Mobile communication has grown exponentially over the last couple of years, and services such as WhatsApp and Mxit have experienced signficant month-on-month growth within their respective user bases. But well established South Africa based social media and communications company MXit does not view WhatsApp as a threat to their business model.
“WhatsApp is a pure messaging platform, a utility to let people send push messages to each other without having to use SMS (which can be very expensive). A big differentiator for MXit is that MXit is about meeting people. MXit is about communities that form around topics or activities of mutual interest,” Peter Matthaei, Head of Product Development at MXit, said in an interview with IT News Africa.
Other instant mobile communication services and platforms have also sprung to life since the creation of MXit, with WhatsApp and BBM being the biggest of the bunch.
Matthaei said that MXit had to think quick when alternative services entered the market, but innovation is always a good thing.
“The arrival of WhatsApp and BBM did force us to up our game, and also require us to get our messaging and marketing right. I don’t believe WhatsApp and Mxit are playing the same game, and there’s definitely space for different services. WhatsApp and Facebook co-exist happily, and users tend to use both, for different purposes. But it does mean we – Mxit – need to be clear about our value to users,” he said.
But other players in the market pose a problem for mobile communication in general, as there is always the risk of the market becoming saturated. Matthaei revealed that whenever a number of successful applications are launched, there tends to be a large number of clones that try to coin it in the same fashion.
“Any market where you get a couple of really successful players will inevitably fill up with clones and competitors. I’d say it has happened in the mobile communications market. But I don’t think that is really much of a problem for users; I’ve never heard users complain that the space feels crowded to the point of confusion,” he confessed.
Matthaei believes that a number of applications are still in existence today because of the strong backing they receive from their parent companies – Research In Motion has BlackBerry Messenger, Apple developed iMessage and Google has Google Talk.
“It seems one gets a few big players in the smartphone space: WhatsApp as a cross-platform app, iMessage on Apple devices, BBM on BlackBerry devices. These have become successful because of the app stores (in WhatsApp’s case) or handset manufacturers pushing their own proprietary solutions (in the case of iMessage and BBM).”
MXit has found a niche and caters for its market. “Then there are a whole bunch of locally successful communication apps like Mxit in South Africa and parts of Africa, QQ in China, mig33 in Indonesia and some other countries, etc. I find it fascinating how each service has a slightly different take on the same basic problem.”
Innovation is at the heart of being the best in a certain industry, and MXit is no different. What is next in the pipeline for MXit? Well… Matthaei said that the company is making a lot of effort to improve their chat experience.
“If innovation is the heart of being the best, the heart of Mxit is chat. So even as we’re adding all new platform features that allow developers to offer their services to our users, we’re spending a lot of effort on improving the chat experience. We’ve got a whole bunch of innovative features which we’ll be launching over the coming months.”
The Head of Product Development was reluctant to divulge specifics on new services, but added that the company will focus on tools for communities. “We also have a strong focus on providing tools for communities to use MXit to connect with each other around common interests. (Say, a community for a specific school, a religious community or a company wishing to connect with its staff – Or less formally, users connecting around a hobby, a geographic location or any other topic of common interest,” he concluded.
Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor