MXit, a locally produced mobile instant messaging (IM) application, has to be one of the biggest stories of 2006. While it was launched in mid 2005, in 2006 MXit’s subscriber numbers exploded, riding a wave of positive and negative press to record over two million downloads in just nine months.
In March 2006 after being in operation for just nine months, the MXit application had been downloaded 400 000 times and was seeing about 2500 downloads of the application a day. Fast forward another nine months to December 2006 and MXit now records over 2.5 million downloads since it launch, with downloads quadrupling to 10 000 downloads a day.
While there have been 2.5 million downloads, there have been a number of versions of the application with the latest release of the software currently being version 5. There are therefore around 1.08 million MXit users, of which 58% are male and 42%are female. The base logs in between 4 million and 5 million times a day and sends 140 million incoming and outgoing messages per day.
The majority of the base falls between the ages of 12 to 25 with 43% of the base coming from the 18-25 age group and 36% of the base coming from the 12-17 age group.
The number of users in the base and the fact that the largest single user group is made up of adults, shows is that MXit is not just a gimmick for kids. It has developed into a serious communications tool, which is tackling SMS head on.
The benefits of MXit:
The benefits of MXit are numerous – MXit is a free apart from the minimal data download cost and MXit messages only cost 1 cent per message compared to a cost of between 20 cents and 90 cents for a SMS.
Added to that, there are numerous chat rooms which allow you to meet people. There are 30 chat zones with between 5-120 rooms in each zone. Each room can hold a maximum of seven people. Users cannot create their own chat room, but simply join a room which is not full. Chat room posts cost 2 cents each.
The latest version of MXit allows you to send pictures through MXit as well.
The downside of MXit:
MXit is great because it is making South Africa aware of the benefits of instant messaging. However, MXit has to remain open on the phone and is is therefore a conversation and not a messaging service.
Many phone models (notably Nokia) have native IM applications on the phone. All they require is a server to point at, a logon and a password. The problem is the cellular networks won’t provide a server, because they are making too much money off SMS.
The advantage of an IM application like Nokia’s is that it can run in the background. This means you can receive messages when you are not looking at your phone like with SMS. If this service were offered it would revolutionise messaging and substantially cut communications costs.
Also, because MXit has to be adapted across many phones, it often is a huge challenge to install. I have used it across four or five phone models and have spent many hours on the MXit forum (forum.mxit.co.za) trying to sort them out.
It’s such a mission to use MXit on my current Samsung Z-540, I don’t bother to use it much.
Having said that, the telecoms industry should stand up and applaud MXit Lifestyle, the small Stellonbosch based company who developed the software. The company has persevered through many challenges and only recently started making a profit.
It’s exciting that local companies are overcoming the challenges of the expensive telecoms arena and are putting products into the market that are truly changing the way we live.