Messaging Startups React To Apple’s iMessage Announcement

The mobile messaging market has been crowded for a long time, with some of the tech industry’s true leviathans weighing in with their own apps and services that seemed ready to squeeze smaller players out of the space. Facebook, Google and Apple have all introduced their own versatile messaging platforms that extend beyond specific devices, and incorporate group conversations and multimedia messaging. Now Apple is taking things a step further by making its iMessage product available on OS X, first via a public beta product available today, and then later as an integrated feature in OS X Mountain Lion.

Apple’s move unifies messaging across its own platforms; users will be able to receive, read and send instant and group messages, as well as share multimedia across iPhones, iPads, iPod touches and Macs as long as they have internet access. Given Apple’s impressive share of the smartphone, tablet and personal computer markets, that adds up to a lot of customers who ostensibly have little reason to look elsewhere for multi-platform messaging services.

Still, major startup players in the space seem optimistic their products can continue to attract the interest of users. textPlus founder and CEO Scott Lahman told us that Apple’s announcement doesn’t alter the course of his company’s vision. “As long term members of the Apple ecosystem, we have come to expect and respect Apple’s continual cycle of innovation. That said, today’s news does not change our focus,” Lahman wrote in an email. “textPlus will continue to evolve around our areas of innovation and value including a commitment to mobile first, cross platform availability and allowing anyone to join in the conversation.”

Tera Kristen, former Kik Community Manager and one of the company’s early employees, expressed similar thoughts about the space. “iMessage still doesn’t fill the need that many people have for a faster messaging service for all (or most of) the people they message from their phone,” she told us in an email. “I think that desktop access will simply make it easier for people to use iMessage with the people that they’re already using iMessage with. In other words … it doesn’t fill the need that people, including iMessage users, have for using third-party messengers.”

Meanwhile, Kik also announced a brand new app venture today. Clik, the new product, uses QR codes to allow users to sync to and control a second screen. For now, Clik only controls YouTube video playback, but the company envisions a time when it’ll be able to remotely control the media, content and websites of a variety of partners. It’s a remarkable proof of concept, and has plenty of promise for future applications, but it’s also significant because it shows that Kik Interactive is interested in diversifying its business. “Both products will be become part of the same vision,” Livingston said in an email. “It is a big vision.”

But even paid apps from small companies still seem able to hold their own against the bigger players. WhatsApp Messenger occupies the number nine spot in the iOS App Store’s top paid charts, and is delivering 1 billion messages every day according to an interview GigaOM’s Ryan Kim conducted with WhatsApp CEO and co-founder Jan Koum.

There’s no question that the ability to receive and respond to text messages on their desktop will be a huge boon to users who’re fully invested in Apple’s platforms. And from a marketing perspective, Apple can definitely use that to help it sell more Macs to iPhone and iPad users. But messaging startups clearly seem to think there’s still a lot of users who aren’t interested in having their network locked to just a single brand. One thing’s for sure: with Apple and others devoting plenty of resources to improving their own products, this probably isn’t the best place for startup growth, and Kik’s move to diversify is likely a wise one.

With additional reporting by Erin Bury.

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