Mxit deserves credit for opening up Instant Messaging (IM) so that even the average person on the street has at least heard the name, even if they don’t understand it.
However, success leads to competition and there are a string of clients which have been launched after the Stellenbosch based company.
iTxt, AeroMessenger , Pooosh . QQ, to name some of them. Then there are the international clients like Fring and Yeigo, which are being used in SA as well offering connections into PC based IM like Skype etc.
Into this environment, Vodacom has launched The Grid and MTN launches NokNok at the same time. The networks’ entry into this space could redefine the communications landscape in South Africa. Yes Mxit has done that to some degree. However, unlike all the other players in the market, the networks have the budget to pay for ongoing development and marketing costs that the other local players simply don’t have.
Their reason for launching now? Well two fold – firstly the networks were losing a lot of money to Mxit and other IM clients and secondly, Facebook has ensured the rise of social media in South Africa, a fact the networks cannot ignore
The network may argue that SMS and IM are different technologies used for different purposes – SMS for messaging and IM for chatting – however the truth is that teenagers who were chatting over SMS are doing it over IM.
With the news of The Grid and NokNok hitting the streets, many people have asked what would pull them away from Mxit when all their contacts are already loaded on there?
It’s a good question. Rumours have flittered around since the networks started developing their clients that they would be interoperable. This could also prove to be a key if MTN and Vodacom want to take the market away from Mxit and other IM companies. The networks won’t say anything on record yet. Currently, there is no interoperability, but it looks as though it’s something that is definitely on the cards. Interoperability into PC based clients like Skype would only strengthen the networks’ position. With an HSDPA download speed of 3.6 Mbps in the pipeline within the next year, there is also the possibility of The Grid and NokNok offering voice functionality (like Skype does) in future.
The other thing that could see the networks’ IM Clients rise to the fore is ease of use. Mxit has learnt a lot from rolling out to multiple phones across multiple networks. They still have their challenges though. If the networks can make their IM clients easy to use and can get that message out into the market, they could see quick growth in subscriber numbers.
What’s clear is that IM is maturing and the world of cellphones will never be the same again.