SMS may have been the killer app of mobile in the 1990s, but with the popularity of smartphones, cross-platform messaging services are all the rage. Instant messaging with a richer experience than the usual SMS has actually been one of the main selling points of RIM’s BlackBerry in the emerging markets, with cheap BBM plans popular in the so-called Blackberry nations. But as Android and iOS have overtaken RIM’s declining platform, applications like Viber, Whatsapp and Kik have started vying for dominance.
Recently, there has also been an upsurge of homegrown apps in the Asia Pacific region, which include LINE from Japan, Tencent’s WeChat from China, and KakaoTalk from South Korea. But of course, cross-platform instant messaging apps also work great when you’re messaging with friends from overseas, since you can save on hefty international SMS sending fees.
One such app making waves right now is KakaoTalk, which is reportedly making a big push in Japan, with promotions featuring model-actress Anna Tsuchiya. In October, Yahoo! Japan took a 50% stake in KakaoTalk Japan, and to date, KakaoTalk has about 7.5 million users in Japan, out of the 65 million plus users the app has worldwide. This is a far cry from LINE’s 60 million Japanese users, but it’s a good start.
Of course, it goes without saying that China is probably the market with the biggest potential for mobile apps, with almost a billion mobile phone users. WeChat has reportedly reached 300 million users as of this month. Tencent actually has a stake in the company, having infused US$63.7 million into KakaoTalk this May, and so it’s interesting to see whether the app will make it big in China, as well.
On a personal note, though, I think the use of cross-platform messaging apps greatly depends on what you and your circle of friends are already using. As such, it may not be too easy to convince smartphone users to switch, unless you can offer features that trump the competitor’s. For instance, KakaoTalk offers multi-party calling, group chats and free stamps (icons that you can exchange with friends). In comparison, Viber only offers person-to-person calling. Whatsapp doesn’t even support VoIP calls. But since most of my colleagues are on Whatsapp, and my friends are on Viber, I find it difficult to just switch.
The KakaoTalk ads look funny, and yet the ads get to highlight the app’s key features. KakaoTalk has apps for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and even Samsung’s Bada platform. Do check it out if multimedia-rich chat apps are to your liking.