Let’s talk a little bit about the magicworld of instant messaging, where things are really fun. And weird. IM platform situation is uneven, chaotic, with no clear signs of where it will be five years from now.
Up here we have June 2013 Onavo’s data by country -I didn’t find anything better and more recent-. WhatsApp triumphs in Spain clearly (more than anywhere else) but interestingly enough, their presence is testimonial in the US or Asia. Facebook Messenger wins in the US (it does a lot more in more recent times) and WeChat is the star in China. But being the star in China is far different from being the star in Spain. They’ve got over 1.31B more people there (Spain’s population is roughly 47M). Lots of users. For everything.
In overall numbers it seems that WhatsApp was ahead with 700 million total users in 2013 (now there are 800, but active users number is another story), with Facebook Messenger not far away. It is strange to discover in that chart that QQ, probably unknown to you (and me) has a lot of users, but most of them are in the desktop, so this is not their war. The overall fourth place is for WeChat, and that’s exactly what interests me.
And I’m interested because I read the Wired article titled “Screw texting. It’s time to pick a universal messaging app “. David Pierce speaks there about the different instant messaging applications available today that exist today. The same that causes us some stress.
In Spain things are as I said simpler: we all use WhatsApp and some people have other IM apps that they hardly use. But in the US the situation is different: it’s more divided. Pierce talks about the apps he has installed on his iPhone. He wanders around Hangouts, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat. In fact, he says, he has Wire installed (beautiful and efficient but lack the most important thing, people) and uses others from time to time: DMs from Twitter, GroupMe, HipChat, Skype, iMessage and even the tradicional Messenger for SMS messages that -for someone from Spain- are curiously alive in the United States.
Pierce’s situation is probably the same for many other people who dedicates much of his time with the phone to communicate with other people and share things with them. It would be great to be able to do all that communication and sharing from a single app. It would be gorgeous. That app, as I see it, could be seen almost as an OS for many users.
That is precisely what WeChat seems to be doing. This is an app I’ve never used that goes beyond the concept of app. It is a platform itself. As Pierce explained in his text:
For more than 500 million users in China, it’s essentially The Everything App. People use it to talk with their friends and their colleagues, and also to strangers both nearby and across the world. They use it to book train tickets and get their laundry done, order dinner and play the lottery, pick out clothes and play videogames. It’s the remote control for your smart home, a mobile bank, and a way to renew your visa. There are popular WeChatters, who use it like a blog or Instagram account. You can, for all intents and purposes, live your entire life within WeChat. It takes a phone full of apps to replicate its entire functionality. It’s simple enough that anyone can use it, versatile enough that everyone has some use for it.
WeChat dimension is huge and has managed to diversify and convert messaging into the cornerstone of the rest of its range of services, and that makes people, even if you have installed other applications, not using them that often.
Because as I was saying people uses the phone to communicate with acquaintances and share things with them. And to play, read and pay. Again, it’s almost like a little mobile operating system itself.
That is what we might see in the future. Facebook’s growth is still brutal in many areas, and it’s indeed surprising that they compete against themselves in this field. It’s almost absurd. Facebook should get rid of Messenger, of do that with WhatsApp. Why maintaining both apps? The funny thing is that growth is specially interesting in Messenger, with WhatsApp not as promising as it was. Their web client works (and it is a blessing for those who spend many hours in front of a computer), but its implementation is highly questionable. I’ve never (ever) used Messenger, but I know for a fact it is a more versatile and agnostic platform agnostic. It’s clients -mobile, desktop, web- comply with what one would expect from a multi-platform app.
So the question is whether we will end up seeing a Messenger OS. One that suddenly brings together messaging feature, access to our timeline and updates on Facebook, videos, games, payments, multimedia content … access to things we normally do in different, separate applications -and contexts- in our smartphones.
Facebook would love that, of course. So much control. Everyone fighting in the IM arena would love that. And yet I see that future complicated: in the end it happens what it has to happen. Too many cooks spoil the soup. Of course, when one looks at WeChat that saying isn’t that revealing.