The lengthy and growing list of mobile messaging apps

While you may not have written any tedious blog posts or drafted the first chapter of your book over the holidays, odds are good that you at least tweeted “Happy New Year” or texted your mom a quick snapshot from Christmas morning festivities.

It’s true, short form communication is officially ubiquitous, and “messaging wars” is becoming such a common term that you might actually mistake it for the next big iPhone gaming addiction. In case you are still not convinced that messaging is taking over the world, consider the fact that Instagram just added direct messaging for the first time, and Twitter has amplified its DM capabilities in recent weeks. Like it or not, messaging is an exploding market.

I’ve been scouring the darkest corners of the Internet to dig up all possible information on the mobile messaging madness. As of the time/date of this post, I’m looking at 15+ apps that have hundreds of thousands of users with a simple focus on creating messages and making phone calls through in-app experiences. While you may not be using one of these apps (yet!), there is no question that the market is huge, and consumers are abandoning their native messaging apps in truckloads.

Mobile messaging apps typically fall into one of three groups: Consumer chat apps, wifi calling apps, business messaging apps.

Mobile Messaging Wars

1) Consumer chat apps

  • Leaders: WhatsApp, MessageMe, Tango, Line, GroupMe, WeChat, BBM, Facebook Messenger and Kik.
  • Focus: Create a better, more personal mobile messaging experience using Wifi to transmit messages. These apps boast seamless UIs and advanced features, and they are designed to become the primary place to hang out with friends on your smartphone. Not only do these apps allow you to send YouTube videos, custom-created content and branded stickers, but you can also play games with your friends while chatting.
  • Features: 1:1 messaging, group chats, multimedia messaging, gaming.
  • I was really surprised that … Kik & BBM are the only messaging apps in this category that let you sign up without a mobile phone number. By requiring a phone number, the other apps are limiting their user base in a significant way (think teens with iPods & Asian markets with a heavy pay-as-you-go user base). Kik & BBM empower consumers to message from any mobile device that has WiFi, so their users are not limited to a smartphone tied to a carrier plan.
  • How do they make money? All of these apps are FREE to download and are surviving (and mostly thriving) from in-app purchases. Consumers are buying sticker packs for more personality in their messages, but the real money-maker in these apps appears to be in gaming. These apps already have a captive audience, so integrating 3rd party games, especially games with more in-app purchase opportunities offer huge revenue potential.
  • Moral of the story: Your kids and friends in other countries have already switched to consumer chat apps as their primary form of messaging. You will probably be switching soon too. Stay tuned to see which app becomes ubiquitous in the US in 2014, because you’ll probably be left behind if you stick with iMessage or your native chat apps. Oh, and did we mention there’s a ton of money being made with these apps? Yes, truckloads of money.

2) Wifi Calling Apps

  • Leaders: Voxer, Viber, KakaoTalk, Skype, Line.
  • Focus: Facilitate faster, simpler communications using only a Wifi connection. While these apps all include 1:1 messaging as a feature, their main purpose is facilitating phone calls through wireless, so you can make calls from any country, to any city on the planet, for any length of time, with no carrier charges.
  • Features: 1:1 messaging, group chats, multimedia messaging, voice calls, video chat.
  • I was really surprised that … more of my friends are not using these apps. When I launched each of these apps, I synced my contacts and found that 1-3 of my friends were each using these apps. One app did not seem to be favored over others, and the friends who were using the apps were notorious travelers. Also, like consumer messaging apps, most of these calling apps are still tied to a mobile phone number, eliminating the use case for non-cellular mobile devices.
  • How do they make money? Like the consumer messaging apps, these guys are making most of their money from in-app purchases including stickers. The exception to this is Voxer, which has a pro version available for $2.99/month with expanded features. Additionally, Voxer offers a business version aimed at replacing 2-way radios and phone calls at $9.95/employee/month.
  • Moral of the story: Having unlimited phone minutes is no longer a big deal. If you are connected to Wifi and have one of these apps, there is no reason to worry about extra carrier charges for crossing country borders or exceeding your monthly limits. Depending on how Wifi continues to expand, these apps may make your phone’s “phone” function far less important and potentially obsolete.

3) Business Messaging Apps

  • Leaders: Cotap, HipChat, BBM for Business
  • Focus: Promote and enable better internal communications by providing a dedicated messaging channel for enterprise messaging. Employees can join their “company network” and securely message co-workers from a mobile device without disclosing personal contact information.
  • Features: 1:1 messaging, group chats, directory, secure encryption (but not HIPAA-level security).
  • I was really surprised that … without full internal MDM (mobile device management), these apps all require a corporate email address for login. While they do eliminate the use of personal information for communicating, the corporate email login requirement immediately limits these apps to desk-workers. This is potentially eliminating 60% of all American workers from the user base and cannot be an effective tool for reaching workers who are truly mobile/non-desk.
  • How do they make money? These apps follow the “freemium” structure, with the initial download being free. They offer enterprise subscriptions in the range of $2/employee/month for advanced features and integrations.
  • Moral of the story: These apps will no doubt continue to grow in popularity alongside desktop productivity and project management applications. However, if they maintain the corporate email address as a point of entry, they will continue to alienate the non-desk population.

Full disclosure: Part of my job here at Red e App is to understand the mobile messaging space and to better understand what makes our app unique. You can browse our site for all of the details, but here are some brief highlights: Red e App is focused on enterprise mobile communications that allow employees to communicate better with their organization. Like many of the apps highlighted above, Red e App facilitates peer-to-peer communications, but we also empower management and leadership to push communications from the top down and to receive feedback from the bottom up.

Red e App is also in the category of “so much more” than just messaging. While some of the consumer apps are trekking into this territory, gaming and stickers are not exactly the paths to employee productivity. Red e App facilitates secure file distribution, important content storage, and quick in-app references to empower employees.

While this article doesn’t cover every single mobile messaging app on the market, I have made an effort to cover the leaders and some of the driving features. Am I missing any apps that you use every day in the mobile messaging space, or apps that you think will make a big splash in 2014? Please leave a note in the comments, or find me on Twitter @_hannahbeasley.

Hannah Beasley
Client Development

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