Messaging apps are the most widely used smartphone apps in the world, with the top platforms boasting over a billion monthly active users. Many of the most popular messaging apps emerged around the same time as some social media platforms but have evolved into stand-alone entities, offering a wide variety of services beyond just simple sending and receiving texts.
This number is 12.1% higher than the figure for 2018. As the number of messaging app users increases over the next few years, reaching 3.12 billion by 2023, the annual growth rate is estimated to slow down. In 2019, 87.1% of smartphone users globally use at least one mobile messaging app, while by 2023, this number is expected to increase to 90.1%.
In the last few years, collective downloads of the most popular messengers have outnumbered those of social media apps by a considerable margin. This is complemented by usage of messaging apps in greater numbers, as well. This is to be expected, however, considering that messaging apps have gone beyond just tools for sending and receiving messages, evolving into multimedia platforms tailored to individual users.
Thanks to the penetration of fast internet and the availability of smartphones, messaging apps have become a strong force in the mobile app market. The initial appeal of most popular instant messaging apps over SMS was that they were free while SMS was not. Now, with extra features like group chats, voice calls, video calls, and photo sharing, mobile messaging has become one of the main functions performed by smartphones.
The above stat indicates that different messaging apps tend to fulfill different needs of the same user. For instance, the kind of communication that WhatsApp is used for would be very different from what Snapchat is used for. Research into the usage pattern of popular messaging apps has shown that while 36% of messaging app users use two or more such apps on their phones, 16% use three or more.
Facebook Messenger introduced Messenger for Business in 2015, allowing users with company Facebook pages to make use of the live chat feature. This feature, now available on other platforms also, has become very popular with customers. Messaging also scores higher than phone calls in terms of customer satisfaction, with 90% customers reporting satisfaction with messaging, compared to 77% for phone support.
Many of the top messengers, such as Facebook Messenger, Skype, and Telegram, support chatbot integration into their core systems. According to a poll of US consumers, nearly 30% of overall chatbot users on major messaging platforms reported using them to communicate with a business, and over half of millennial users reported being interested in using them to engage with local businesses, specifically.
While additional features do help increase the stickiness of messaging apps, according to a 2018 survey of US consumers, group chat and sending of media/emojis are the two main functions most used in messaging apps. While 29% of respondents reported using each of these two features, the percentages for other features like gaming, shopping, payments/money transfers, search, location sharing, and delivery were 11%, 9%, 8%, 8%, 6%, and 5%, respectively.
According to the 2018 Digital News Report, the use of social media for news has started to fall in several key markets after years of continuous growth. Usage is down six percentage points in the US, and it is also down in the UK and France. At the same time, popular communication apps are increasingly being used for news as consumers look for more private and less confrontational spaces to communicate. WhatsApp is now used for news by around half of the report’s sample of online users in Malaysia (54%) and Brazil (48%) and by around a third in Spain (36%) and Turkey (30%).
The massive user base of the popular messaging apps, if monetized effectively, can turn into a very productive asset. Most platforms have begun focusing resources toward this aim with the help of chatbots. For example, Facebook advertisers can access users through Facebook Messenger, giving them additional opportunities to convert customers. As we will see below, some apps have been slightly more successful in this endeavor.
WhatsApp has 1.6 billion monthly active users around the globe, making it the most popular messaging app. Facebook Messenger occupies the second spot, with 1.3 billion monthly active users. Since Facebook also owns WhatsApp, it gives the company an enviable position when it comes to the messaging aspect of social media.
This includes countries like the US, Canada, and Australia, where Facebook Messenger tops the ranking list of the most popular communication apps. Interestingly, if you combine the popularity of all the existing apps in the Facebook universe, there are only ten countries in the entire world where a Facebook-owned app is not the market leader.
As of June 2019, Facebook Messenger was by far the most popular messaging app in the US and the only one used by more than half of mobile users in the country. Snapchat ranked second in the US, with a reach of 25.9%, while WhatsApp is only in the third position with a reach of a little over 13%.
Note that Snapchat isn’t just the most popular IM for teenage users. Millennials form a very attractive market for consumer-focused products and services, and Snapchat has made real inroads into this market in the US. It scores well above not just messaging apps but even social media in general, with Instagram managing the second place as 35% of US teens consider it the most important. Other apps like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest together find favor with less than 15% of American teenagers.
If we look at the most popular messaging apps in the USA in terms of the average duration of user engagement, Skype is followed by Google Hangouts (2.43 minutes), Viber (2.02 minutes), and WeChat (1.9 minutes). Snapchat and WhatsApp rank much lower on this criterion with an average session duration of 1.79 minutes and 1.69 minutes, respectively.
Another criterion to rank messaging apps is the average number of sessions per user per month. In the US, Google Messenger, which is present in all Android phones, ranks at the top among the most used chat apps based on this metric. Snapchat sees 130.06 sessions on average, while WhatsApp sees 105.41 sessions. Facebook Messenger is much lower at 69.09 sessions, indicating a much lower frequency of use.
Thus, Google Messenger also tops the list when we consider the average monthly time spent on the apps in the US. The monthly duration spent on Snapchat is nearly half of that of Google Messenger’s. The figures for other popular texting apps are 177.67 minutes for WhatsApp and 94.67 minutes for Facebook Messenger.
In keeping with what we have seen in terms of the popularity of messaging apps in the US, Facebook Messenger sees more downloads from the Google Play Store than any other competitor. However, as of October 2019, WhatsApp sees more downloads than Snapchat does. WeChat and Discord are other messaging apps among apps seeing high download numbers in the US.
The strength of emerging markets is reflected in the user base of WhatsApp, the most popular messaging app in the world. After India, the app’s largest user base is in Brazil, where it has 99 million active users. The USA ranks third, with 68.1 million active users. Indonesia, Mexico, and Russia make up the top six, with 59.9 million, 57.2 million, and 54.1 million active users, respectively.
While the largest number of WhatsApp users may be based in countries like India and Brazil, WhatsApp statistics show that the messaging app’s penetration levels are the highest in Europe, based on data on the most popular messaging apps by country. It is used by 85% of internet users in the Netherlands, followed by 83.1% in Spain and 83% in Italy.
WhatsApp introduced Status, a feature similar to Snapchat and Facebook Stories, in February 2017. Status allows users to share content that disappears after 24 hours. The feature had 175 million global users in Q1 2017, with the figure rising to 450 million by Q2 2018.
As we will see further below, the messaging app of choice for the 15-25 age group in the US is Snapchat. However, with 18% usage in the 26-35 group and 16% in the 36-45 group, WhatsApp is the most popular texting app among Americans of working age. WhatsApp also has more users than Snapchat in the 56+ age group.
Since its launch in 2011, Snapchat has become one of the most popular messaging and photo-sharing apps in the world, particularly among the youth. After seeing a consistent rise in the number of daily active users since its introduction, the app witnessed a slight drop in DAU in early 2018, falling from 191 million in Q1 2018 to 186 million in Q3 2018. Since then, however, the figures have risen again, coming up to 190 million in Q1 2019 and 203 million in Q2 2019.
While social networking apps like Facebook and Instagram have a much higher number of monthly active users in the US, among popular instant messaging apps, Snapchat is doing quite well in the country with nearly 50 million monthly active users. As mentioned earlier, the only messaging app more popular than Snapchat in the US is Facebook Messenger, which has 108 million monthly active users.
As of Q2 2019, Snapchat had 83 million daily active users in North America, 64 million in Europe, and 56 million in other parts of the world. From its early days, the app has been more popular in North America than any other part of the world; however, the chart shows that it has managed to grow its user base in other countries gradually to become one of the most used messaging apps.
This is another set of data that confirms Snapchat’s popularity among young internet users in the US. The corresponding figures for other age groups keep on decreasing with increasing age. Among users above 56, Snapchat’s penetration is just 4%. Thus, it’s mainly the youngest user base that has propelled Snapchat to the second position among messaging apps in the US.
While WeChat is a platform with a variety of features, messaging is one of the key purposes its users log in to the app for. First released in 2011 by Tencent, WeChat has seen a consistent rise in its instant messaging market share, even though the rate of growth has begun to slow down now. As per WeChat statistics, the app had 1.06 billion monthly active users in Q2 2018 and 0.96 billion in Q2 2017.
Some messaging apps have taken the lead in monetizing their user base. One of the more successful ones in this category is WeChat, which has become almost indispensable for its core users, especially in China. The average user on Facebook Messenger, in contrast, will be worth about $5 by 2020. The platform continues to develop new features in entertainment and ecommerce to push this average revenue per user upward.
WeChat also scores quite high among the most popular chat apps when it comes to the frequency of engagement of its users. With a majority of users opening the app at least ten times per day, the scope for monetization is really strong. Advertising makes up only about 15% of the revenue on WeChat, but that number is expected to grow as advertisers gain access to the platform’s closed network.
Another noteworthy point about WeChat is that, unlike most of his counterparts, it has managed to develop a very strong user base even among the oldest consumers. For many users from this cohort, WeChat has become an integral part of their daily lives as it takes care of multiple needs of the elderly, helping the app consolidate its messaging apps market share in China.
The growing popularity of voice texting is one of the most notable trends in messaging in 2019. While most messaging apps do not currently reveal the number of voice messages sent on their platforms, there are indications of this method of communication becoming popular. Voice texts are the second most popular type of file shared on Facebook Messenger, after photos but before videos, GIFs, and documents. Most other popular messengers have also begun to offer this feature now.
Viber, also known as Rakuten Viber after its acquisition by Rakuten in 2014, has been a prominent player in the messaging market since 2011. While the number of user IDs is not the same as active users, the rise in the number of IDs may stand in for the rise in popularity of the app. Viber statistics show that this number has risen at an almost steady pace since 2014-2015 after a slightly faster rate of growth in Viber’s early years. The corresponding figure for March 2018 was 1.01 billion, and for March 2017, it was 0.89 billion.
Viber has an interesting mix of nationalities in its user base. 26.85% of its users, as of September 2019, are from Ukraine. 19.63% belong to Russia, and 5.26% to Belarus, making Viber one of the most popular text messaging apps in the East European region. After this, the next largest batch—4.28%—from the US, followed by 3.63% from Vietnam.
Telegram has not been particularly popular in the US, reaching just about 1.8% of the mobile audience by June 2019, but it has maintained its strength in Russia, the country where it was founded. Apart from Russia, it has also been making inroads in many European markets, particularly Germany where it is one of the most frequently used mobile messaging apps.
Discord is one of the youngest contenders among the most popular texting apps, but it has already left some more established players behind in terms of usage. The gaming-focused app had just 45 million registered users in mid-2017, while by mid-2019, this number had risen to 250 million. The app is gradually becoming popular outside gaming, as it is increasingly being used by podcasters and social media personalities. Discord also boasts a high rate of user engagement, making it a major challenger to other messaging apps.
Many people in the West may not have even heard of QQ, the mobile messaging offering from the Chinese giant, Tencent, but its Chinese user base is strong enough to make it the fourth among the most popular messaging apps in the world. The rate of its user base growth seems to have slowed down a bit, though, with 783.4 million monthly active users in 2017, 807.1 million in 2018, and 807.9 million in 2019.
Another popular messaging app that people outside Asia might have not heard of is LINE, launched by Naver in Japan in 2011. It is particularly widely used not only in its home market of Japan but also in Taiwan, Indonesia, and Thailand, with a monthly active user base of 164 million in just these four countries. Like many of the other most popular messaging apps, LINE also offers a bunch of features beyond messaging, such as payment services, music, manga downloads, etc.
Operated by the South Korean Kakao Corporation, this IM is particularly popular in its homeland. In fact, of the 50 million global KakaoTalk users, more than 44 million were based in South Korea. Notably, KakaoTalk had hit the 50 million monthly active user mark way back in 2013, but it saw a subsequent decline in usage over the next few years, crossing the 50-million mark again in 2019, which makes it one of the most popular messenger apps in Asia.
ICQ was acquired by AOL in 1998 and is still around, but it is nowhere as popular as it once used to be. There are many other services and apps that once could be counted among top IM applications in the world but are now either not operational or unpopular. The list includes AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, iChat, Google Talk, Gaim, Jabber, and MySpaceIM.
There was a time when Skype was one of the most popular messaging apps, especially in a business environment. With new platforms rising in prominence and Skype introducing certain unpopular updates, its usage seems to have shrunk. However, it still boasts of a high number of monthly active users and continues to offer interesting features like screen sharing.
iMessage, the messaging app from Apple, is often not included in the list of other widely-used messaging apps. Usage data for iMessage is also not easy to come by. However, based on information shared by Apple itself, it is estimated that iMessage has about 1.3 billion active users worldwide, making it as popular as Facebook Messenger, second only to WhatsApp.