The first wave of messaging apps on smartphones had mainly one goal: To replace texting/SMS and offer better messaging at much lower cost. The instant messaging apps started with sending simple text messages, and then soon added the ability to exchange photos and other digital content, as well as nice features like delivered receipts. Nowadays, many messaging apps are far superior to texting/SMS, and several even offer group chats. To better understand, what the next wave of messaging apps will improve, it makes sense to have a closer look at current trends in the messaging space.
Stickers, Fun and Personal Messaging
Stickers have probably been the biggest trend among messaging apps for the last couple of months. In addition to the classical emoticons (emoji), stickers offer users an additional way to express themselves – referring to the questionable quote: “a sticker says more than a 1000 words”. Most major providers (e.g. Line, Viber, Kakao Talk, ChatON) have added stickers of all sorts: Comic figures, cartoons, art, popular brands, etc. These stickers are often available in packages, and in many cases they cost between $1 and $2. Stickers have become a substantial source of revenue for messaging apps – especially for the Asian providers, which generate millions of dollars with stickers.
Another way to make texting more fun and personal is the introduction of custom fonts. If a message can be sent in a custom font like a handwriting, marker, news or comic type, it enables the user to better express themselves and gives the message a personal note. Furthermore, with custom themes or backgrounds users can receive kind of a “mobile postcard”. The first messaging app that introduced custom fonts and themes for more personal messaging was Grouptime, but other providers seem to start to follow.
Single Purpose Messaging Apps
Snapchat was one of the first popular single purpose messaging apps. Snapchat allowed users to send photos only, and assured that they are deleted on the recipients device automatically. Recently, some other apps have tried to be successful with the single purpose approach as well: DingDong focuses on location sharing only and GIF Chat enables users to exchange animated GIFs only. The success of the single purpose messaging apps remains to be seen. If they offer differentiated functionality or a use case that cannot be easily replicated by the leading messaging apps, they have a chance to establish a niche for their product. However, e.g. a standard location sharing feature alone is probably not enough to make such a simple app attractive for a broader set of users.
Better Group Messaging and Sharing
While group chats are a standard by now, the users are often not satisfied with standard group chat functionality anymore: For sharing of photos with friends, group chats are easy to set up, but are not visually nice and don’t provide quick feedback mechanisms. Even if group chats are easy to set up, if you regularly start group chats with the same people, there should be simpler ways to add recipients or save distribution lists. Or, if users start different topics within the same chat, the communication can get confusing. These are just some of many examples, where better group messaging functionality is required.
Thus, some providers are now offering sophisticated group messaging and sharing solutions for family and friends (e.g. Grouptime, Line Band). Some of these apps really work like the combination of an instant messaging app and a private social network: There is real-time communication with push notifications, but the group messages are presented in a nice visual feed, even with the ability to like content. Once you have tried it, you will see how superior this is to traditional group chats.
Stronger Security and Privacy
Due to the latest PRISM and NSA affair, more and more users are worried about their privacy and demand stronger security features from messaging apps. As a result, several secure messaging apps have been announced (e.g. Hemlis, Whistle). However, since end-to-end security and complete privacy protection are complicated topics, it remains to be seen how secure and good these apps will be initially (UPDATE: At least Whistle seems not to be secure in its current version). In the meantime we expect the providers of established messaging services (at least the better ones) to improve their security and privacy features. From our point of view, security and strong data protection should be a standard for messaging apps, and not a feature.
Gaming and Public Chat Forums
Especially the Asian messaging providers have started to introduce games, third party services and public chat forums in their apps. This is basically the Facebook strategy: Building a platform for all apps and services, and trying to offer the user everything in one app. Users, who love games and public interest forums, will find a benefit from this approach. Still, for many users these apps will become to complex and cluttered with features, and they will prefer the more simple, focussed and let’s say traditional messaging apps.