of vast user engagement by turning into platforms. They opened up to brands and retailers. They supported shopping, gaming, banking and so on.

According to the MEF’s Messaging report 2016, 56 per cent of people regularly use Facebook Messenger, 50 per cent of people regularly use WhatsApp and 42 per cent use SMS.

When asked which service they use the most, 37 per cent of respondents chose WhatsApp, 21 per cent Facebook Messenger and 16 per cent SMS.

eMarketer predicts that by 2018, the number of chat app users worldwide will reach two billion and represent 80 per cent of smartphone users.

Put together, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and Viber have 2.125 billion monthly active users globally.

Despite this, there does seem to be room for new players. SnapChat has reached 150 million daily users inside four years, while Telegram raced to 100 million monthly active users in two.

Messenger apps by launch date

  1. BBM 01/05
  2. Skype 03/09
  3. WhatsApp 05/09
  4. KakaoTalk 03/10
  5. Viber 12/10
  6. WeChat 01/11
  7. Line 06/11
  8. Facebook Messenger 08/11
  9. SnapChat 09/11
  10. QQ Mobile 12/13
  11. Telegram 08/13

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 14.32.08WhatsApp leads the world

In terms of geographic spread, WhatsApp is easily the leader in OTT apps. A survey of
187 countries by SimilarWeb found it was top in 109 countries, or 55.6 per cent of the world.
Facebook’s Messenger was second, the top app in 49 countries including Australia, Canada, and the US.

Viber was the only other messaging app to claim 10 or more countries – first in Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and others.

Line, WeChat, and Telegram were the top choice in a handful of countries, while apps that only lead on one country only are KakaoTalk in South Korea, imo in Cuba, Zalo in Vietnam, ChatOn in Eritrea, and BBM  in in Indonesia.

In part 2 of this OTT App guide, we’ll take a closer look at each of the apps themselves and how they’ve each attempted to differentiate themselves in a crowded sector.