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The best Android messaging clients of 2013

Final

This year saw a lot of new instant messaging clients rise to the fore on Android, with each client offering a set of unique elements that distinguishes it from the rest. Let’s take a look at some of the best and fastest growing messaging clients:

WhatsApp

Messaging_Global

With a total user base of over 350 million, WhatsApp is the biggest messaging service in the world. After Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp is the most widely used messaging client in the U.S. WhatsApp is the number one choice for users in countries like South Africa, Brazil and Indonesia among others. The WhatsApp is continuing to add new features to the client, the most recent of which is the ability to send voice messages.

WhatsApp has also launched a new API that allows websites to embed share buttons, which users can use to share content directly with their friends using the service. WhatsApp’s business model revolves around an annual subscription, with every user paying $0.99 yearly for using the service.  There is no other revenue model in sight, but with an active user base of over 350 million, even charging as low as $0.99 a user would result in a significant amount of revenue.

However, there is a dearth of features that are offered by WhatsApp. While other services like Line and WeChat offer stickers, voice and video calling, WhatsApp has stuck with messaging as its core offering. It does let users share images and videos, but its interface is utilitarian when seen against the likes of Kik.

LINE

line

Japanese messaging client Line is seeing widespread usage in Western countries, and now boasts 300 million monthly active users. Line claims that it is pushing 22 billion messages across the world on a daily basis.

Although most of Line’s user base belongs to countries like Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Spain and India, it is seeing a lot of growth in France, Germany, U.K. and the U.S. Line distinguishing feature comes in the form of stickers. Stickers are emoticon-like images, packs of which can be bought on Line’s store. These are usually a mix of cartoon characters and emoji.  Users can embed purchased as well as free stickers in chat conversations. In addition to stickers, Line also offers free voice and video calls to other Line users.

Stickers_Revenue

Additional sticker packs contribute a lot of money to Line’s coffers. The latest sales figures indicate that the messaging service is making $10 million a month in sticker sales. Along with stickers, Line is making money selling games and other content that users can buy within its messaging client. Overall revenue generated from sales for Q2 2013 exceeded $132 million, and it looks like those numbers will be on the rise as Line has announced new services that will debut next year. These include Line Music and Line Mall. The next milestone for Line is to crack the U.S. market, and although details on how it will do that are not mentioned yet, but there will be a Line app store that will cater to its other software along with its messaging client.

WeChat

WeChat_China

Chinese messaging client signified its intent to reach a global audience by bringing in football (soccer) star Lionel Messi for its advertising efforts. And it seems to be working, as WeChat crossed 100 million users outside China in October. The client is slowly beginning to attract more users in western countries, but the majority of WeChat’s users still reside in China, and this is where most of its revenue comes from. In China, WeChat has a user base of 600 million. WeChat combines the features of a messaging client with a location-awareness service, and this allows users to discover other WeChat users in their vicinity.

WEChat growth

After Line, which saw a year-on-year growth of almost 900 percent, WeChat saw the most amount of growth in terms of users. While profitability has not been the goal for the creators of WeChat, that might change soon as it was announced back in August that Tencent is making a big push for gaming. Tencent looks to amass significant revenues by offering paid games and other services on WeChat soon.

Kik

Kik, the messaging service out of Waterloo, Canada, announced that it crossed 100 million users last week, half of them from the U.S. The HTML5 based service introduced Kik Cards. Kik has essentially built in a mobile web browser, through which users can search and send videos and images from within the client. Third-party developers can also build Kik Cards, with Zynga and Sony getting in on the action.

Ted Livingston, the creator of Kik, said that the transformation in the way we consume mobile content led to the formation of Kik Cards. He said, “At the core of this browser is a username-based mobile messenger. How do we discover new websites? Usually it’s when someone e-mails me a link. We think it’ll be the same on mobile. The messenger is a critical part of the mobile Web.” Kik raised $19.5 million from Union Square Ventures earlier this year, and has amassed 70 million users this year. According to Livingston, Kik Cards is the first feature in the burgeoning Kik ecosystem that includes games, stickers and ads.

One advantage that Kik has is that it is primarily being used by teens. In a survey, it has been found that teens in the U.S. are now migrating to services other than Facebook and Twitter. According to social media analyst Michael McQueen, Facebook is now being used mainly by individuals over the age of 30. As traditional social networks like Facebook see a decline in their numbers, other services and clients are using the lull to market their wares. One such service is Line.

BBM

BlackBerry’s decision to launch BBM for Android came at a taxing time for the Canadian organization. After a loss of almost a $1 billion in Q2 2013 and restructuring efforts that have seen the brand take in a $1 billion loan from Fairfax Financial and others, BlackBerry focused on software services to bring in additional revenue. This led to BBM’s launch on Android in October. Entering the Android messaging segment was uncharted territory for BlackBerry, and the task was made harder due to the fact that there already were a lot of established clients that boast users in the hundreds of millions.

Stats

However, BlackBerry was able to see significant interest in BBM on Android, and has seen downloads of over 20 million in the first week alone. That number is now at 50 million on Android. It is also seeing continued user engagement in the U.S. as well as other countries. BlackBerry is launching innovative new additions to ensure that interest in BBM does not die out, and one such feature that was introduced is BBM Channels. BBM Channels enables users to post status messages, create their own channel, and subscribe to other channels. It was unveiled today that BBM would come pre-installed on select LG devices, starting with the LG G Pro Lite. Similar deals are struck with services like Line being installed as default on Indian manufacturers like Micromax and Spice Mobiles. Chinese manufacturers tend to include WeChat on their handsets by default.

Aside from these messaging clients, there are other services that are also seeing to see a lot of consumer interest. One such service is Snapchat. Users can take images and videos, and then send it to their contacts on Snapchat. The catch here is that images and videos will automatically deleted, with users having the ability to set how fast they get deleted. The time range is from 1 to 10 seconds, after which the image will be deleted entirely.

After failing to acquire Snapchat for an alleged $3 billion, Facebook has launched Instagram Direct, which offers users the ability to share images with a select list of contacts.

This year, direct messaging clients have overshadowed SMS usage, and the trend is set to continue over the next few years. It has been estimated that the mobile messaging market will be worth $16 billion by 2016, with forerunners like WhatsApp and WeChat accounting for 46 percent of this figure.