Smartphone owners under the age of 35 have "vastly different usage patterns and attitudes towards mobile voice and messaging services in comparison with the rest of the population", according to a new multi-country survey by Analysys Mason. Older users want more voice minutes, while younger ones want more data. This is because many users aged 18 to 24 are adopting IP-based services such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Skype in preference to SMS. These services have the advantage because they are free to use over Wi-Fi.
"Part of it is price sensitivity: it's cheaper to message than talk," says Stephen Sale, author of the report and principal analyst for Analysys Mason's Voice and Messaging research programme.
As the graph here (right and below) shows, data is most important to smartphone buyers aged 18-34, and not very appealing to those over 55. Interestingly, users from all the age groups now rate SMS messaging lower than either voice or data.
These preferences suggest mobile carriers should segment their offerings by age and tailor some packages for the youth market. However, "operators will note that despite the high penetration levels of IP-based alternatives, full messaging service substitution has not yet occurred. Operators should continue to embed the use of SMS in customer’s behaviour, particularly with younger users, by offering unlimited messaging plans," says Sale.
Messaging is particularly strong in Spain, where more than 70% of the 18-24 group use an IP-based service. Spain is followed by Germany and the UK, where more than 50 percent use these services. IP-based messaging is not as popular with the 18-24 group in the USA -- roughly a third use them -- but takes off with 25-34 year olds. However, use of these services falls off dramatically with age.
Sale says WhatsApp is very strong in Spain and not as strong in the USA. He says: "WhatsApp has really taken some markets by storm. It integrates into the address book really well, which makes it easy to get up and running."
Skype and Facebook messaging also work across platforms, and are "doing quite well". By contrast, "platform-specific services score quite low," says Sale, with BlackBerry Messenger and Apple's iMessage in the single digits. However, Sale adds, "lots of people use iMessage without knowing it."
Skype and Windows Messenger carried over from the PC and they have given Microsoft "a serious position in this market," according to Sale. However, he sees Skype falling behind WhatsApp, perhaps because text messaging is still much more popular on smartphones than video or VoIP (Voice over IP). The report says: "VoIP usage remains relatively limited and its even distribution across countries suggests that the conditions for mass-market adoption on smartphones do not currently exist."
The growth of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) could drive the use of WhatsApp into the corporate market, but it's not clear whether the 18-24 group will adopt the entrenched business communications systems, including Skype and email, instead.
Messaging services can be somewhat transitory -- ICQ and AOL Messenger used to be big, for example -- and WhatsApp's success could be ephemeral. However, it is doing deals with carriers, and it could get taken over by one of the major players. If not, Sale reckons it could survive by charging users $1 or $2 per year. "The costs of IP-based messaging services can be minuscule," he says. (WhatsApp iPhone app costs 99 cents in the US.)
WhatsApp now has more than 250 million active users, which puts it about half way between Twitter and Skype. This is small compared with SMS, which is supplied as standard on billions of phones, but users of IP-based messaging services are more prolific. A week ago, WhatsApp announced a new daily record of more than 10 billion messages sent and 17 billion received: "27 billion messages handled in just 24 hours!" That's 40 messages sent per user per day.
In the longer term, WhatsApp and similar services could be challenged by Joyn: the common IP-based messaging service being developed by the GSM Association and carriers such as Vodafone, Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom.
The Connected Consumer Survey 2013: Voice and Messaging is based on an online survey of 6,610 representative consumers aged 18+ in France, Germany, Poland, Spain, the UK and the USA. It costs $4,999. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org