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On the Rise: Messaging Apps May Take Over Social Media

Sean Hopwood  //  June 16, 2016  //  5 min read

Smartphone apps have become the modern replacements of our everyday organizing tools. From calculators to schedulers, apps have become efficient handy helpers for work, study, play, and even our daily chores. Along with the growing number of mobile phone users, app downloads are expected to soar over the next few years.

Forecasts have shown up to 286 billion apps could be downloaded by users by 2017. In 2015 alone, reports show that Google’s Android platform had 50 billion app downloads, while Apple’s iOS had registered up to 25 billion. These are pretty impressive numbers given that app downloads in 2009 was only at a meager 2 million.

In fact, a majority of Apple’s revenues for Q1 in 2016, iPhone sales aside, are coming from their service category, which includes app purchases. It accounts for around $6 billion of their total earnings. Google is also having a stronger front when it comes to apps.

In short, apps are engrained into our daily lives, and we’re poised to see continued rapid adoption over the next few years.

The apps that lead our lives

In 2015, Nielsen, a reputable marketing research firm, released a survey showing the top 10 Smartphone Apps of 2015. Leading the survey is the wildly popular social networking app, Facebook, which was originally born as an Internet website. Facebook leads the list with more than 126 million average unique users. Its messaging app, Facebook Messenger, also made it on the list with close to a million unique users.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 2.47.55 PM

Another social networking app made it on the list and it’s the hipster-inspired Instagram. With more than 55 million users, the photo-based app allows you to post pictures using unique vintage photo filters.

Coming second on the list is YouTube, which has garnered close to a million unique users. Additionally, four more Google apps made it to the top ten: Google Search, Google Play, Google Maps, and Gmail. These four apps are the standard apps that come along with an Android phone, and two Apple apps caps-off the list, Music and Maps.

These interesting figures have also been seconded by Forrester Research when it released a Technographics Behavioral Study in Q4 of 2014. In the minutes Americans spend in using mobile apps, Facebook and Google emerged as apps that dominated the most. This was reflective of how Americans were using their apps: either for communication or for social networking.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 2.49.27 PM

Emerging trends in social apps

Statista, an online statistics portal, has revealed two interesting reports on the growing trend in mobile apps. In their 2016 Report on the Leading Social Network Apps, Facebook leads with 1.5 billion monthly active users all over the world. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Dan Neary, Facebook Asia Pacific Vice President, noted that many of its users are coming from the Asia-Pacific Region. There are 37 million Facebook users in Thailand, 82 million in Indonesia, 21 million in Vietnam, and 24 million in the Philippines.

WhatsApp comes in second as it breaches the 1 billion mark of worldwide users. It is actually leading a group of three other messaging or chat apps that cover the list. Its users come from more than 100 countries, acting as a messaging platform for inter-country connectivity against SMS messaging. This Facebook-owned app is considered to be one of the most basic apps available, having less features than its closest rival, Facebook Messenger. The remaining two chat apps are QQ and WeChat. QQ is a China-based tech group that is pretty much like Facebook. WeChat is also based in China, but it has a unique twist of having some dating app qualities like being able to chat with random people within your location.

Moving toward the end of the list are social media platforms: Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter. Some think of them as precursors to niche apps, while others simply rely on these apps to build a personal brand. Nonetheless, microblogging websites like Tumblr has found a lot of usage in its mobile version. Other blog websites found it difficult to migrate to mobile like WordPress.

Last is Twitter, another microblogging platform, finishes the list. With only 140 characters per entry, Twitter acts like a timeline of status updates versus a full feature blog, which actually takes a lot of time to write. It’s the most successful of its kind, leaving others like Plurk, at the back end. Twitter actually became more popular when it launched its app compared to when it was just a website.

It is interesting to see that even though only four out of 10 apps are messaging apps, they occupy the top four spots after Facebook. It could be that a new emerging trend for mobile apps is the shift from social media to communication. With people able to chat with their friends and relatives anywhere in the world, messaging apps are being seen as affordable and practical alternatives compared to SMS messaging or even video calls.

And of course, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. It was texting that made mobile phones so popular in the beginning.

What the rise of messaging apps means for app publishers

For those engaged in application publishing, the rising popularity of messaging apps is an indication of a shifting behavior amongst mobile app users. There may be various reasons as to why this trend is emerging, but some people feel it is because of social media fatigue. Too much exposure on social networks have pulled people back to more private forms of communication like messaging.

Nonetheless, social media remains to be a popular platform for many mobile app users and it won’t be fading from the limelight anytime soon. In fact, it has a growing network base in Asia.

There are three points for app publishers to keep in mind when positioning themselves between social media and messaging apps:

  1. Target your apps by localizing them. App localization is critical in building rapport, especially in Asian countries. Just look at the success of QQ, Line and WeChat. There is a large mobile app user population outside English-speaking countries, so it’s wise to capitalize on it.
  2. Create a niche market. The success of Instagram started by carving a niche out of an existing target market. Try to center your app on a specific market first, and if it works, see if these users are influential enough to spread the world throughout their communities.
  3. Adapt to local social media and messaging. Boosting app presence is common by linking them to popular social media and messaging platforms. But to reach a wider audience, Twitter or Facebook won’t be enough. Remember that in some countries, other apps take the lead like QQ, WeChat, and QZone. It is not a “one-size-fits-all” thing. If your app can adapt, then you’ll capture more users.

In conclusion

The popularity of messaging apps are rising and are steadily taking over the social media market. As this trend continues, social apps will either have to shift their offerings to compete, or prepare to have some of their market share absorbed by messaging apps.

What other messaging apps do you use regularly? Do you find yourself spending more time in one than the others? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

About Sean Hopwood

Sean Hopwood is founder and President of Day Translations, Inc., an online translation and mobile app localization services provider, dedicated to the improvement of global communications.
View all posts by Sean Hopwood >

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