Since we learned about the background of the smart phone messenger market and its current state in the last posting, let’s take a look at various mobile messenger services and their strategies for today’s competition.
- Mobile Messenger Services Take the Center of the Smartphone Market (1):
Various Messengers in the Global Market
Let’s see how messenger services differentiate themselves in the competitive market, then, based on their market situations and communication environments.
WhatsApp, the World’s Biggest Mobile Messenger App
WhatsApp, founded by Brian Acton and Jan Koum who were formerly employed by Yahoo, has become the world’s biggest mobile messenger by attracting 700 million members since 2009. The number of monthly active users is well over 400 million, and the number of messages sent daily is almost up to 35 billion. This is twice the size of LINE and KakaoTalk which are considered uprising competitors in the market. Though their services aren’t for free (free in the first year but $.99 from the second year) they make sure their membership fee doesn’t seem to compromise its popularity by supporting various languages (33 languages) and OS (iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows, and Symbian).
On the other hand, LINE and KakaoTalk focus more on profitable business models other than the messaging services such as advertisements and game platforms. WhatsApp, more concerned with its original role as a messenger, claimed that WhatsApp benefits the communication companies better in the long term because it encourages people to join their data plan. With this in mind, WhatsApp is tightening relationships with many telecommunication companies around the globe.
WeChat for Chinese users
WeChat is the English name for a Chinese messaging service called Weixin launched by Tencent in January 2011. It currently has 600 million members around the world, mostly composed of the users from Chinese communities even though it supports over 18 different languages. WeChat is one of the messengers that are growing based on its domestic market rather than a global market because of the huge influence of the governments support for it.
Tencent, a company for overall internet related services in China, succeeded in providing great smart phone UX for free. WeChat is now focusing on its new social networking services like Moment on which people can share their texts and photos and Look Around which is used to find other users around your current location. WeChat is now getting ready to make large investments in order to penetrate the global market with the enormous profit it earned from its domestic market through its monopoly-like services.
Facebook for a better mobile messenger
Facebook first started as a social network service and wasn’t very interested at the first in coming up with a messenger service. Recently however, it’s been showing tremendous interest in upgrading its mobile messenger service in order to heighten the users’ engagement and bond to Facebook by strengthening their mobile service quality. Voice messaging and m-VoIP services are definitely improving the utility of their messenger and, in turn, raising the value of their real-time communication service. Facebook also decided to include phone numbers in their user recognition system in order to reach a larger pool of potential users. Now you can use their messenger service even without a facebook account as soon as you put in your name and phone number to sign up. This change was made to make Facebook a better competitor against other mobile messenger services such as WhatsApp and is considered the most important turning point in its online community development.
LINE, a messenger platform with great content
LINE has gathered 560 million members in over 230 countries in 40 months since it was founded by NHN Japan in June of 2011. LINE’s success was possible because it positioned itself as a platform based on great content. It then integrated additional services including games, shopping, advertisements, music, and videos instead of providing a mere messaging service. Its sales ($454.2 million) in 2013 were extremely high compared to other messenger apps such as KakaoTalk ($201.8 million), WeChat ($72.4 million), and WhatsApp ($21 million). LINE is also planning to improve its mobile payment function so users can purchase their content more conveniently while keeping with their great content through partnerships with other companies.
LINE handles over 13 billion messages daily and its family apps have recorded the total of 1.1 billion downloads. LINE Camera also reached 100 million downloads in the U.S. including Central and South America, while having 51 game apps using its platform with 470 million downloads. Lately, LINE has been working on expanding its business territory into the character industry with its popular characters on their services. Line Friends sticker service especially improves the UX by giving its users the option to continue their conversations by using only images. The annual sticker sales have already reached nearly $200 million and have over 10,000 designs. LINE is now planning to extend their LINE Friends Store which sells character related products into the global market.
The Future of the Mobile Messenger Market
It seems quite clear that the mobile messenger market is going to become a new battlefield for IT. The mobile messenger market’s future can be summarized into three parts.
Firstly, telecommunication services are going to revolve around data related plans, as the sales from mobile messengers and internet phone services are increasing while that of conventional voice communication and SMS are decreasing. This means their plans are going to be calculated based on data provision instead of voice calls, then call and SMS services will be provided unlimitedly. Since the telecommunication companies already realize that voice calls cannot stay as their major source of profit, many expect them to readjust their charging plans based on their data plans.
Secondly, the right to be forgotten will become one of the major regulation issues in the mobile world as well. With privacy issues all over the internet, mobile messenger services are also experiencing similar discussions. Apple asks for permission before accessing a user’s information such as location, calendar, contacts, notes, and photos in order to protect privacy. This function, however, doesn’t give any option where one can allow partial access to private information, so the permission opens all of the contact information within the phone. This sort of thing can become a huge issue in the international market because each country has different regulations on privacy.
- The Right to be Forgotten, Remove Me from the Internet:
- The Era of Encrypting Saved Messages:
Lastly, a small number of companies will lead the global mobile messenger market. Right now, there are many different companies competing with each other in their own countries or regions, and are yet to have any specific power in the global market. However in the future, the competition trying to dominate the global market will become much fiercer, as we can see from these major companies’ business plan toward the international market. The battle between messengers like WhatsApp and KakaoTalk as well as telecommunication companies and other corporations who are working on better messenger services like Google and Facebook will begin soon. Mergers around messenger service providers are going to be seen quite commonly until there are only a few large companies left in the market.
Today, we learned about the size of the mobile messenger market and some of its major players. Even though people around the globe speak different languages and have different nationalities, we’re connected to each other through mobile messengers. The toughening competition gets much easier to understand once you start thinking about how much influence mobile messengers will have over our cultural lives. We’ve also seen how a large proportion of users concentrate on one service: Windows for PC, Google for search engines, and Facebook/Twitter for SNS. Will their power last forever, though? If KakaoTalk doesn’t respond fast to the changing trends, its power over the Korean messenger market may soon be shifted to some other company. Even though it’s impossible to perfectly predict the future market, it’ll be easier for you to find the right service for you once you get to know more about it.
Written by Jongho Choi, University reporter for LG CNS
 Monthly active users: the number of monthly active user may differ from the number of its members as it only include users those who actually use the app[back to the article]
 m-VoIP: An internet phone service using 3G telecommunication network. It is known to be cheaper than the other types of telecommunication services[back to the article]