Instant Messaging

Most Popular Messaging Apps: Top Messaging Apps 2021

Román Filgueira García
Content Writer, Respond.io
September 14, 2021

Messaging apps are changing the way we communicate with each other. Every year, more and more people have access to instant messaging. They are certainly an important part of our personal and business relations. We have done our yearly research on the most popular messaging apps to offer answers to some common questions: Which ones are my customers using? How can I connect with them easily? You’ll learn everything about the top messaging apps in this article.

Most Popular Messaging Apps by Monthly Active Users

Monthly Active Users (MAU) refers to the number of people who use a platform per month. It is a good indicator of a messaging app's health and relevance. Here are the top messaging apps ranked by their MAU in July 2021.

Top 5 Messaging Apps in the World by Monthly Active Users
The 5 most popular Messaging Apps by MAU

Surprised to see Telegram in the Top 5? As we will explain later on, this Text App has been one of the protagonists in 2021. In fact, Telegram has recently reached the 1 billion downloads milestone.

Top Messaging Apps: WhatsApp

So, what is the most used messaging app in the world? It's WhatsApp, with overwhelming popularity in Europe, Asia, America, Africa, and Oceania. Moreover, it remains the top popular messaging app in countries such as India, Brazil, and Pakistan.

WhatsApp is consistently in the top 3 communication apps in every country except for South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, China, and Myanmar. With over 2b MAU, WhatsApp is far ahead of the rest of the competitors.

WhatsApp's growth in the last 3 years
WhatsApp reached 2b MAU in 2020.

Speaking about competitors, there is another close competitor belonging to the same umbrella company. This means Facebook owns the two biggest messaging apps in terms of MAU.

Top Messaging Apps: Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger takes the second spot on the ranking. In January 2021, 1.3b people used Facebook Messenger or Messenger Lite regularly every month. For both the US and Canada, it has become the most popular iOS messaging app in the App Store.

In both countries, Facebook Messenger is the second most popular app for Android users after WhatsApp. To put it simply, Northamerican iOS Users prefer Facebook Messenger. And WhatsApp seems to be a preferred choice among Android Users.

The US is one of the main Facebook Messenger markets. In fact, 9 out of 10 citizens choose it as their primary messaging app. In Canada, half of the entire population uses Facebook Messenger. That makes a total of 18,490,000 Users.

Facebook Messenger's growth in the last 3 years
Messenger’s numbers in the last 3 years

However, Facebook Messenger is seldom the most popular app in the rest of the world. Only the US, Canada, Hungary, Mongolia, Madagascar, and Vietnam use it as their primary chat app.

What comes next? Unsurprisingly, the two most popular messaging apps in China make it into the global ranking once again. Let's jump straight to the China market.

Top Messaging Apps: WeChat

When it comes to messaging apps, China has always been a special case. Popular text apps like WhatsApp, Line, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, or Viber are banned in the country.

Tencent's WeChat is the most popular app in China. It accounts for 1242 million Monthly Active Users around the world. Not only it is used to communicate with your contacts -the app has more to offer.

WeChat Pay is now a common digital payment method in the country, which also features many popular mini-programs. These are apps within WeChat that include e-commerce, games, rentals, and many more.

WeChat's growth in the last 3 years
WeChat remains the top Chinese Messaging App.

WeChat is by far the most efficient way of online communication in China. Although it is not always the go-to option for the young Chinese. Other messaging apps like QQ or DuoShan are more appealing to them.

Top Messaging Apps: QQ

QQ is still very successful in China. Chinese youngsters are their main target market. QQ Users don’t need a phone number to sign up. With 606 million MAU, it is the fourth most-used messenger app in the global ranking.

Before the release of WeChat, QQ was the main messaging app in China. Nowadays, people use it mainly as a communication tool for offices. It has become a common desktop messenger which allows transfers of heavy files.

QQ's growth in the last 3 years
QQ is still a popular choice in China.

It's time to talk about the last spot on the list. Despite its position, it is the fastest-growing app of them all. Telegram's MAU keeps increasing consistently. And it has already surpassed some of the most popular messaging apps such as Viber or Line.

Top Messaging Apps: Telegram

Unlike Line or Kakao, Telegram is not a regional phenomenon. In fact, it has become a strong contender in multiple geographical areas. In 2020, it was the messaging app of choice for 14 countries. One year after, that number has increased to 25.

Currently, the app has 550 million Monthly Active Users. We have also observed that Telegram has been growing its userbase 25% year after year since 2018. It is expected to reach 1b MAU by 2022.

Telegram's growth in the last 3 years
Telegram’s growth has been consistent for the last 3 years.

We have dealt with the global numbers. But now it is time to take a closer look at the different geographical areas. It's here where we discover new trends and find out the best markets for every messaging app.

Most Popular Messaging Apps by Region

We have visited the Play Store and the App Store of 230 countries to find out which messaging apps for Android and iOS are featured at the top of the communication category.

A World map of the Most Popular Messaging Apps
Most Popular Messaging App by Region.

The ranking algorithms are not fully disclosed. Nevertheless, it's known that factors such as downloads, engagement, rating, and reviews influence an app's rank. And here are our findings based on the most popular messaging apps by region.

Top Chat Apps in Europe

WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in West Europe. But for the first time, Telegram has taken the second spot from Messenger. Signal has been this year's surprise. It has quickly become the third favourite for Android Users in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

In Central Europe, WhatsApp is also at the head of the list. But in this case, Messenger is still the second preferred option, leaving Telegram in the third position. Viber is also a popular choice for some central European countries such as Greece or Serbia.

A comparison of the Most Popular Messaging Apps in Europe
Telegram’s popularity has increased in some European countries.

Telegram has become the most popular messaging app in East Europe. In 2021, both Russia and Ukraine choose it as their primary messaging app, followed by WhatsApp and Viber.

Top Chat Apps in Asia

In South Asia, WhatsApp is at the head of the list. It is followed by Telegram and Facebook Messenger. India is WhatsApp's biggest market with 390.1 MAU, but the app is very successful in countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan too.

The same happens in Southeast Asia, where these three are the top messaging apps. This region has other competitive options that vary by country. MiChat is trendy in Indonesia, as Line is in Thailand. In Vietnam, Viber and Zalo are two popular options too.

In the Middle East, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Telegram are the most popular messaging apps. However, in countries such as Saudi Arabia or Yemen, IMO is a common choice.

As mentioned, WeChat is the most popular app in China, and also the third most popular messaging app in the world. Similarly, QQ is the second preferred option for Chinese users and the fourth most popular text app in the world.

A comparison of the Most Popular Messaging Apps in Asia
Asia is diverse in terms of Messaging Apps.

Japanese Users stick to Line as their main messaging app. It’s followed by Kakao Talk and Google Messages. In Japan, Line grows progressively every year. However, the number of global Line users had no significant growth in the last five years.

When it comes to South Korean messaging apps, Kakao Talk takes the first spot in its home country, followed by Telegram and Line.

Top Chat Apps in America

In both US and Canada, Facebook Messenger is the most popular messaging app for iOS, which accounts for 53% of the Operative System market share. It’s closely followed by WhatsApp and to a lesser extent, Telegram.

Interestingly, WhatsApp is the preferred option by Android Users, accounting for 46% of the mobile OS market in North America. In 2020, Messenger was still more popular among Android Users in the US, but not in Canada.

In most Central and South American countries, WhatsApp still reigns as the top messaging app. This includes highly populated countries like Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. Meanwhile, Telegram takes the second spot in many of these countries.

A comparison of the most popular Text App in America
Messenger is still a favourite in North America.

Messenger is still an important contender and the third in the ranking. The powerful app trio has very little competition in this region.

Top Chat Apps in Africa

Like in the previous year, the top three messaging apps for Africa are WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram. It is one of the few regions where Messenger hasn't been displaced by Telegram's boom.

A comparison of the most popular Text App in Africa
WhatsApp is generally the first choice in Africa.

It is worth mentioning that other messenger apps like Gem4Me or Ayoba are very popular in certain African countries. Their User base is growing consistently. However, they are still far from making it to the top three in the African continent.

Top Chat Apps in Oceania

Messenger used to be the chat app of choice for Australians and New Zealanders. In 2021 this is no longer the case. Recently WhatsApp has taken the first position in both the Play Store and the App Store.

In Papua New Guinea, BiP is the most popular messaging app, but internet penetration still remains low in the country. For that reason, the total amount of users are not enough to include it in the top 3.

As you can see, different countries show a preference for different apps. Asia shows a wide diversity of messaging apps, whereas WhatsApp, Telegram, and Messenger are rarely disputed in Central and South America.

A comparison of the most popular Text App in Oceania
Messenger is no longer the favourite Text App in Oceania.

Now it's time to move on to the final section, where we discuss the main trends we have noticed this year.

Most Popular Messaging Apps Trends in 2021

Since our last Messaging App Research in July 2020, some important things have happened. We have talked about MAU and regional preferences. So what key points can we make from this year's results?

Messaging Apps Trends in 2021
3 important Messaging App trends in 2021.

WhatsApp Stays on Top

Our Top App by Country research of 2021 shows that WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in 188 countries out of 230.

If we ignore WeChat and QQ which are most relevant in China, and Facebook Messenger, which also belongs to Facebook, WhatsApp's next big competitor would be Telegram. At this point, Telegram has four times fewer Users than WhatsApp.

But, why do people use WhatsApp? Well, there are various reasons: It is the most popular app in the world, so your contacts are probably already using it. It was right there when the smartphone fever started almost a decade ago, and it benefited from that.

It's also easy to use since WhatsApp Users are identified via phone numbers. This makes adding new Contacts quite simple compared to other methods like usernames. Users can text their contacts on WhatsApp just by having their phone number -assuming that both sides have WhatsApp installed.

3 reasons why WhatsApp is popular
WhatsApp owes its success to these 3 factors.

This is not the only app experiencing a sweet moment. 2021 has been particularly positive for Telegram and Signal. Despite having a smaller base of Users, they are quickly becoming more and more relevant in the instant messaging game.

Telegram and Signal on the Rise

Telegram is the second most popular messaging app in the Google PlayStore for more than a hundred countries. In the App Store, it’s only for 25 countries. The app's success is due to its innovative features and people's growing concern over internet privacy.

In fact, in early 2021 both Telegram and Signal saw a huge increase in their downloads at 98% and 1192%, respectively. This was caused by WhatsApp's new policy which involved sharing Users' data with Facebook.

But there was one more thing that prompted Signal to skyrocket in such a short time span: In January of this year, Elon Musk tweeted "Use Signal" to his 42 million followers. Signal peaked at 51M downloads in the same month.

The first month of the year was prosperous for Telegram too. The app got 64M new downloads and became the most downloaded app of January worldwide.

Comparison between Telegram and Signal in 2021
Telegram and Signal claim to capitalize on User privacy.

Is Telegram vs WhatsApp already a thing? Well, that's not likely, at least for the time being. But Telegram is having a rather good 2021. Time will tell if this is just temporary or a new trend.

Messenger pushed down by Telegram

In our 2021 research, we have noticed an interesting pattern: In many geographical areas, Telegram is substituting Facebook as the second most popular messaging app. This phenomenon is often seen among Android Users, but not among iOS Users.

In almost a hundred countries, Telegram has replaced Messenger as the second top messaging app in the Play Store, while the latter falls to third place. This suggests that Telegram has finally turned the tables, becoming a serious competitor for Messenger.

This raises an important question: Why is Messenger and not WhatsApp paying for Telegram's success? The truth is, Telegram is still far from WhatsApp’s figures. Yet it is expanding quickly enough to challenge Messenger in multiple countries.

Comparison between Messenger and Telegram
Telegram is catching up with Facebook Messenger.

Nonetheless, Messenger still remains very relevant in 8 of the 10 most populated countries on earth. But if Telegram keeps growing at this pace, it could become the second non-Chinese app in terms of MAU in only a few years.

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