While WhatsApp may be the dominant cross-platform mobile messaging service around the world, several similar services like Hike and XMS are looking to find a foothold in the crowded market space. And in India, they might have a good case.
26-year-old Kavin Bharti Mittal, who heads strategy and new product development at Bharti SoftBank, insists it makes good sense. Hike is a BSB product. Kavin believes there is a huge scope for products like Hike to gain users in emerging markets like India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Africa. "The idea is to think big, start small," he said.
India has over 300 million SMS users. While SMS prices have hit rock bottom, the channel is not without issues. The low prices have made telemarketers abuse the channel and bring along the annoyance of spam. Also, SMSs lack the richness of instant messaging, both in content and exchange.
However, Kavin's banking on a key differentiator in mobile messaging. Unlike most instant messaging apps, Hike is not closed to only those who have the app or people with smartphones and data plans. You could IM a friend, regardless of whether the friend is on Hike or not.
XMS, another product in this category, has a long legacy though. Starting as e-Messenger in 2003, it was the world's first, independent, Web browser-based IM service. In 2011, as eBuddy-XMS, the service made the transition from Web to mobile-only. Again, XMS also extends the service with a unique proposition--Web XMS. The ancillary service allows users to manage their mobile messages from any computer using the browser.
André Sommer, head of marketing and advertising at XMS, told me in a Skype chat that the Dutch company is looking to build a strong base among youth in India and Southeast Asia. Distribution is a key factor in adoption and these companies will look to partner with operators and OEMs. "Pre-bundling can make or break an app," Kavin said.