How Developers Can Leverage the Popularity of Messaging Platforms

11/15/2016 09:33 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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By Lubo Smid

A large part of the iPhone's success is due to Apple's decision to let developers create their own apps. That one decision gave the device seemingly infinite possible use cases, ranging from sending one-word messages (Yo) to the indispensable K Blocker, which keeps your iPhone free of any content related to the Kardashians.

Faced with slowing sales, Apple has once again turned to developers to help recapture the magic. At the Worldwide Developers Conference in June, Apple not only opened up Siri to developers; it also unlocked iMessage. At my app development agency, we've worked with an increasing number of clients who have wanted to incorporate messaging features into their projects, and have created chat functionalities for apps we built in-house.

Investing in Messaging 

Just a few years ago, it was clear that social media was hitting critical mass. Suddenly, everyone was on Facebook, and every brand rightly believed they had to needed on the platform as well.

Today, we are at a similar place right now with messaging: The number of people using messaging apps rose 31.6 percent worldwide last year, according to eMarketer, which predicts that by 2018, some 2 billion people will be using such apps. A growing preference for more intimate forms of social sharing -- especially amongst younger users -- is driving the trend. In some markets, like China, the use of messaging apps has evolved to the point where consumers are doing everything from hailing cabs to playing games via WeChat.

Apple's Plans for iMessage

Like Facebook and Google, Apple likely envisions iMessage as a platform for a new wave of bots. At WWDC, Craig Federighi, Apple's SVP of software engineering, showed off one such app, called DoorDash, to demonstrate how a group could use the app to quickly coordinate a lunch order. 

It's easy to see the endless possibilities: A bot that let everyone sync their calendars could eliminate the need for emailing to arrange a meeting time. Bots could also pick up on a conversation that you and a friend are having and suggest an action: If you're talking about seeing a movie, for instance, a bot that lets you see what's playing -- and buys your ticket -- could be useful.

Developers should consider whether people will be doing such things on iMessage, Messenger or WhatsApp. On the one hand, iMessage has a great advantage because, unlike WhatsApp, it's not tied to an individual phone number. You can start a conversation on your iPhone and continue it on your Mac or iPad. As messaging becomes more central, Apple will have to decide whether to promote iMessage as a platform or as a conduit to Apple's ecosystem. 

Developing for a Mature Mobile Market

From a business or software developer's point of view, the rise of messaging platforms provides an opportunity for growth and differentiation. Today, despite there being millions of apps available for download, users are using fewer and fewer of them, concentrating their activities instead on just a handful of apps. Instead of competing against Facebook and Apple for that attention, businesses should look to build services on top of these messaging platforms instead, where the user base now lives. These days, anyone can launch their own chatbots on Messenger using services like Sequel or ChatFuel. Now that these messaging platforms have consolidated their user base, it's possible that such products and services will have a brighter future there than they did when competing for attention in the app store. 

The recent focus on messaging represents a new stage of maturity for mobile. In many ways, the race to establish platforms is over. What happens on the established mobile messaging platforms (Apple, Google, Snapchat and Facebook) serves as the new frontier for mobile innovation and success. This is just as promising -- if not more so --than the original iteration of the app store.

Lubo Smid is an entrepreneur with a deep technical background in software development and huge interest in cutting-the-edge technology, especially mobile. He is co-founder and COO of STRV, the preferred software development partner of many successful startups and well-established brands across the United States.