Mobile messenger Hike goes viral with 1M-plus downloads last month on Android alone; what's up?

15 Feb, 2013

HIKELaunched around seven months ago, Bharti SoftBank's (BSB) mobile messaging app Hike has become a top grosser on the Android platform, trumping even WhatsApp, the big daddy of mobile instant messaging. Hike has become the top free app on Google Play, the marketplace for Android apps.

Although the data for Apple's iOS platform and Microsoft's Windows mobile OS are not available right now, according to Kavin Bharti Mittal, who is part of the top team at BSB (a joint venture between Bharti Enterprises and Japanese internet firm Softbank Corp), Hike is seeing good response across platforms.

But let us clarify that becoming a top app doesn't mean it is the most downloaded app. WhatsApp statistics countershow over 100 million downloads in the last 30 days while Nimbuzz shows over 5 million downloads on Android.

Still, what it definitely indicates is that the app usage has gained steam. Talking to Techcircle.in, Kavin Bharti Mittal said, "Our traffic went up ten times starting this month and that's why our servers went down – we couldn't handle it. But now they are up and running."

According to Mittal, the firm will soon launch a feature update that will further drive the numbers.

Since Hike is totally ad-free and free to use, we asked Mittal if he had any monetisation plan in place. "Our focus is to reach a critical mass right now. We might have become the top grosser on Android but WhatsApp usage is still very high in India. We aim to reach at least 10-15 million downloads by year-end and then we may start worrying about revenues," he said.

We had written about Hike when it was launched last July, but here's a quick recap for our readers.

Hike is a peer-to-peer (P2P) messaging app that uses both data and SMS to deliver messages. One of its key features is that those who don't have Hike on their phones can receive an IM as an SMS. You can also respond to it but have to pay normal SMS charges for that. Also, when we first wrote about it, the app had a few thousand downloads on Android.

The first place where Hike scores is the user interface – a soothing white-and-blue combination easy on the eye and simple to use. The second USP is that you can send messages to non-Hike users, unlike WhatsApp. Also, you get all the features that WhatsApp has, such as group chat and media sharing. The third area, from a user's point of view, is its assortment of emoticons, which scores well. Currently available on the Android, iOS, Windows and Symbian, Hike will be soon available on BlackBerry.

Hike offers 100 free SMSes to non-Hike users, after which the normal SMS charges will apply. This is the key differentiator since other apps (like WhatsApp) don't offer this. Users can also earn talktime by inviting friends. Talktime worth Rs 20 is credited for every friend who joins.

As pocket-friendly smartphones hit the market almost every day and data packs get cheaper, SMS is increasingly being replaced by such messenger apps for text communication, as well as multi-media sharing. Some of the newer messenger apps include recently launched GupShup Messenger and WeChat.

GupShup comes from the stable of the mobile group messaging service firm SMS GupShup, which has recently rebranded to GupShup Technologies. It is available on Android, iOS, BlackBerry and Nokia S40. But the app is somewhat slow and cumbersome to use (and you have to register as well). The novelty that it brings to the table is its wide range of emoticons and the feature where you can actually make new emoticons and submit those.

WeChat, which was launched in India by the Chinese internet major Tencent, in collaboration with ibibo, is also a multi-platform app. It offers a wide range of features including text messaging, push-to-talk voice chat, video call, audio call (when Wi-Fi or 3G connection is there), photo/video sharing, location sharing and contact information exchange. Plus, it has multimedia applications for innovative 'social friend discovery' features and an option to stream photo feeds from friends' personal photo albums.

The app also scores in terms of user interface – it is easy to install and use. One can also add phone contacts with the help of WeChat ID or even the QR code. Users can also join official accounts of companies. Although the app tries to offer too much at one go, it seems to have an audience since it has crossed 10 million downloads on Android alone.

(Edited by Sanghamitra Mandal)