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Mobile messaging apps from Asia you must know about: KakaoTalk, WeChat, Cubie

Updated: 8 October 2012

Among the pack of instant messaging apps in the market, Whatsapp is probably the alpha wolf, with a user base that’s estimated to be in the tens of millions. It also announced that it was sending one billion messages in a single day in end October last year.

But all top dogs will be dethroned or removed, and in a wide open market, the challenger can come from anywhere. Asia is one of those places.

Here, we feature three of the apps arising out of the continent that have proven user traction, and have a shot at being numero uno. For all we know, they might already be on top.

1) Kakao Talk: Whatsapp and Skype combined

Launched by South Korean company Kakao, the free app recently enabled users to call one another using an Internet connection, like Skype. Popular in its country of origin, the company will launch a game center service and has already signed up a number of developers. It also has fun voice filters that make you sound like a monster or alien.

About 100 entertainment brands and some Korean K-Pop singers are using the app to push music and content to fans — nudging fans of the genre to download the app. It hopes to extend its reach in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

Traction: It has skyrocketed to reach 45 million users in end May, with 36 million coming from South Korea (update: they’ve broken the 50 million mark). 21 million of those users log-in daily, an impressive-sounding figure. In January, it was processing one billion messages a day, but by end May, the figure has jumped to 1.3 billion (note: Whatsapp had one billion last year).

Monetization: They aim to connect users with relevant brands and content. Users pick the services or offers they want to follow, and Kakao Talk collects a cut of the revenue generated.

Available on: iPhone, Android, Bada, and Blackberry (catering to Indonesian users). Windows Phone version is imminent.

Funding: The company has received US$80M in funding from Chinese internet giant Tencent and Korean gaming company WeMade.

2) WeChat: Record and send, instead of text

The app debuted in China in early 2011, and has gone on a roll since. Developed by Internet giant Tencent, WeChat (called Weixin in China) is unique in that it has a push-to-record feature. Instead of typing, users can opt to record a voice message and send it to their friends.

This input method has become popular among Chinese users due to the difficulty of typing in the language, as identical-sounding words can actually represent many different characters and meanings. Beyond being a chat app, it is also a location-based social network.

Traction: Pony Ma, founder and CEO of Tencent, claimed WeChat has exceeded 100 million users just a year after its launch. Then six months later in September 2012, it claims to have surpassed the 200 million mark.

The number of Facebook-connected monthly active users stands at around 620,000, an indication of its international reach since Facebook is banned in China.

Available on: iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Symbian version coming soon.

3) Cubie Messenger: Chat and draw something

The youngest app of the three, Cubie Messenger is also the cutest. Besides instant chat, the free app lets users draw pictures and share their creations with friends. They can also share animated stickers and emoticons, as well as support a group chat of up to 100 users. Like WeChat, voice chat is present too, and this is not surprising, considering that it is developed by Taiwanese company Gamelet, founded by serial entrepreneur Cjin Cheng.

Traction: Cubie has received one million downloads 35 days after launch. It now has about 160,000 monthly active users that sign on using Facebook.

Available on: iPhone and Android

Interestingly, Tencent plays an active hand in developing two out of the three apps here, which indicates that the Internet giant is poised to redefine the communications industry not just in China, but also in Asia and the world.

Save for WeChat, traditional mobile carriers could find these companies viable and attractive acquisition targets, especially if they could figure out a revenue model to make these apps money spinners. How they respond to threats from Facebook Messenger and Apple’s iMessage is important too.

There’s certainly an added incentive for telcos to take a closer look — after all, SMS and call revenues have been hit by instant messaging apps. Singapore’s SingTel, for instance, has seen average revenue per user drop year-on-year from US$70 to US$68 on the postpaid front.

And if you can’t beat them, you acquire them.

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