We've taken a comprehensive look at the features of some of the most popular OTT apps worldwide, which will be followed by an article which takes a good look at who's winning where, using data shared exclusively with Mobile Marketing by the analytics firm Onavo.
Platforms: iPhone, Android and BlackBerry
Started: August 2011 after buying group messaging startup Beluga
Facebook created the Messenger app so chats with friends were just one click away, rather than having to load up full-fat Facebook. But in practice, having the two running in tandem is proving unsuccessful. Especially as your Facebook messages were already just two clicks away. Today, just 19 per cent of Facebook’s iPhone users worldwide also have the Messenger app.
Facebook shut down and integrated Beluga’s group messaging, location sharing and mapping functions into both apps, but group chats in particular are better signposted in standard Facebook. You can message friends of friends in both apps, but can’t yet, despite claims in its blurb about Messenger, message handset contacts via Facebook or send SMS messages using the Android and iOS handsets we tested.
Users of either app can Bing search for pictures to send to friends, as well as adding photos from their phone, can take a picture and record audio. You can make ‘free calls’ – warning that data charges may apply – and provided your friend has linked Facebook with their handset. Which is by no means everyone.
If this spin-off was intended to create a new revenue stream, namely around in-app stickers, which works well for other messaging services, then the plan has gone awry. Although paid-for stickers are yet to go live, a shopping basket on Facebook proper indicates where purchases will be made, which already contains some freebies to get people hooked. But this is feature that hasn’t yet made it to Messenger.
Platforms: Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows OS, Bada
Started: Launched by South Korean IT company Kakao in March 2010
Although the company initially focused on South Asian markets, the app in now available ‘anywhere in the world’, with translations into English, Spanish, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Indonesian, Japanese, Thai, Turkish, Italian, French, German and Portuguese. It reached 100m users worldwide in July.
Users can make free calls, including to groups and with ‘fun voice filters’, send messages to anyone else with the app, including celebrities, with users able to group chat to an ‘unlimited’ number of people. You can also add appointments and schedule reminders, share videos, photos and voice notes.
The company has created a wide range of monetisation opportunities, including a sticker and themes store, where in-app purchases go up to $3, its own free games, which are linked to and downloadable from the relevant app store, with a host of in-app purchase options here too. KakaoTalk is certainly big in South Korea, with 95 per cent reach for iPhone users. It has nine per cent reach in Japan, three per cent in Hong Kong and two per cent in China. Outside of Asia, however, the app appears to have had little impact.
Platforms: Android, iOS, Windows, BlackBerry, Nokia Asha, Windows, Windows 8 or Mac
Started: Created by South Korean internet content provider NHN Corporation in July 2011 to help Japanese people communicate after the earthquake there
LINE claimed 200m users in July this year, and along with 71 per cent penetration among iPhone message app users in Japan, is used by 46 per cent of those people in Hong Kong, along with 44 per cent in Spain. It also has a significant presence in Latin America.
LINE supports free calls on iPhone and Android to app users. Other handset users can get LINE on their Windows, Windows 8 or Mac computers to access this feature. Users can have group chats with up to 100 participants.
To get started in the LINE shop, you have to purchase the virtual currency, which starts at £1.49 for 100 and goes up to £32.99 for 3,400, plus 1,000 bonus coins for spending your cash on nothing. Coins can only be spent on the operating system they were bought on. It also uses banner ads in its apps to advertise new stickers that people can buy.
Similarly to Kakao, LINE offers simple, free ‘match three’-style games to download in-app with paid-for bolt-ons and the opportunity to play with other users to earn rewards. It also has a number of other proprietary apps, including LINE Camera, LINE Card and LINE Brush.
LINE is going beyond messaging to creating an in-app social network of its own with its Timeline feature.
Platforms: Windows 8, Windows and Windows tablets, Mac, Linux, Windows Phone, Android phones and tablets, BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad, iPod, Kindle Fire, Skype-ready phones and TVs, Playstation Vita
Started: 2003, bought by eBay in 2005 $2.5bn, before Microsoft finally bought the platform in 2011 for $8.5bn
Skype offers free instant messaging, terrible emoticons and Skype-to-Skype video or voice calls in its ad-supported, free version, along with international calls at cheap rates. The premium, ad-free version, charged at £2.99 per month, offers group chat and unlimited calls to a region of your choice.
Skype had a 34 per cent share of international calls made last year, up from 13 per cent in 2010, but is no doubt facing stiff competition.
Platforms: iOS and Android
Started when: September 2011 at Stanford University by a group of students
Snapchat is a photo and image sharing app, a residing place of the #selfie, where users also have the ability to add text and imagery to their masterpiece before sending to other app users, as well as groups of users.
The key USP of Snapchat, and potentially the reason it’s been adopted by so many young people, is that the images have a time-limit and then disappear from both the sender’s and receiver’s phone.
Controversy has swirled about whether the images really disappear from existence after this, and the team explained last month: “If you’ve ever tried to recover lost data after accidentally deleting a drive, or maybe watched an episode of CSI, you might know that with the right forensic tools, it’s sometimes possible to retrieve data after it has been deleted.” Essentially confirming that any compromising images are not gone-gone. People have also been known to take a quick screen grab before the message self-destructs.
Although the team was nearly laughed out of the classroom when they pitched it to classmates, it received $13.5m in funding back in February and a further $60m in July. The app doesn't have a price tag for users or any ads yet, but does have an $800m valuation 'pre-money'. The founders are working on using the platform for product teasers and flash sales.
It had 8m US users back in May but is also doing very well in the UK and Canada.
Platforms: Android, BlackBerry OS, iOS, Series 40, Symbian, Bada, Windows Phone, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, and a Linux version is in development
Started: 2010 in Israel
Viber has spent the last three years waging war directly with Skype and has made significant effort to make itself available across an equitable number of platforms. Although the company has not yet reached the same heights, its CEO revealed in May that it has passed 200m users. Viber enables voice calls, group messaging, doodles and recently localised its service into 16 languages and added desktop platforms.
Neat USPs of Viber include the ability to share your big-fingered masterpieces on Facebook, as well as a handy quick reply function via a lockscreen takeover. Viber also enables users to transfer calls from its desktop to mobile apps if you are on your way out the door.
The company doesn’t currently generate revenues but will, like KakaoTalk and LINE, start to sell messaging stickers this year. The company has received $20m investment.
Platforms: Android, iOS, BlackBerry OS, BlackBerry 10, Series 40, Symbian and Windows Phone
Started: 2009 by Yahoo veterans Brian Acton and Jan Koum in California
Although more limited in functionality than some of its messaging competitors, currently offering instant and voice messaging, some loveable emoticons, audio, image and video sending, this is by far and away the most popular messaging app among iPhone users in the UK.
The company’s CEO has always come out hard against ad-funded services and offers his app free or a year before charging $0.99. It reported more than 300m active users in August, with 325m photos shared each day.