The Rise of Mobile Instant Messaging
Smartphone adoption and mobile applications are altering both how and why consumers stay connected through their mobile devices. As technology develops, users expect not only faster methods of communication, but improved user experience and simplicity. Instant messaging (IM), now available by mobile device, computer and tablet, will challenge the SMS/text-dominated market in 2011. With a change in consumer behavior, SMS could begin to lose ground to IM in 2011.
By Rebecca Johnson, Interactive Strategist
In 2009, about 13% or roughly 40 million mobile users owned smartphones.7
At present, 35% of U.S. mobile phone users own a smartphone, and Nielsen predicts smartphones will be the dominant form of mobile device in the U.S. by the end of 2011.8
The primary driver behind the acquisition of smartphones is consumer demand for constant mobile Internet access. Previous versions of cell phones called “feature phones” allowed users to stay in touch through talk and text functionality, and while texting has continued to rise over the last decade, the development of applications or “apps” has opened the doors to improved methods of communications.
One such emerging, or rather resurging, method of mobile communication is Instant Messaging (IM). Popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, IM is a real-time direct text-based communication sent over the Internet between two or more people using personal computers.9
As mobile phones infiltrated the market, consumers began using less desktop-based IM, opting instead for mobile texting. However, improvements in cell phone technology have allowed IM to go mobile with Mobile Instant Messaging (MIM). MIM can be accessed from portable devices ranging from feature phones to smartphones to tablets that use various operating systems (e.g. iOS, BlackBerry OS, Symbian OS, Android OS, Windows Mobile, etc.). MIM clients/applications also allow Internet users to access all of their favorite IM networks (MSN, Yahoo!, Google Talk, AIM, Facebook, MySpace, Skype and Twitter) through one portal from all of their devices. Additionally, placing calls via VoIP; sending instant messages, photos and videos; and checking when outgoing messages are received can all be managed through a cellphone data plan.
In recent months, the use of this communication platform has begun to generate industry buzz. According to a recent study by the Nielsen Company, 18% of smartphone owners and 11% of regular mobile phone users had used an IM app in the last 30 days.10
Instant messaging apps have more weekly users than games apps: 26% and 18% respectively. MIM apps and social networking sites (like Facebook, which offers its own version of MIM) capture more face time than mobile games. MIM users spend on average 18 minutes per day with MIM apps, compared with 11 minutes per day with social networking applications and 7 minutes per day on gaming apps.Implications and Action Items
As MIM gains traction in the smartphone and app-based cellphone market, 2011 could see the tipping point for this communication platform. In order to plan for the future, learn from the past by examining the circumstances and situations surrounding the rise of MIM.
- Keep Your Ear to the Ground: SMS/Text messaging is still the top dog. But just as Beta lost to VHS, and HD-DVD lost to Blu-Ray, so too can it be dethroned.
- Look to the Future: Mobile technology, whether app- or operating-platform-based, is developing at a rapid pace. Look for MIM systems to become more robust and pervasive, encompassing more valuable functionality such as live voice or video calling.
- Popular at Home = Popular on the Go: Instant messaging has been a staple form of communication in home and at the office, so although MIM is a little late to the game, it should be no surprise if this technology becomes an on-the-go staple.
- Apps Are Changing Marketing Strategy: With consumers spending more and more time buying and using apps, like MIM, creating an app-based strategy to deliver either in-app or app-based advertising and marketing messaging should be a key part of a mobile advertising.
8 GigaOM. "1 in 2 Americans Will Have a Smartphone by Christmas 2011", March 2010. .