Google Faces Uphill Fight in Mobile Messaging

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Credit: m01229 via Flickr

Losing out to Facebook in a bidding war for mobile messaging market leader WhatsApp earlier this year no doubt stung Google.

However, Google isn’t giving up on the mobile messaging market, according to The Economic Times. The business publication reports that Google “is planning to launch its own mobile messaging app which the search giant is likely to test in India and other emerging markets.”

Breaking into a market in which one app alone (WhatsApp) has more than 600 million users is an exceedingly tall order, even for a company with the resources and synergies of Google. But if the report is true – and it relies on unnamed sources and some geo-based speculation – Google once again will try to crack a market dominated by Facebook, which paid $19 billion for WhatsApp and thus likely takes its mobile messaging advantage quite seriously.

I’m not sure that’s going to go any better than Google’s bid to challenge Facebook in social networking, where Google+ never has come close to Facebook's popularity and influence. In the meantime, here are the details regarding Google's mobile messaging plans, as laid out by The Economic Times.

Google flew “top product manager” Nikhyl Singhal to India last month to check out that nation’s messaging app ecosystem. Singhal is “a product management director for Hangouts, Photos, Google+ core and Platform,” the Times reports. (Singhal also founded social voice services start-up SayNow, which Google acquired in 2011.)

The Times report also says users won’t have to log in with their Google accounts, so maybe that’s not in the cards (for now).

Sources tell the Times that Google’s mobile messaging app – which, by the way, will be free – is still on the drawing board and likely won’t be available until 2015.

Which is a big problem in itself, given that the existing mobile apps will add even more users before Google’s even enters the fray. Even more to the point, Google is missing a giant opportunity in India by not timing the release of its mobile messaging app with the launch last month of the first Android One smartphones.

Android One, which seeks to ensure a more uniform Android experience by specifying what kind of hardware manufacturers use, is supposed to spearhead Google’s entry into emerging markets. How many Android One users in India will already have a preference for a different mobile app before Google rolls out its own sometime next year?

In India alone there are 65 million WhatsApp users. There’ll be more after consumers in that country who have never owned a smartphone activate their new Android Ones and want to start messaging.

And while everyone has their price point, I doubt the $0.99 annual subscription fee WhatsApp charges after a free year of service will be a deal killer for most smartphone users.

While it’s true that apps users can be notoriously disloyal, most also tend to stick with something when it works. For Google to penetrate the mobile messaging market – particularly in more mature markets such as the U.S. and Europe – it’s going to have to offer some kind of value-add feature or service. I’m not sure what that could be.

And if Google’s mobile messaging app fails to gain traction in India, we may never have a chance to find out.

This story, "Google Faces Uphill Fight in Mobile Messaging" was originally published by CITEworld.

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