Jon Russell over at The Next Web brought up a possibility of what the Skype-Telkomsel deal means for messaging. When people think of Skype, the first thing that comes to mind is free phone and video calls between Skype users and reduced call rates to regular landline as well as mobile numbers. While free text messaging is certainly a part of Skype, the brand is not immediately identifiable with it. If Skype is going to make a challenge into this field, it has a mountain of competitors to conquer.
Competing with Skype in mobile instant messaging are big time players such as BlackBerry Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, mig33, Facebook Message, and WhatsApp. There are many more but these are the prominent ones. Apple’s iMessage and Google’s Messenger in Google+ Android and iPhone apps are worth mentioning but they are still in early infancy with limited feature, reach, and reliability and thus not in a position to appeal greatly to the masses just yet.
SMS is still the outright god of text messaging but its lack of flexibility, features, and outdated user experience, as well as lack of free texting across local and international networks puts it out of the running in terms of modern text service, not to mention the outrageous cost of SMS in several countries. For the majority of global mobile users they probably won’t take a step beyond SMS but for those on smartphone platforms, they want a better way to communicate over text.
This killer app from RIM is clearly the king of mobile messaging in Indonesia but it’s obviously limited to just BlackBerry devices. At one point, it became the reason for Indonesians to pick up a BlackBerry because people did not want to miss out on the latest gossip or updates among friends. Additionally, BBM is not only included in BlackBerry services but it’s done over a secure channel, untraceable, has ability to manage group messaging, has delivery and read notices, and it’s reliable (most of the time anyway).
WhatsApp is probably the next most popular alternative for text messaging among smartphone users. The shine of the BlackBerry as themust-have device among the hip and happening has cooled somewhat thanks to the iPhone 4 as well as high end Android devices. It’s no longer unusual to see people carrying an iPhone 4, an Android phone, or even a Nokia in addition to or instead of a BlackBerry.
Part of this is thanks to WhatsApp which works across many mobile platforms. Since WhatsApp has many of the features of BBM, people are no longer as dependent or as eager to own a BlackBerry as before. Sure, WhatsApp may not be as secure as BBM but that’s not why people flocked to BBM in the first place, people have a need to connect and WhatsApp liberates people from having to rely on one brand of device.
The simple yet captivating mig33 is appealing to those who dwell in the very large bracket of low end mobile market. Most smartphone owners are less likely to adopt this environment but mig33 is aiming for Android as the Google OS makes its way to the low end devices. It is nearly equally as popular as Facebook in terms of raw numbers and usage in the country.
Facebook Message is something that you would think would be popular among Indonesians but as it turns out, while Indonesians love Facebook, the messaging feature of the social network isn’t so popular. People don’t immediately associate Facebook as a messaging platform. They certainly recognize this fact but still prefer to text over BBM or WhatsApp.
Part of the reason is probably because the Facebook mobile app does not emphasize on messaging despite Mark Zuckerberg’s insistence on making Facebook Message a replacement for email, and for a good reason. The Facebook app is an app to access Facebook in its entirety, which is why Facebook released a separate messaging app for iOS and Android several months ago. This was most likely done to increase adoption of Facebook as a messaging platform. Facebook Message is fast, has groups, flexible, and is ubiquitous. You can check your messages on a desktop, on tablets, on phones, or other devices that have access to Facebook. Its universal nature makes Facebook Message a no-brainer as an alternative messaging platform, but people simply have yet to see it that way.
iMessage & Google+ Messenger
As for the new upstarts, Apple’s iMessage and Google+ Messenger still have a long way to go. While both are functional, each has its own quirks and drawbacks.
iMessage looks pretty and works seamlessly with SMS unless you tell it otherwise. It works across iOS devices running iOS 5 but not on desktop or notebook computers. Having an option to register using AppleID email is a big plus as people won’t need to rely on phone numbers but it is let down by the features. A big plus (or minus depending on how you look at it) is that messages get sent to all Apple mobile devices registered to the same account so you’ll be less likely to miss a message.
While iMessage can have groups, these are permanent. Group members cannot leave and they cannot refuse to receive a message. There is also no way to remove someone from a group or delete the group itself. Additionally there’s no way to name the group. For one to one messaging iMessage is great, but group texting is one aspect that definitely needs to be looked at before it catches on like wildfire.
Google+ Messenger on the Google+ mobile app is still far too unreliable for the masses to adopt, not to mention limited to iOS and Android users only for now. Plenty of messages don’t actually get sent on time, often there’s a delay and sometimes it fails to deliver. Sometimes messages do get delivered and read but the sender wouldn’t know it until the receiver replies because the icon hasn’t changed its status. You can’t delete messages either.
We finally get to Skype. Recently acquired by Microsoft, Skype should be even more mainstream in the mobile space once it hits Windows Phone. There really is no reason why Skype has yet to catch on as a premiere mobile text messaging app given its universal nature but its problem is that people see Skype as an audio/video chat service, not a text messaging service. For most people, texting on Skype seems to be an afterthought.
Perhaps by signing up Skype, Telkomsel is hoping to gain the non-BBM crowd. After all, its Skype plan is similar to the BBM/social network data packages offered by it and other local telcos but available to a greater range of customers.
At the end of the day though, people will most likely use multiple text messaging apps according to their needs, similar to how people have multiple email addresses meant for different purposes. Whichever one is popular among their peers is what’s going to be used the most. There’s likely not going to be one text app to rule them all and that’s probably a good thing.