In a recent post, Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz read into the announcement from Whatsapp that the company’s 700 million monthly active users are sending 30 billion messages a day. Aside from justifying Facebook’s acquisition at $22 billion last year, the numbers are important in a more general way, because the global SMS system passes only 20 billion messages per day. Yes, Whatsapp — just a single messaging app — is 50% larger than the world’s SMS traffic.
SMS traffic worldwide has been dropping over the past few years, directly as a result of the rise of messaging apps like Whatsapp, Snapchat, Kik, WeChat (big in China), OS-paired services like Apple’s iMessage (which Evans puts in the category of ‘dark matter’ because with 400 million iPhones in use, it probably big), and social network-paired services like Facebook Messenger.
Messaging is central to mobile, and as more people have access to smarter phones SMS is rapidly becoming an anachronism.
Consider that apps have access to your phone contacts, so starting up on a new mobile messaging app is not as much as a headache as joining a new social network online, since you are in essence bringing your network with you wherever you go.
Just as important: since your mobile device is always with you, you will tend to initiate and receive messages on the device rather than on a PC, and that is reinforcing the swing of this growth in messaging.
Also, apps are starting to intercommunicate on Android and iOS, so we are likely to see some interesting use cases developing, like this idea floated by Jonathan Libov of Union Square Ventures. He wondered about messaging apps communicating with apps, like this mock-up of an iMessage client communicating with Foursquare:
This feels in some ways like a chatbot, but could be implemented in any number of ways.
I think one additional area where we will see this sort of integration is in the area of e-commerce, or what many are calling contextual commerce. My friend Chris Messina wrote about this recently, noting Path’s new push for its Talk app, that allows people to message local businesses, and texting the shopping assistants on Fetch.
Messina’s contention is that ‘concierge-style services may become the primary way in which people transact on their mobile devices’ since people don’t want to do complex searches or mess with websites that are not optimized for mobile interaction. At the same time, every florist shop and hairdresser doesn’t want to get a Talk account — at least not right away — so the concierge at Path may be making a telephone call to get that information or make that appointment. (This leaves to one side how Path makes money on this: a topic for another post.)
The new era of messaging is already having an impact on business, but the trends playing out in the consumer web almost always jump into the business side of things a year or so later, like file sync-and-share has done. Also note that Whatsapp is hosted on IBM’s SoftLayer, another proof of how truly large scale cloud services are providing capabilities today that were basically unthinkable a few years ago.
All of these trends show that the huge promise of mobile messaging is being realized already, and we are barreling into a mobile future where messaging may become the primary modality, perhaps even rivaling virtual assistants, like Cortana, Siri, and Amazon’s new Edge device. Until they get all the kinks worked out on those assistants — and so long as Spike Jonze’s Her is still scifi — messaging is going to remain front and center on mobile.