Competition is heating up in the instant messaging space, and this is the segment to keep an eye on over the next year: WeChat the popular messaging service from Chinese major TenCent is being launched in India, MediaNama had learned from reliable sources. Confirming the development, ibibo CEO Ashish Kashyap told MediaNama that the product is being launched as a part of their social portfolio, as a follow up to the iBrowser mobile browser, which ibibo launched a little over a year ago, which the company recently claimed crossed the 6 million downloads mark, with 50% active users. TenCent has a 20% stake in ibibo (MIH India), while Naspers has 80%. Keep in mind that Naspers also has stake in Nimbuzz, which recently shifted its headquarters to India. So why would Naspers have two products in the messaging space in India?
We had heard from sources that TenCent was considering launching WeChat in India by itself, and that Rahul Razdan, President (Social Media, Games & Mobile) at ibibo was going to be appointed its India CEO, but Kashyap dismissed this as a rumor, saying that WeChat is being launched as a part of ibibo’s Social Media business, and Razdan continues head the Social Media, Games & Mobile segment at ibibo.
As a part of its arrangement with Naspers, Tencent has the option of acquiring up to 50% in ibibo, and while it did say in 2008 that it will invest $7.5 million in the company, it is also licensing its technology and products to ibibo. Naspers invested $12.8M in Ibibo in FY11.
With the growth of data services in India, SMS is declining in India (read why), and looks like it will continue to decline, even as data based messaging services grow. Popular applications include Nimbuzz, as well as WhatsApp, RockeTalk, ebuddy, im+, Viber and kik, among others. With a reportedly high growth of data usage in India, competition is only going to increase, which is where products become all the more important.
The WeChat App
The WeChat application has messaging, group chat, photo streaming and sharing, a social section allowing sharing of moments, and three really interesting features:
- Float a bottle: you can send a random message out to anyone out there, and any user can receive it and respond to it. Helps in social discovery. Of course, when I tried it, most of the messages appeared to be in Chinese.
- Shake: allowing users to find new contacts by shaking their phones: two users close by can share contacts by shaking their phones together, or you can try a remote shake and find people who are shaking their phones at the same time. Two users can also share their contact by bumping their phones together.
- Look Around: A location enabled friend finder, which allows users to search for other users free to chat, listing them by proximity. I’m not sure if this really works, since I searched for (female) users close to where I was, and I found mostly users with Chinese names within a 3Km radius, and as you can see, most of them men:
The “moments” feature appears to be remarkably similar to Path.
The WeChat app is availalbe for the iPhone, Android and Windows phone ecosystems, but importantly, is yet to launch for Symbian. Symbian still remains a key platform for the Indian market, though our sense is that the Android use base in the country is growing, as they increasingly become more affordable.