In a recent study, it was reported that the number of text messages sent each year in the UK saw a drop during 2013 – the first time such a decrease had been recorded. In part, this was attributed to the rising popularity of mobile messenger apps.

So, what’s happening here? Well, firstly, GWI data shows that the overall percentage of people sending text messages remains unchanged; at a global level, 77% of internet users had recently sent an SMS in Q4 2013, a figure which has hardly changed since Q3 2010. What we’re seeing is a lower volume of messages being sent per person.

To understand this, the age profile of SMS users becomes relevant. Over the same period, this has shifted a little to include slightly fewer 16-24s and slightly more 55-64s. But we’ve also seen rapid levels of growth recorded by mobile messaging apps, services which allow a much more instant – and often free – method of communication and which are most likely to be used by the 16-24 age bracket.

Between Q2 and Q4 2013, estimated audience numbers for WhatsApp and Kik Messenger increased by around 30% each, Snapchat was up by more than 50% and, most dramatically, WeChat recorded a rise of more than 375% – with its estimated audience size outside of China now standing at 78.43 million (climbing to 385.55 million when Chinese users are included). And although market leader Facebook Messenger saw a more modest rate of growth, it is now used by nearly 70% of the mobile internet audience.

It seems inevitable that these trends will place further pressure on the popularity of SMS messages in 2014 and beyond, as well as underlining just how important the mobile platform will be for the future of social networking and messaging.

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Written by

Jason is Chief Research Officer at GlobalWebIndex. He oversees the global research and insight teams, directs the world-leading research study and specializes in analyzing consumer trends. He writes for titles like the Huffington Post and MediaPost and is a frequent contributor to stories on media outlets such as BBC News, CNN, the Guardian, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.

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