Whats App – Is It The Start Of Decline?
The rivalries among the tech industry’s giants have often resembled a “Game of Thrones”, in which companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple constantly try to invade one another’s online kingdoms. On February 19th Facebook took a dramatic step to defend its turf, saying it would pay $19 billion for WhatsApp, a messaging service that had also attracted the attention of Google and almost certainly other suitors.
The number of texts sent using the Short Message Service (SMS) dropped from 152 billion in 2012 to 145bn in 2013, according to estimates from Deloitte, whilst the number of messages sent using internet-connected services was thought to have risen from 57bn in 2012 to 160bn in 2013.
However, luckily for network operators, they can rely instead on a less fickle demographic: the over 55s. Smartphone adoption is rising amongst senior citizens (it’s expected to reach 68 per cent this year) but these gradual-adopters prefer to rely on SMS and calls rather than download a range of confusing apps.
Even as rival messaging apps such as WeChat, LINE, Kik and Tango have made progress in various markets in Latin America, Africa and Asia, it has seemed thatWhatsApp has retained an iron grip on the United States market. It may be belowFacebook, Twitter and Vine on the iOS download chart, but it still ranks above Kik, Viber and Facebook Messenger. LINE popped up the U.S. download rankings briefly a while ago, backed by a massive marketing push, but it fell down quickly after the ad spend ended.
This is in stark contrast with Kik, which has increased its engagement from 4.81% to 5.83% between May and August. Or GroupMe, which has moved from 2.45% to 2.81%. Or Snapchat, which has vaulted from 16.8% to 20.8%. Many of the bigger, established apps have in fact shown stagnant engagement trends in recent months, including veterans like Skype and Twitter. But none of them show a decline as steep as WhatsApp. Even Groupon has remained flat between May and August — big changes in engagement levels are rare, because consumer app habits tend to be relatively stable.
Is it possible that WhatsApp is being nibbled to death by a hundred ducks, its engagement level dropping as particularly younger consumers migrate to new, fresh services like Kik and Snapchat? The download performance of WhatsApp has deteriorated steeply since the early summer. Before mid-July, the app was routinely in the top 3 of all free iPhone downloads in America.
But over the past two months, WhatsApp has abruptly and surprisingly started swinging between No. 20 and No. 40 in the US download chart. This may be linked to the algorithm changes implemented by Apple since the App Store rankings now favor free apps that generate revenue from in-app purchases in a certain manner. Could it be possible that the WhatsApp drop in the App Store rankings is linked to the decline of its monthly user base that Onavo is detecting?
This is still early days for a new trend, but it is definitely starting to look as though the American messaging app market may be more fluid and open to change than had been anticipated. Facebook may have been able to squash its smaller rivals in the social network space, claiming an effective monopoly in its niche in the American market. But that winner-take-all dynamic does not seem to be repeating in the messaging app segment.