The Messaging App Clones of Mobile Network Operators

The billions of dollars of revenues of mobile network operators from SMS have been strongly declining in the last 2-3 years. Especially in European and Asian countries where flat rates for texting are less common, users have quickly adopted over-the-top (OTT) messaging apps to avoid costs. As of today far more messages are sent with Whatsapp, Line, Kakao Talk, Viber, etc. than by traditional texting/SMS of mobile network operators.

Clones of leading messaging apps

Trying to counteract this trend many mobile network operators have launched their own messaging apps in recent months. Telefonica launched TuMe, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom started to offer Joyn, and this week Swisscom followed with iO. There are several more examples like these. All of these messaging apps have one thing in common: They are more or less clones of the leading messaging apps.

These clones should basically replace your standard messaging app on your mobile device and offer some additional features. With the mobile network operator apps you can send text messages and exchange single photos. Some of them feature location attachments and voice messages as well as simple group chats. VOIP calls and video chats are also available on some of these apps.

Currently minor performance and no new features

From a user interface and design perspective TuMe and iO look solid, while Joyn shows a very basic and text-centric design. From a performance perspective most of them are still buggy and not the fastest messaging apps. However, the apps are still pretty new and over time this will hopefully change.

TuMe App

Joyn App

Initially free of charge with additional features coming at cost

The apps are a free download. The usage of messaging features should be free of charge, but this could depend on your tariff and on the mobile network operator (so if you decide to use one of the apps, make sure you check). VOIP and video chat features should be expected to come at a cost sooner or later.

Overall, the messaging apps of mobile network operators offer nothing new or special. With the current performance and features of these apps, there are no reasons for users to switch. Further, the innovation in the instant messaging space is still expected from the market leaders. And the clones will only follow the herd.

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Google Hangouts – Another Standard Messaging App

Google recently launched Hangouts for iOS and Android as a replacement for Google Talk and several other messaging projects. To keep it short: Except for the group video chat feature, the app is more or less like every other mainstream messaging app.

Google Hangouts App

Standard messaging app with simple and clean interface

Hangouts has a simple and clean interface. If you know how to use your texting app or are familar with Whatsapp, Line, Skype, etc., the UI will be straightforward for you. The new Hangout screen with the large photos of your favorite contacts is nice.

In addition to text, so far users can only exchange photos. However, it is quite likely that other digital contents like locations, voice messages, video, contacts, etc. will be available in the future (if Hangouts wants to gain a minimal market share only, they will need these features…most of their major competitors have them).

Group chats with video feature

Like most messaging apps nowadays Hangouts offers group chats. However, unlike other messaging apps Hangouts also features video group chats where you can chat with up to 10 friends.

The current versions for iPhone and Android have several bugs and performance issues (e.g. video chat crashes the app, and also the audio seems delayed quite often). Overall, except for the video chat maybe, we don’t see a need to use Hangouts. There are too many other similar, but currently better performing messaging apps out there.

How Messaging Apps Are Becoming The New Social Networks

While the media mainly discusses the strong growth and influence of social media, many people fail to realize a far bigger trend: The incredible growth of messaging apps, and how they are increasingly replacing traditional social networks.

Many messaging apps are strongly growing and have more than 100 millions users

Each mobile messaging app like WeChat, Line, Whatsapp, Kakao Talk and Viber has 100 million or even more users. Besides there are a lot of smaller and often more specialized players like Grouptime, Kik, Snapchat, etc. All of them not only seem to be strongly growing, but also rise at a much higher rate than the big social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Co.

The daily usage of messaging apps is among the highest of all mobile apps. Users open their messaging apps several times a day, and often send hundred messages or more. Compare that with social networks: They are still without doubt a place of regular visits, however, more for content browsing and entertainment (and killing boredom as some say). The intensive communication with close friends and family, something social networks were used for in the past, is handled increasingly by messaging apps. And if you believe the latest studies, the usage of social networks is clearly on the decline.

Group chats replace social networks for sharing with family and friends

While instant messaging apps have been primarily used for 1-to-1 conversations, some of them have started to offer simple group chat features. People quickly have found out that, in addition to straight forward communication and coordination, these group chats are great for quick photo sharing with family and friends. Especially because group chats are so easy to set up and completely private, they offer the right environment for private sharing without the complicated settings on social networks.

Some newer messaging apps like Grouptime now completely concentrate on group messaging and private sharing. You can share with one-click with personal groups like family and friends. The messaging inbox works with posts with nice, large photos like a social network, but in real-time like a messaging app. It is basically a real-time private social network.

Other apps like Line offer a status feed like on Facebook. Well, in this case there are no privacy controls, and it is not different than your well-known social network, so the benefit is quite limited. However, it shows how some messaging apps further enter the social networking realm.

Sharing of digital content with messaging apps gets better and better

Messaging apps don’t stop with group photo sharing. All content sharing features are widely improved: Users now can easily exchange whereabouts via location databases, videos, voice messages, calendar dates, website links and even YouTube videos. Furthermore, some apps allow you to share multiple content items and photos at once (Grouptime is a good example again).

In the future it is expected that even more content types can be shared, and also the integration in various third party apps and services will become common. In regard to innovative features, messaging apps have already taken the lead. Basically, all functions (including “liking”) of social networks and much more will be possible with the leading messaging apps.

Private sharing is strongly on the rise and far larger than public sharing

A recent study estimates that sharing via Facebook and Twitter is only the tip of the iceberg, and private sharing via instant messaging and email nowadays accounts for ca. 70% of all sharing. With the unstoppable rise of mobile messaging apps these figures will be outdated soon, and Facebook and Twitter will be further challenged. Even Mark Zuckerberg noted in a recent article, that sharing with smaller, private groups is the biggest trend Facebook is seeing.

How the social networking giants will react is unclear, but one thing is sure: Messaging apps will be the primary way to easily, privately and securely share with family and friends.

Facebook Home offers persistent messaging with Chat Heads

Last weeks messaging news was definitely the announcement of Facebook Home with its Chat Heads feature. It allows you to instant message with friends, regardless of what app you are already in on your Android phone at any point.

Avatars for quick access to chats

So if you are e.g. browsing the web or playing a game, and are receiving a message from a friend, an avatar will appear on the screen with your friend’s Facebook profile picture. By tapping on it, a messaging window will open, that allows users to chat like in other standard texting or messaging apps.

Facebook Home with Chat Heads Messaging

Facebook Home with Chat Heads Messaging

The advantage from Facebook’s point of view is that you don’t have to switch between apps, and go back to what you have been doing before immediately. So for ongoing conversations this messaging feature provides fast access. The downside of the messaging feature of Facebook Home is, that some users will perceive it as quite intrusive, and won’t let them focus on what they are currently doing.

Privacy and data protection at risk

Besides, with installing “Home” on your Android device you will provide Facebook with even more information for targeting its ads. Facebook will probably not hesitate to collect any information they might redeem necessary for the growth of their business. For users worried about privacy and data protection, Chat Heads is probably not the right messaging app.

Looking at the notification systems of iPhone and Android, which already work quite similar on many devices, we expect standard features and messaging apps like Chat Heads pre-installed by the device makers (e.g. Apple, Samsung, etc.).

Recently Updated Messaging Apps

In the last weeks several instant messaging providers launched major updates of their apps. Most apps simply seem to copy other messaging apps or improve the more common features. Some messaging services seem to focus more on certain use cases and try to follow new trends.

Grouptime

Grouptime launched a major update of their iPhone version last week. This app is a good example of a differentiated use case. So if your are looking for a group messaging app where you can privately share with family or best friends with one click, Grouptime will probably the right solution for you. While you can use the app for 1:1 instant messaging, it is obvious that Grouptime concentrates on group messaging and group sharing. The redesigned message inbox of the new version of the app reminds me of a private Facebook feed, and thus their idea of a real-time private social network becomes evident.

The update includes new features, redesigns, performance improvements, iOS6 readiness, and many bug fixes. My impression is, that Grouptime has developed a beautiful, stable and well performing app.

Grouptime - Private Social Network

Group Messaging and Private Sharing with Grouptime

Kik Messenger

Kik introduced “Kik Cards” in their recent app updates. Kik Cards are optional features e.g. to share YouTube videos, find and share images and edit sketches. The advantage of this user interface design is that the app is kept simple. On the other hand some other messaging apps integrate these features simply as part of their attachments, so I am not sold on the idea of Kik Cards. It is probably their way to start monetizing third party services and applications being integrated into their service.

Kik Cards

Whatsapp

Especially in Europe Whatsapp has gotten a lot of bad press and negative feedback from customers, due to the lack of security of the service. For the last 12 months or so the leading instant messaging app has launched various updates to fix these security issues, but almost instantly security experts found new issues. No matter how important these security issues are for the average user of an instant messaging app. Still, it is kind ridiculous that the current market leader in the messaging space doesn’t manage to fix these things entirely.

Whatsapp optimized their iPhone app for iOS6 and included some minor bug fixes in the recent update. Their Android update focused on fixing security issues. Let’s see how many days it takes this time until someone finds a way to break into an account.

Others

Line, Kakao Talk and WeChat – the Whatsapp clones from Japan, South Korea and China repectively – all recently launched updates for their messaging apps. In addition to instant messaging, some of these apps offer VOIP calling, a social network feed like Facebook, integration of third party services and many more features. While all these messaging apps are very popular in Asia, the amount of features make them very cluttered and some users might find them confusing. Personally I am more a fan of messaging apps with a clean design, a clear use case and a simple user interface like Kik and Grouptime.

Why Instant Messaging Apps Are Replacing Classical Texting

With trillions of SMS messages sent every year, texting has been the standard way to exchange messages with friends and family on mobile phones for the last 20 years. However, currently “texting” as the messaging market leader is being disrupted and under strong attack by instant messaging apps. Many smartphone users are currently switching from classical text/SMS messages to newer instant messaging apps. The reasons for this replacement are pretty obvious:

Cheaper

Instant messaging apps use the data network of your smartphone to send messages cost-free via the internet. All you need is a data network for internet surfing, which most users have included already in their mobile network operator tariff or have available via public or private WiFi networks.

Thus sending messages with instant messaging apps is completely free of charge. For teenagers and young adults, who often send 100 messages per day, and previously had to pay $0,05-0,20 per message, this means huge savings.

Better

Instant messaging apps nowadays work the same way as texting (users receive a push notification on their smartphone for new messages), but offer users far more functionality.

While classical texting allows users to send simple text messages, exchanging photos is often not without difficulties. Instant messaging apps on the other hand allow users to easily exchange all kind of digital contents with friends: Photos, videos, links, locations and voice messages are pretty much the standard among some of the better services (e.g. Whatsapp, Kik Messenger, ChatOn, KakaoTalk, TextMe, MiTalk). Some even allow you to send dates from your calendar, simple drawings, locations from comprehensive data bases, multiple photos at once, etc.

Some instant messaging apps even have great group messaging capabilities. Users are able to easily set up group chats with family or friends. These can be used to plan and coordinate activities of groups or privately share digital content (e.g. Grouptime).

Besides instant messaging apps show users, if their messages were received and if recipients are online.

More innovative

Instant messaging apps innovate in very short cycles. The competition is hard, and thus service providers regularly improve their apps and launch new features. This is obviously a change from the texting world, where the lack of competition hardly forced the mobile network operators to innovate at all in 20 years time.

Facebook Messenger 2.0 for iPhone

Facebook just unveiled a major update for its Messenger for iOS. The Facebook Messenger version 2.0 makes it compatible with iOS6 and iPhone 5, and introduces a couple of new features.

The new version 2.0 of Facebook Messenger for iOS enables users to swipe left, to immediately see which friends are online and available for messaging. Friends can be made favorites to appear at the top of the friend list for quick access. Just like the web interface, you can see who in your thread has viewed your message and when she read it. I guess, some people will see this feature as an advantage while others will believe its an intrusion into their privacy.

The design of the chats has been changed to typical chat bubbles, making conversations look more like text message exchanges than email. Facebook Messenger also offers a list of emoticons that are compatible with Facebook Messenger for those who like reliving the good old instant messaging days.

Generally we like the simple and clean user interface of the new Facebook Messenger 2.0. Besides the app is pretty fast and works stable so far. However, this version moves the Facebook Messenger more into a good texting alternative and tries to position itself as a leading 1:1 instant messaging app (like Whatsapp, Kik Messenger and ChatOn), but makes it less good for group messaging and sharing (where we see dedicated apps like Grouptime in the lead).

You can download the new version for free from iTunes.