In part one of our guide to ‘OTT apps’ we laid out the stats behind how messenger apps are changing the way the world communicates – and re-shaping the mobile market in the process. Now we take a closer look at each platform and how they differentiate themselves in a crowded global market.
WhatsApp passed one billion users in February 2016 – just six years after launch. At first, WhatsApp charged $1 a year for its app: no ads, no in-app purchases. After Facebook bought it for $19 billion in 2014, the charge was dropped, though Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg insisted the app would stay ad-free.
He’s been true to his word. Now, it seems as if Facebook will monetise WhatsApp by turning it onto a B2C tool. Zuckerberg wrote. “There are only a few services that connect more than a billion people. This milestone is an important step towards connecting the entire world.”
Facebook was quite late in to the chat app market, launching its own app in 2011. The delay didn’t hurt as Facebook Messenger was eagerly adopted by the social networks’ growing army of mobile users. By April 2016, it had 900 million monthly active users.
Like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger is free of ads. However, there were press reports in early 2016 that the company would commercialise its app with ads this year. Indications are that Facebook will avoid interruptive banners. More likely are lists of ‘suggested businesses’ or links related to ’bots’.
The latter refers to the introduction of chat bots through which users can ‘talk’ to brands as if they were human contacts.
Tencent’s messaging app has indisputably done most to establish the OTT app as a platform. While Facebook, WhatsApp et al offer basis communications services, WeChat support payments, banking, shopping, gaming and lots more.
Its base stands at 762 million monthly active users (MAUs), according to the company’s Q1 earnings report. And analysts say these users could transact $550 billion over WeChat this year.
But for all its success in China, WeChat has fared less well in other regions. The company embarked on blanket global marketing with a campaign led by Lionel Messi. Tencent has not disclosed its numbers, but it’s generally WeChat has not dented the dominance of incumbents.
The only messaging app to come close to Tencent’s WeChat in China is QQ – also created by Tencent. QQ was originally conceived as a PC-based social messaging service, and when WeChat was launched, Tencent directed QQ users to it.
But then QQ itself went mobile. In 2015, Tencent said in a financial report that 639 million of its 860 million QQ users – 74 per cent – logged into the service on mobile devices.
Viber was one of the first VoIP apps. Its original focus was cheap voice calls, but the Israeli-based company switched to text and content as users switched focus. The app claims 754 million subscribers and about 250 million active users per month.
Vibe’s user heartland is APAC and Eastern Europe. It was bought in 2014 by Japan’s Rakuten for $900 million.
At time of writing Line had just completed an IPO in Japan, raising $1.14 billion. This was the climax of journey begun in 2011, when the app was first launched.
Line has 218 million monthly active users, of which two thirds are in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia. The app is unlike most of its rivals in that it makes most of its income from stickers. These are emoticons you can buy to embellish your messages.
Line has expanded into games, video, music streaming and taxi hailing to reduce its reliance on stickers. Its revenue rose to more than ¥120 billion ($1.15 billion) last year from about ¥40 billion in 2013.
BlackBerry’s BBM was the app that popularised OTT messaging in the west. It was launched in 2005 for BlackBerry’s own devices, and quickly scaled to huge adoption. When BlackBerry’s hardware sales waned, the firm took the decision to launch BBM on other platforms. BBM went to iOS and Android on October 21, 2013. It recorded 5 million downloads in eight hours.
Today, BBM is really all about Indonesia. Usage is low in all other countries. But here, as of April 2016, the app was installed on 87.5 per cent of all Android devices.
Russia’s Telegram app only launched in 2014, but it has established itself as one of the small number of genuinely global message apps. Its USP is privacy and security. All messages are encrypted.
Telegram confirmed at Mobile World Congress in February that it had 100 million monthly active users – an increase of 38 million new users since May 2015. It has users in 200 countries sending 15 billion messages daily.
According to MEF’s messaging survey, three per cent of respondents use it regularly and one per cent use it most of all the apps.
Snapchat has enjoyed one of the most rapid rises of all chat apps. If you can call it a chat app. It was launched in 2011, but now has 150 million daily active users.
Snapchat rose to prominence with a simple idea: messages that disappear after one viewing. The messages can be photos or videos. Later, it added ‘stories’, which are records of a users’ day that last 24 hours and can be viewed by anyone of their contacts.
However, Snapchat is constantly adding more features. It’s had great success with filters and photo-manipulation tools that let people take amusing selfie pics and videos.
The app is especially popular with teens and young users, though recent stats show older users are catching on. Global Web Index says the 16-24 demographic dropped below 50 per cent in 2016 for the first time.
Nearly all – 90 per cent – of Korea’s 50m population use Kakao Talk. The app is part of life for most people in its home country. But it’s been less successful overseas. Like Line, Kakao Talk sells stickers and hosts a large number of social games. The company recently said it generates $30 million worth of revenue per month.
Kakao Talk merged with Korea’s online portal Daum Communications last October.