Last week we launched Verto Index™, a group of leaderboards that rank the digital properties across devices and service categories. The leaderboards report metrics that include total reach, user engagement, device breakdowns, stickiness metrics, and more. The first Verto Index™ focused on messaging apps across computers, smartphones, and tablets.
The key findings of the June 2015 Verto Index are:
A Fragmented Set of Messaging Apps Are Used Across PCs, Smartphones and Tablets
Messaging apps – though fragmented – are one of the top app categories in terms of usage across all the key device platforms, and are “arguably the most successful smartphone apps”. In order to determine the most successful messaging apps, all of the top contenders across the different messaging categories (SMS, email, instant messaging etc.) from both the PC and mobile platforms need to be included when ranking the properties.
Facebook Messenger Is the Top Messaging App
Facebook Messenger is the top messaging app with 101M users, highlighting the fact that Facebook’s decision to spin out the app was a success in terms of gaining a wide user base. Pre-installed email/SMS apps lead the pack in terms of unique users on both iOS and Android.
In terms of total users across computers, smartphones and tablets, Facebook Messenger was the top messaging app by a wide margin. iOS Mail app (a preinstalled app) came in second with 79.2m users, and by 22M users. Google’s Gmail app was just slightly behind with 79.1M users. These apps were followed by iOS and Android pre-installed SMS/MMS messaging apps, which are both boosted by the market share of their respective operating systems, and also by the fact that most users still use the preinstalled messaging apps for sending SMS and MMS messages. On Android, however, some vendors, such as Samsung have embedded their own SMS apps on devices, which makes the total reach of the Android preinstalled SMS app lower than the total Android user base.
User Reach Is High for Pre-installed Apps
A number of mobile-centric messaging apps have emerged over the last few years including Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp. Instagram topped the rankings with 58m unique users for June 2015, Snapchat had 30m users, and WhatsApp had 24m. Asia-originated messaging apps such as Line and WeChat have a reasonable user base in the U.S., however none of them have yet to cross the mark of 5m active monthly users in the U.S. market.
Mobile Audiences Drive Majority of Top Messaging Apps
The app-dominant behavioral profile of mobile users drives the majority of top messaging apps (as opposed to desktop audiences). For example, people are still using a lot of webmail on PCs, while on mobile people opt to engage instead with apps, which provide better usability.
Skype is the top PC-based messaging app with 31M unique PC users (out of 45m net Skype users, PC and mobile). However, even for Skype the mobile-only audience is growing, and is now at 18M users. Microsoft’s Outlook is notable in the sense that not only does it still have a strong user base on desktop (24M users), but it has also built up a nice 7M mobile-only audience on Android/iOS – even though Microsoft’s own mobile platform has not succeeded in the U.S. Satya Nadella’s recent platform-independent strategy push for Microsoft’s services and apps should push that number even higher in the future.
Email Still Beats Other Messaging Formats
In terms of time spent with messaging apps, email still beats all other messaging formats – Mozilla’s Thunderbird users spend as much as 22 hours per month on Thunderbird’s email app. Additionally, the user engagement for many relatively small messaging apps such as Line and WhatsApp beats Facebook Messenger. This shows that even a small audience is surprisingly loyal and active for many niche apps.
Thunderbird’s user numbers may not be huge, however its user base beats Outlook in terms of time spent per user. The reported usage does not include background usage, or opening email attachments on other apps; it includes only the usage of the core messaging app on the device foreground. Thunderbird users browse through their emails about 22 hours per month (more than 1 hour/day for each business day), ahead of Outlook’s 14 hours/user/month, and iOS email app (9 hours/user/month).
It might surprise some, however, in terms of average engagement, Facebook Messenger is behind many other apps with 1 hour and 53 minutes of usage per user per month, despite its top ranking in terms of unique users. Many of the interesting new apps like Tango, Viber, GroupMe and Yik Yak, have not been able to build active daily engagement with users, and are in the bottom of the rankings in terms of engagement.
Text Messaging Is Still Hot!
It doesn’t take that much time to write or read a message, but people send a staggering amount of text messages per day, which means many people activate these SMS apps multiple times per day. Our analysis reveals that in average number of sessions per day, users open the Android SMS app 426 times per month on average, and users open the iOS SMS app 297 times per month on average.
MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger don’t have the most users these days, but they beat the other apps in one dimension – average session length. Users spend a significant amount of time during an average chat session. Thus, MSN Messenger achieves an average session length of 8:47 minutes, and Yahoo Messenger 7:11 minutes. In contrast, an average Snapchat session lasts only 65 seconds!
User Stickiness Defines the Winners
Users might download and explore a lot of new messaging apps, and companies can boost their monthly user and download numbers by aggressive marketing and mobile app advertising. However, when measuring the active share of the monthly audience with Verto’s stickiness metric, we can differentiate between apps that are “explored by many, but used by few”, from the apps that achieve highly engaged loyal daily audiences.
In many cases it is the use case and context that defines the winners in terms of stickiness. Seven out of the top 10 messaging apps measured by the Verto stickiness metric are email or SMS apps. People download and explore fewer apps in these categories, and usually have their favorite by either choice (e.g. Thunderbird), or by default (e.g. Android and iOS preinstalled SMS apps).These top apps reach stickiness levels that are generically between 50-80%.
The stickiness metrics also reveal that WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram continue on a path to build services that engage people to use them daily, rather than occasionally. In addition, Facebook Messenger’s stickiness of 42 percent is quite good, when you stop to consider that its total audience is 101m monthly. That means that 42m users in the U.S. use Facebook Messenger every single day – which by comparison is more than Snapchat’s total monthly audience!
The stickiness metric also identifies apps that for one reason or another (e.g. aggressive advertising, platform integration), might have high monthly reach, but fail to capture daily users. For example, the following apps have a lower stickiness than 30 percent: Windows Live Mail, Skype, MSN Messenger and Hangouts. Microsoft, if anyone, ought to learn from the failures of their apps and focus on building engagement to compete against Facebook and new entrants. The Verto Index also reveals that despite lots of hype, Google Hangouts is still seeking consumers’ attention, as its daily audience remains modest at 5m.