Messaging apps show mobile web rise
18 September 2012, 16:23
Seoul - A handful of smartphone apps that began as
basic instant messaging services have amassed several hundred million
users in Asia in just a couple of years, mounting a challenge to the
popularity of online hangouts such as Facebook as they branch into
games, e-commerce, celebrity news and other areas.
Among them is
Line, which has grown to 60 million users, mostly in Asia including at
least 29 million in Japan. Its developer estimates the number of users
will reach 100 million by the end of this year.
Also popular is
Kakao Talk with 60 million users, more than half in South Korea where it
originates. Other successful messengers are Nimbuzz made by an
India-based firm which has amassed 100 million users including 31
million in Asia, and WeChat by China-based Tencent, which is nearing 200
The rapid growth of such applications underlines
that people are increasingly going online using mobile phones and other
It is a trend that has proved problematic for
the world's most popular social networking site. Facebook has lost more
than $50bn of its market value since its initial public offering largely
due to doubts about its ability to successfully insert advertising into
the mobile version that a large and growing number of its 955 million
users access from smartphones.
Korea and to a lesser extent China are leading the way in terms of
mobile messaging-centric apps that move into diverse and potentially
very profitable new service areas like gaming, affiliate marketing,
next-generation emoticons," said analyst Mark Ranson at research firm
"Offering a free, high quality messaging service is a good
way of building a large and loyal user base which can later be
introduced to more readily 'monetiseable' services."
messaging, also known as IM, was first popularised on desktop computers
with applications such as Microsoft Messenger that evolved from
text-based chatting and sharing files to the voice calls and video
conferencing that Skype is known for.
The advent of smartphones
took IM back to basics with services such as WhatsApp and Blackberry
Messenger that allowed for real-time chatting, swapping photos and not
much else. The new instant messaging apps such as Line have evolved into
online destinations in their own right.
"I use Line messenger
every day, about every hour... instead of text messages or e-mails,"
Supinda Toochinda, a 31-year-old interior designer in Bangkok, said in
She said Line was the only mobile application she'd
spent money with, buying elaborate emoticons called stickers that can be
sent to friends while chatting.
Part of the appeal of the
applications is the ability to create an unlimited number of group chats
and the ease with which connections can be made - the apps
automatically create a contacts list by harvesting the contacts list
saved in the phone. At the same time, managing privacy is simpler than
on a social networking site.
say these mobile messengers are showing more nimble and promising moves
in the efforts to make such mobile services profitable without relying
solely on advertising.
"Kakao Talk and Line are seeing
opportunities as Facebook isn't making money from users of its mobile
website and app," said Ryu Han-seok, director of the Technology, Labour
and Culture Institute, a consulting company, in Seoul.
"In the mobile markets in Asia, they are ahead of the game."
is probably tough to compete with Facebook in the US or Europe. But in
Japan, South Korea and other Asian countries, they have a good chance of
beating Facebook," said Ryu.
While Line messenger is expanding
to photo editing and sharing, social games and Twitter-like features
that allow users to follow corporate brands or celebrities, its windfall
came from sales of virtual goods.
Sales of stickers - a $1.99
bundle of cute pictures of cartoon characters or animals - have been its
biggest revenue generator. In August, users spent about $3m to send the
elaborate emoticons when they chat with friends.