Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has more than 1 billion mobile users for the Facebook app, but its recently spun-off Facebook Messenger app serves a smaller crowd. Re/code reported in late April that 200 million users had the Messenger app, making it smaller than Facebook’s recent $19 billion purchase WhatsApp, which has about 500 million users. Snapchat is smaller, but its very active user base sends the most messages, according to recent reports.
So far, Facebook’s approach to growing its native chat app has been to add lots of bells and whistles in recent upgrades to the Facebook Messenger app. (Some of these features have also shown up in the desktop version.) Plus, removing the messaging features from the regular Facebook app certainly helped grow the number of users, but that growth came with a catch. Now that’s its been spun off, Facebook Messenger has to compete with all the other messaging and chat apps available to grow its audience. It has to be cool.
Recent upgrades have added stickers, audio messages, photo sharing, and the ability to send 15-second video messages — features that have long been a part of other chat apps and also in Facebook-owned Instagram. In a sense, Facebook is playing catch-up now that Facebook Messenger is a standalone app that has to compete against other messaging services available, a factor that may have caught the company unprepared as it unbundled the Facebook app. Although Facebook says it doesn’t compete against WhatsApp, it’s in the same category that includes Snapchat and other messaging apps. It’s a tough road when Facebook is no longer the cool kid it was back in 2007.
Other messaging services have an advantage this way. Facebook has been around for a decade since its 2004 founding as TheFacebook. Its messaging feature is slightly newer at about five-years-old when Facebook added a chat feature to its desktop version. That chat feature was a part of the Facebook app.
Rivals like Snapchat and WhatsApp have that advantage of being newer and cooler. Snapchat is especially popular among teens, some of whom have ditched Facebook entirely since it’s the social media platform their parents use. In an attempt to win over users, Facebook has added stickers, likes, and every other feature it can in an attempt to win over smartphone and tablet users. Facebook may even be having some success with this approach. It is currently the top ranked messaging app for both Apple and Android smartphones on the App Annie charts.
A likely reason that Facebook Messenger is growing is that smartphone and tablet adaption is growing. As Facebook is one of the most popular apps online and it encourages users to download Messenger, the app is likely growing due to the Facebook App’s popularly. Whether or not its cool yet is still up for debate.