Posts Tagged ‘sms’

Messenger apps, disrupting text messaging (SMS)

Here are my thoughts on messenger applications, and if you read beyond, there’s an idea worth thinking about.

Dramatis Personnae:

  • Beluga: Free, Private group messaging on your mobile (with Facebook integration). Works on iOS and Android. Created by ex-Googler’s. Recently acquired by Facebook.
  • Foound: A fun and easy way to organise hangouts with friends and follow their activities. Works on iOS only. Funded, round probably led by Neoteny Labs (a Joi Ito firm). Based in Singapore.
  • WhatsApp Messenger: Cross-platform mobile messaging app, works on iOS, BlackBerry, Android, Nokia. Group chat included. Costs money on some platforms (USD$0.99 on iOS, free trial for a year on BlackBerry/Android, etc.). Started by a couple of ex-Yahoo! chaps.
  • Kik Messenger: Text. Photos. Groups. Its like BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). I’ve not used it extensively, but its brought to you by some ex-RIM chaps, folk that worked on BBM. Just took USD$8 million in Series A funding, including from interesting firms like Union Square Ventures (and Fred Wilson joins the board).
  • PingChat! – Similar to WhatsApp and Kik, it works on iOS, BlackBerry and Android. Has support for video and voice notes, but I have not played with it much.
  • TalkBox – text is boring, why not use voice. Its basically push-to-talk in software. iOS only.

Today I use BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) a lot. I carry an Android and BlackBerry device in my pocket most of the time. If friends have a BlackBerry, we’re usually chatting on it via BBM, and we’ve given up the idea of sending a SMS. BBM also supports group chats, which means you can coordinate things amongst groups of people quite easily. The only “downside” to BBM is that I have to pay for the BIS service on a monthly basis (it enables push email for 10+1 email accounts, plus gives me BBM). BBM allows me to message friends all around the world, with zero cost. I tend not to use BBM when I’m roaming because data charges are ridiculous.

Which now brings me to discuss messenger apps like WhatsApp and Kik. I’ve been using WhatsApp for quite some time now, on my BlackBerry and my Android device. I also happen to have it running on test Symbian devices as well as know heaps of people running it on iOS devices. Its got traction. It uses my unlimited data plan which I pay for monthly, but when I’m roaming, again I do not use WhatsApp. Kik is the new kid on the block, received funding, and is backed by a serious team of ex-RIM folk. In my phonebook, I don’t see it gaining much traction, as WhatsApp seems to still be prime. Kik is free, so I wonder what their plans are to make money. Maybe Kik has solid management, which is what the VCs looked for. Kik is however not on the BlackBerry platform, and RIM is suing the company.

Foound and Beluga. Foound has been around for about a year, and I think it was myopic of the team to just focus on iOS. Yes, the iOS is popular in Singapore, but to gain traction you have to grow beyond just that market. Not focusing on Android and BlackBerry were probably huge mistakes; maybe its time for the company to pivot? Beluga is kind of like Foound, works on more than just iOS, and it seems its more integrated, with its Facebook logins. Of course, Facebook acquired them (team of three folk); their team is much smaller/leaner than the Foound team.

An idea worth implementing

Here is a suggestion for differentiation. What annoys me the most with BBM is that I use it to chat with friends and groups of friends while I’m on the move. When I’m chained to my desk, I would rather not use my BlackBerry to respond to messages. Its all data anyway, so why not offer a desktop client?

Google does this kind of well with Google Chat. It runs on my mobile with data enabled, and when I’m on my desktop, I just fire up Adium or Pidgin and I can still chat with folk. It does not handle group chat though.

WhatsApp is tied to my mobile number, for example. It works over IP. Why not allow me to login with my username (phone number, unique identifier) and password on my laptop, so I can write/reply to messages via my keyboard? It would improve my productivity tremendously, and it is a service I would be willing to pay for.

Finishing thoughts

Where does PingChat! and TalkBox fit in? They all do group chat. TalkBox focuses on the voice aspects of it. Are messenger apps the new group buying sites? This is becoming a crowded space, and WhatsApp looks like it is the most-cross platform at the moment.

The future is with messenger apps, but I doubt it’s going to bust any SMS profit cartel. It will make a huge dent, but frequent travellers will generally not be using data when travelling. And without data, all these apps are dead (unless you want to support the data profit cartel). When will we see unlimited data (and roaming data) become cheaper?

Best wishes to Team Beluga, Foound, WhatsApp, Kik, PingChat! and Talkbox. I see an exciting 24 months ahead in this space.

Learnings from the Philippines

Learned a few things during my trip to the Philippines this time. Another country that amazes me. For the first time in history, Philippines attracted more foreign direct investments (FDI) than Malaysia, in 2010 (see: Malaysia’s FDI plunge).


There are a lot of people here using prepaid phones as opposed to postpaid phones. This is because the requirements of getting a postpaid account is quite tough (you need bank documents, etc. before they give you an account).

Many people carry more than one phone (or have more than one SIM). Smartphones face an uphill battle – they cost too much and there is generally no operator subsidy because everyone prefers prepaid accounts. It makes economic sense to have more than one SIM, as you’ll end up saving money (operators like to offer free text, calls, etc. from time to time).

It’s interesting to note that SMS is very common in the Philippines. At the conference, you ask questions the traditional way – going up to the microphone. Here in Manila, you can also send a SMS message and it will be asked on your behalf. Very handy use of technology, especially in Asia, when people are occasionally scared to ask questions in-front of a large audience.

Data plans are not very common here. The cost of mobile data only recently took a price cut here, it would seem. USB dongles with data can be had for about PHP1,200-1,500 per month, with no implemented data cap (they’ll tell you its 3GB, but apparently nothing happens if the limit is hit). That’s quite impressive, since you might also just plug it into a MiFi and get data for cheap, on the go.

Social Networking

Facebook is the social network of choice. Multiply is losing ground. Friendster is the network of the past. This is true with the universities, and it is also true on popular TV shows (I caught a VJ talking about the shows Multiply and Facebook presence). Twitter seems to be pretty large here.

Foursquare and other location based services (LBS) do not seem to be very popular at all. In the Makati area, you’ll find people checking in, and there has been some use of Facebook Places even. You’re usually about 4-9 check-in’s away from becoming the mayor from what I’ve seen. Students have next to no use of these LBS services; I have a feeling that it should largely be attributed to data plans being uncommon.

Gaming, payments, OFW’s

People love to play Farmville and other Zynga games online. Credit cards are not common here. You can buy prepaid cards to buy credits for online games. Virtual goods is a large market here. Social gaming – I see this more and more now. Online shopping/e-commerce is not too widespread.

Gaming (gambling) is common. There is legalised e-gaming (presumably with taxes going to the government), but there is also a growing number of illegal gaming making lots of money. Apparently this industry is quite large. Here gambling also has another problem – the Catholic church is not necessarily very happy with it.

Today, remittance can happen via mobile phones from overseas. From what I understand, if you are an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) you can remit money from Singapore to the Philippines using your mobile phone. Telcos are going past banks, becoming clearing houses. It turns out that last year, through official means, OFW’s contributed about 20 billion dollars to the Philippine economy. That is something in excess of 15% of the GDP of the nation. About 11% of all Filipinos are overseas as an OFW. Population currently stands at 80 million.

In conclusion

There are lots and lots of smart people here. UP has about 80,000 students. Over 19,772 people attended Y4iT. The crew did a fabulous job in terms of organising and getting people together.

The people are all very friendly. They all speak English. I know many people outsourcing work to the Philippines through services like oDesk.

Generally, good stuff is happening here. Manila is the only place I’ve been to, but I know there are DevCon’s happening elsewhere and there are other IT hubs in Cebu, for example.

Reply-to-All SMS and Twitter

I was reading How Twitter Was Born, a post that has been going around the Twitterverse for a while. Twitter’s initial use, struck me:

I remember that @Jack’s first use case was city-related: telling people that the club he’s at is happening. “I want to have a dispatch service that connects us on our phones using text.” His idea was to make it so simple that you don’t even think about what you’re doing, you just type something and send it.

That was my initial use of Twitter. I wanted to tell my list of friends, what’s cool, where. Deals. Whom I saw. I never intended to have discussions or conversations, or do things like brand monitoring, and so on.

A few days ago, a friend sent an SMS message to five people, and in the message he said CC: followed by a bunch of names. Imagine if SMS, supported Reply-to-All? Then you’ll have “conversations” amongst many folk (SMS isn’t limited to 160 characters only nowadays – its 160*3!).

Today, my use of Twitter is similar to what it was before. I do write random thoughts, especially when I’m on the mobile web. When on the desktop, I end up using a client like twhirl, to keep track of conversations. I reply. I contribute. I ask questions, and expect to get answers from my collective network.

Definitely interesting to see how my Twitter usage has evolved. In fact, its interesting to see how Twitter itself has evolved. Its now awash with PR/marketing/business types, and a lot are using Twitter as a business tool.

Maxis on the anti-SMS-spam bandwagon

It was reported recently that Maxis (my current mobile provider of choice), will offer an anti-spam service for cellphones.

Once you get MessagePlus, which costs RM1 per month, you can start blocking spam. Where do I get most of my spam from? Maxis information services!

So, while this magical service is the first in the world, is this just because Malaysia lacks an extension to the Do Not Call Register?

MessagePlus also includes an auto-reply feature for SMS messages. Think of this like vacation mail, in traditional e-mail. Vacation mail that costs money – you’re charged on a per SMS basis, ranging from between 5-15 sen per message.

It seems Maxis has a new business development manager, Nikolai Dobberstein. And the idea of sending spam, and charging folk to stop receiving the spam, seems like its just gold! Excellent idea for business development, I’m sure.

Me? I’ll live with the spam. And when mobile number portability shows up (find link), I might move to another sensible provider.

A useful statistic? Malaysia’s SMS use is ranked at sixth in the world, for total SMS volume.