Kik, a Canadian free messaging app fighting for dominance in a space crowded by enormous competitors like Asia’s WhatsApp or WeChat, just released a new feature that it says will help it crush the competition.
“Kik is now the first smartphone messenger with a built-in browser,” Kik CEO Ted Livingston tells Business Insider.
What does that mean? Basically, Kik will now have a URL and a search bar built into the app that will let users find and share anything on the Web without ever having to leave Kik.
Right now, three of the other “big five” messaging apps — that is, WeChat, Line, WhatsApp, Kik and KakaoTalk — allow users to integrate chatting with games on their native platforms, but, with this new HTML5 browser, Kik is pushing that integration further. (WhatsApp has a fanatical “no gimmicks” policy and simply offers free SMS and absolutely nothing else.)
Say a user wants to share a song with the person he’s chatting with. He can now search SoundCloud, bring up its mobile site, and easily send a song to his friend, all within the app.
Kik is also offering developers tool kits to optimise their sites for Kik by adding a few lines of code to make their site look even better and be even easier to use. If developers choose to optimise, their app will show up first in a special “optimised for Kik” list. Livingston hints that he sees promoted or sponsored listings as an opportunity for revenue down the line.
“The user experience is just so much better now,” Livingston says. “If you want SMS, better, with more control, we are the only option.”
At this point, Kik isn’t the biggest messaging app out there. Even with its recently reached landmark of more than 120 million users, it’s still only one-fourth the size of WhatsApp, and one-third the size of Line and WeChat. It’s roughly the same size as the popular South Korean app KakaoTalk.
But, besides this new browser feature, Livingston thinks that Kik has another secret sauce, too, that will push it ahead of competitors: It’s the only big, free messaging service that doesn’t require users to enter a phone number. Instead, users make up a username. This makes it ideal for young teens — who don’t have cell phones yet, but still probably have an iPod or other MP3 player that can download apps — and for people who don’t want to give out their real phone number or name.
Livingston said that Kik gets a lot of love from Instagram and Vine, where people (again, especially teens) will use the hash tag “kik” with their username to invite people to chat with them. Livingston says that there are about 21 million photos tagged with #kik on Instagram. Kik saw huge growth in 2013, and he expects that this new upgrade will make that momentum even stronger.
“We’re kicking arse,” Livingston says, denying that pun was intended.