The ideal messaging app
Sean Jackson for Telco-OTT Today | August 21, 2014
What functions make the perfect OTT messaging app?
At the start of August augmented reality messaging app Traces launched. Thanks to a neat USP of linking location with augmented reality to ‘gift’ people with digital content, Traces gained some high profile media traction which in the world of messaging apps is always tricky. The next trick will be convincing consumers that even though they didn’t know they needed this function, it’s actually quite compelling and they should download the app and start leaving traces all over their places.
There are thousands of messaging apps and for a developer to stand out from the crowd, let alone to compete with the all-powerful WhatsApp, they need to offer something unique. The unique thing they offer tends to be something the average user might not consider important… yet. Snapchat being a prime example of run-away success whose USP is counter-intuitively valued – why would you want messages to vanish?
The success of Snapshat is analogous with the success of text messaging. The mobile operators did not expect for one moment that sending short written messages using an alpha-numeric keyboard would be popular – after all, why would you spend minutes tapping out a limited one-way communication when you could call someone and have a real-time conversation?
“The ideal messaging app has to comprise features which are comparable to the OTT functionality which has proved to be so popular with consumers. Mobile operators launching Rich Communication Suite (RCS) have the chance to provide messaging apps which comprise these features (presence, location-based information, group chat, emoticons, voice notes and file transfer),” said Alex Duncan, CEO of Openmind. “However, the big difference is that operators can deliver these services with ubiquity – in that operator OTT services can be ‘downgraded’ or ‘upgraded’ based on the capabilities of the receiver’s device.”
Rather than hypothesise over what it is consumers want or might want, Telco-OTT Today opted to crowdsource creatives at marketing and communications company Young & Rubicam using a survey to find the features in messaging apps that they value and also to ask what feature they would most like to see (the full table of results are shown below).
By far the most important feature of those surveyed was group messaging with 502 of the 610 respondents (82.3%) ticking that box. The social media aspect of messaging has proved important for WhatsApp with Facebook viewing it enough of a threat to splash out billions of dollars to neutralise the start-up up-start. Mobile messaging developers had a hunch group chat would be popular long before WhatsApp came along coming up with a variety of ingenious ways to enable SMS grouping (though usually targeted at the enterprise crowd rather than consumers) the carriers never really got behind enabling it for subscribers though. Setting up a group using WhatsApp is easy and it has proved to be a great way of enabling cross-fertilising of contacts and establishing informal events among like-minded contacts.
Picture messaging and file sharing (78.69% and 75.25% respectively) were next up in terms of popularity, though the ability to add filters scored just 38.18% indicating that consumers are keen to share reality rather than a fuzzy retro version of it – a finding that suggests Facebook’s $1 billion acquisition of Instagram was money down the toilet. Again, it’s hardly revolutionary stuff, the carriers knew people would want to share photos. After the success of SMS, MMS was to represent the next messaging wave. Sadly, interoperability issues and prohibitive costs meant MMS was never realised as a success story. As with grouping, WhatsApp made sharing images and other content easy.
Interestingly, the fourth most popular function was the ability to send emoji (65.41%). That this frivolous function should rate so highly while the ability to send stickers (28.85%) scored so low shows consumers want their messaging to be quick and while not entirely no frills they are happier with simplicity.
“To create an app a consumer uses frequently rather than as a novelty, developers need a better recognition of what the end-user wants and needs to design a service to match, whether that’s creating a new or improving an existing element of an app. Solve the problem and the money will follow” said JF Sullivan, CMO of Acision. “With the overall trend in messaging shifting towards communication using richer content (video, graphics etc.) these are emerging as the most important elements. There will always be space for niche features such as sticker creation and yo’ing friends, but overall, customers want to have an everyday app that they can depend on for basic communication and social interaction, with the ability to have access to the frills and flourishes when needed.”
One of the most interesting findings in the survey was the desire that consumers had for Wi-Fi Calling services in comparison with VoIP services such as Skype or Viber. With 62.13% of respondents wanting Wi-Fi Calling versus 35.57% wanting VoIP services this represents a massive opportunity for mobile operators to fight back against the likes of WhatsApp and its planned VoIP service. Indoor coverage remains an issue and Wi-Fi can solve that problem.
The two least popular features according to the survey were WebRTC and VoLTE (10% and 13.77% respectively). Now, in fairness, neither of these are ‘features’ in and of themselves, but in the telecoms and technology business it is quite easy to lose sight of what is an enabler and what is a function. If nothing else, carriers and app providers should steer well clear of using terminology of the industry in their messaging when talking about functionality.
When we asked for ideas for new features a response that came back time and again was ‘search’. Now, in fairness to WhatsApp and others, search already exists as a function, it’s just that we forgot to include it in what we thought was a pretty exhaustive list of functions. Once we were reminded that search exists, it became obvious that this would be a requirement. This omission highlights a challenge that consumers have using apps, they’re becoming so feature rich it is difficult to keep track.
Here’s a list of some of the funkier ideas we received (apologies in advance if these features are already out there!):
- Accurate text dictation
- Quick linking to other apps
- A network made up from the phones
- Ability to view and receive messages on a desktop app that syncs with the phone app
This one was possibly the sneakiest feature – but, we imagine, would be very popular:
- Have one conversation with groups and within the back and forth have the ability to hide the message from some and not others i.e. like you whisper to some and others can’t hear it. And know you are doing that.
- A sarcasm alert
App developers face a wide range of challenges. Consumers only make use of a fraction of the features they spend time creating, and you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Perhaps then one-trick ponies like Yo that enable users to send the word “yo” to contacts are the way forward or possibly a DIY open source messaging platform that lets users pick and choose features and add them to the app.
What would you call your app? Well, here’s a word-cloud of the more popular choices …. er I’m pretty sure a few of these already exist