Messaging apps (a.k.a. social messaging or chat applications) are apps and platforms that enable instant messaging. Messaging apps are online messaging services used primarily via mobile platforms. Many such apps have developed into broad platforms enabling status updates, chatbots, payments and conversational commerce (e-commerce via chat). They are normally centralised networks run by the servers of the platform's operators, unlike peer-to-peer protocols like XMPP. Some examples of popular messaging apps include WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, China's WeChat and QQ Messenger, Telegram, Viber, Line, and Snapchat. The popularity of certain apps greatly differ between different countries. Certain apps have emphasis on certain uses - for example Skype focuses on video calling, Slack focuses on messaging and file sharing for work teams, and Snapchat focuses on image messages. Some social networking services offer messaging services as a component of their overall platform, such as Facebook's Facebook Messenger, while others have a direct messaging function as an additional adjunct component of their social networking platforms, like Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, TikTok, Clubhouse and Twitter, either directly or through chat rooms. Messaging apps are the most widely used smartphone apps, with in 2018 over 1.3 billion monthly users of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, 980 million monthly active users of WeChat and 843 million monthly active users of QQ Mobile.
In 1961, MIT's Computation Center built the Compatible Time Sharing System (CTSS) which facilitated communication via text message for up to 30 people. The first dedicated online chat platform is recognized as CompuServe’s CB Simulator, which was released in 1980 and required a monthly membership fee. In 1996, Israeli firm Mirabilis released ICQ (short for “I Seek You”), the first widely used online messenger platform.
In 1985, Quantum Link (or Q-Link) created an online service that allowed group chat, file sharing, email, games, and news with a modem connection. In 1991, Quantum Link changed its name to America Online (AOL) and became the leading Internet service provider and web portal in the United States by the mid-1990s. At this time, modern instant messaging and SMS also started becoming widely used by the general public. AOL launched the widely known platform AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) in 1997 and purchased Mirabilis’ ICQ in 1998, establishing dominance in the instant messaging market. By 2006, AIM controlled 52 percent of the instant messaging market, but rapidly declined shortly thereafter as the company struggled to compete with other services.
With increased globally increased smartphone usage, messaging apps surpassed SMS in message volume by 2013. In January 2015, the service WhatsApp alone accommodated 30 billion messages daily in comparison to about 20 billion for SMS.
As of October 2019, the most used messaging apps worldwide are WhatsApp with 1.6 billion active users, Facebook messenger with 1.3 billion users, and WeChat with 1.1 billion. There are only 25 countries in the world where WhatsApp is not the market leader in messaging apps and only 10 countries where the leading messenger app is not owned by Facebook.
SMS is the acronym for “short message service” and allows mobile phone users to send text messages without an Internet connection, while instant messaging provides similar services through an Internet connection. SMS was a much more dominant form of communication until 2012, when smartphones became widely used globally. While SMS relied on traditional paid telephone services, messaging apps were available for free or a minor data charge. In 2012 SMS volume peaked, and in 2013 chat apps surpassed SMS in global message volume.
Easier group messaging was another advantage of smartphone messaging apps and also contributed to their adoption. Before the introduction of messaging apps, smartphone users could only participate in single-person interactions via mobile voice calls or SMS. With the introduction of messaging apps, the group chat functionality allows all the members to see an entire thread of everyone's responses. Members can also respond directly to each other, rather than having to go through the member who started the group message, to relay the information.
However, SMS still remains popular in the United States because it is usually included free in monthly phone bundles. While SMS volumes in some countries like Denmark, Spain and Singapore dropped up to two-thirds from 2011 to 2013, in the United States SMS use only dropped by about one quarter.
Messaging applications have affected the way people communicate on their devices. A survey conducted by MetrixLabs showed that messaging applications 63% of Baby Boomers, 63% of Generation X, and 67% of Generation Y said that they used messaging applications in place of texting. As communication moves from texting and email to messaging applications, communication has become faster and more efficient; a Facebook survey showed that 65% of people surveyed thought that messaging applications made group messaging easier.
Messaging applications have also changed how people communicate in the workplace. Enterprise messaging applications like Slack, TeleMessage, Teamnote and Yammer allow companies to enforce policies on how employees message at work and ensure secure storage of sensitive data. Message applications allow employees to separate work information from their personal emails and texts.
Messaging applications may make workplace communication efficient, but they can also have consequences on productivity. A study at Slack showed on average, people spend 10 hours a day on Slack, which is about 67% more time than they spend using email.
Messaging applications with 10 million or more downloads or users. (Note: this list is for applications, not individual services and protocols such as XMPP or Matrix)
|Discord||Discord Inc.||250 million users (May 2019)||Software used for voice and text messaging during gaming.|
|eBuddy XMS||eBuddy||250 million users (September 2011)||Voice and text messaging application|
|Element||New Vector||20 million users (November 2020)||Voice, video and text messaging, ability to selfhost servers|
|Facebook Messenger||1.82 billion (2017)||Voice, video, and text messaging application for Facebook|
|GroupMe||Microsoft||10.75 million (2019)||Mobile application for group messaging|
|iMessage||Apple Inc.||1.3 billion (2019)||Instant messaging application for devices running iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and watchOS|
|KakaoTalk||Kakao||Voice and text messaging mobile application used primarily in South Korea|
|Kik Messenger||Kik Interactive||300 million (2016)||Voice and text messaging mobile application for Android and IoS|
|Line||Naver||217 million (2016)||Free text and voice messaging application|
Signal Messenger, LLC
|Over 50 million Google Play downloads; Exact usage not tracked||End-to-end encrypted instant messaging, voice and video|
|Slack||Slack Technologies||12 million daily active users||Messaging applications targeted for the workplace|
|Snapchat||Snap Inc.||210 million daily active users (2019)||Time-limited messaging and pictures|
|Skype||Microsoft||300 million monthly active users (2020)||Texting and video calling application for mobile devices, computers, and Xbox|
|Telegram||Telegram FZ LLC||500 million monthly active users (2021)||End-to-end encrypted cloud-based instant messaging|
|Tencent QQ||Tencent Holdings Limited||807 million (2018)||Messaging application with online games, animations, and photos|
|Viber||Rakuten||1.095 billion registered users||Japanese cross-platform messaging application|
|Tencent Holdings Limited||1.132 billion monthly active users (Q2’ 2019)||Multipurpose messaging, social, and payment application|
|2 billion registered users (February 2020); 500 million daily active users (March 2019);||Free texting and calling application for mobile phones and computers|
Private chat allows private conversation with another person or a group. The privacy aspect can also be enhanced as applications have a timer feature, like Snapchat, where messages or conversations are automatically deleted once the time limit is reached. Public and group chat features allow users to communicate with multiple people at a time.
Many major messaging apps offer the call feature for user-to-user calls, conference calls, and voice messages. The call functionality is useful for professionals who utilize the application for work purposes and as a hands-free method.
Some messaging applications include in-app games for entertainment. For example, the Facebook Messenger application has a built in option to play computer games with people in a chat, including games like Tetris and Blackjack.
Though a relatively new feature, peer-to-peer payments are available on major messaging platforms. This functionality allows individuals to use one application for both communication and financial tasks. The lack of a service fee also makes messaging apps advantageous to financial applications. Major platforms such as Facebook messenger and We Chat already offer a payment feature, and this functionality is likely to become a standard among st messaging apps competing in the market.
Encryption is the primary method that messaging apps use to protect user's data privacy and security. SMS messages are not encrypted, making them insecure, as the content of each SMS message is visible to mobile carriers and governments and can be intercepted by a third party. SMS messages also leak metadata, or information about the message that is not the message content itself, such as phone numbers of the sender and recipient, which can identify the people involved in the conversation. SMS messages can also be spoofed and the sender of the message can be edited to impersonate another person.
Messaging applications on the market that use end-to-end encryption include Signal, WhatsApp, Wire and iMessage. Applications that have been criticized for lacking or poor encryption methods include Telegram and Confide, as both are prone to error.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is commonly implemented in SMS messaging to handle large amounts of messages and data. AI technology first classifies the content of each message as personal, promotional, or transactional. It then filters through the message to display key information for each mobile user. As it trains itself by sorting millions of sample messages to take into account syntax and semantic patterns per each message, it learns to classify messages and extract key components of each message, such as dates, numbers, and other information.
In 2016, Google introduced a new intelligent messaging app that incorporates machine learning technology called Allo.