2014 has been a tremendous year for Instant messengers. The category attracted more investment and innovation since Facebook acquired WhatsApp back in February for whooping $19B.
What’s interesting about this category is that there’s no clear winner, as of yet. WhatsApp itself was slow to rule the US market, it first gained momentum in Spain and other asian countries. With time, many players entered the market like Viber, Hike, Facebook messenger and WeChat. Each of these messengers have their own niche audience.
So we have accumulated some of the leaders in the Instant Messaging category, who, according to us are doing well in India.
WhatsApp: WhatsApp took the Indian market by storm since its launch in the year 2012. However, 2014 was the year when Whatsapp touched greater heights in the Indian market, so much that even grocery stores are also using WhatsApp to get orders through the app. Having said that, WhatsApp is now required to come up with full fledge API so that businesses can also take advantage of it.
The success of WhatsApp has become a nightmare for many Telecom companies. Now, with the rumours of voice-calling the battle has grown more intense. Airtel had recently introduced extra charges for VoIP calls, challenging net neutrality. However, due to much opposition the company has taken back the charges. The shocking move by the Airtel clearly shows how afraid telecom companies are of these Instant messaging services.
Viber: Viber gained popularity in India due to its Voice over IP (VoIP) calls. Viber also offers cheap International outgoing calls to any one with a cell phone or PSTN phones. Sometime back, we have reviewed International call services, we found out that Google hangout has now replaced Viber in terms of International calling, offering really inexpensive call rates to most countries.
Google Hangouts: Ever since Google replaced Google talk with Hangouts, it’s been slow to gain momentum but it’s a go to messenger when it comes to one to one or group video chatting. Google hangouts managed to do this since Skype itself hammered itself by charging for group calls earlier but learning from the mistake, it stopped charging for group video calls since April 2014, however the damage did cause consumer shift. Another advantage of Google Hangouts is its free screen sharing feature. Over the last couple of months, whenever making a demo to the overseas clients, Google Hangouts came to my rescue.
The aforementioned messengers are clear winners but there are few shortcomings which should be addressed:
Hike: Trying to captivate the ongoing Instant messenger’s craze, Bharti Softbank backed Hike messenger but it somehow failed to compete against established messengers such as Whatsapp. In June 2014, Hike has now over 35 million users, however, it didn’t disclose the number of active users. The reason behind Hike's growth rate is its complimentary offers which aim to provide free carrier recharge option to its users.
WeChat: Chinese Instant messaging app, WeChat entered the Indian market with a bang. However, it didn’t take long for Indian users to forget about the app. One of the reason for WeChat’s poor performance in the Indian market is that it tried to do provide way too many features in its app. While the strategy might work in the Chinese market, Indian market is clearly not too enthusiastic about those features. Having said that, by the time these instant messengers started entering the Indian market, WhatsApp had already captured most of the market.
Facebook Messenger: While Facebook already owns WhatsApp, it has still maintained its standalone messenger. It’s not clear yet whether Facebook plans to integrate the two platform, if it does there will certainly be lots of angry users. However, since the company spun out messages as a separate app, disallowing users to send a message from their Facebook app on mobile, it managed to anger users so much that many refuse to install a separate app for reading messages. There seems to be disconnect between users and Facebook here, while users see the app as a way to read their Facebook messages, Facebook clearly has ambitious plans to turn it into a Instant messenger not dependent on a Facebook identity. This clearly isn’t going well with users, and is one of the reason why Facebook needs WhatsApp.
While 2014 proved to be a fruitful year for the Instant messengers but the category is still in a nascent stage. In 2015, we shall see a lot more features being added, and a lot more consolidation in this category, majorly to acquire technology. We might also witness the back stepping of many like Samsung’s ChatOn.
Things we might witness in 2015 in the arena of Instant messengers:
- VoIP call war: While we already have tons of apps providing VoIP calls, the usage is not that apparent. If rumours are to be believed that WhatsApp will soon add a VoIP functionality, expect everyone to follow the suit.
- More stress on encryption and security: Governments across the world are trying to spy on our electronic communication, whether private or public, on a regular basis. This is a major privacy issue for users and while the spying won’t stop or reduce, companies need to add a better encryption to their apps. An instant messaging app called Telegram offering better privacy features grabbed a lot of attention in 2014, but has failed to reach mass audience. However, in 2015, when users are more educated about their privacy rights, companies won’t have to any other option than to include better privacy features into their apps.
- Interaction with other apps: In 2015, we might see Instant messengers collaborating with other services such as Zomato, Flipkart to provide their services within the apps. Imagine that you’re talking with your friend and they post about the next hot device, and you are able to buy it right from your phone, without even leaving the app.
What do you expect from the Instant messaging apps in the year 2015? Let us know through your amazing comments!