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A new study from analytics firm App Annie found that WhatsApp has become Facebook's most popular messaging app with over 1.5 billion monthly users worldwide. The report notes that Facebook has an astounding amount of control over the messaging app market, with both Facebook Messenger and Instagram pulling in over 1 billion users each on top of WhatsApp's growing share of the worldwide market.

The dominance of WhatsApp has taken place against the backdrop of a larger battle between Facebook and Apple for consumer attention. Messages has 1.3 billion active users according to Apple, but that figure is dwarfed by Facebook's control of WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger.

"WhatsApp Messenger dethroned Facebook by monthly active users in September 2018. WhatsApp reached mainstream success by disrupting traditional telcos with a free alternative to standard services," App Annie wrote in its recently released report "The State of Mobile in 2019."

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"Although their value prop has subsequently expanded, this core offering has resulted in continued success in emerging markets where the cost of using a mobile device is still high relative to average income," it said.

"The user bases of all of Facebook's properties saw consistent global growth over the last 2 years," the report added, noting that despite a series of seemingly crippling data and privacy scandals between 2016 and 2018, users "prioritized convenience and their existing app habits over privacy concerns."

All of Facebook's apps have shown growth since the beginning of 2017, but WhatsApp has been buoyed by greater use internationally, specifically in Brazil and India. Despite recent scandals over the spread of fake news through WhatsApp in those countries, its usage rate has skyrocketed in recent years as the price of smartphones continues to drop and more people have access to devices with communication apps. App Annie found that WhatsApp topped the charts for usage rates in Brazil, Canada, Germany, India as well as The UK and came in second in France.

Despite their success worldwide, Facebook is still struggling to take on Apple in the US, which is considered a higher value market because US users are more likely to spend significant amounts of money through their smartphones or devices. Apple tends to flex its muscle in the hardware sphere of technology while Facebook has focused on apps, but both are eager to take over messaging because it has proven to be one of the main reason people use their smartphones at all.

App Annie's report found that half of all the time spent on mobile devices worldwide was done through messaging apps, and both Facebook and Apple have taken notice. The Information's Sarah Kuranda wrote that both companies have made changes to their businesses to reflect these usage rates, with Apple revising revenue forecasts to reflect downturns in the sale of iPhones and Facebook overhauling Facebook Messenger with a new leader and new design.

Although they have a massive advantage in terms of the number of monthly users across their array of messaging apps, Facebook is still worried about Apple, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg telling investors on the most recent earnings call that "our biggest competitor by far is iMessage, and in important countries like the U.S. where the iPhone is strong, Apple bundles iMessage as a default texting app and it is still ahead."

In addition to antagonistic and hostile public comments from the CEOs of both companies, Facebook and Apple are each interested in monetizing their wide user bases through a variety of measures including more advertisements. Both have tried to replicate the success of major apps in China that now allow users to message, make appointments and handle a bevy of other tasks all within one app interface.

Apple and Facebook have tried ardently to promote business uses for Messages and Facebook Messenger respectively, but have struggled. Apple is at a disadvantage because Messages is not available for Android phones and Facebook has been wary of adding advertisements to platforms like WhatsApp that have become popular precisely because of their lack of ads and security.

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Takeaways

  1. Facebook and Apple are trying hard to take over the messaging app sphere as studies have found that worldwide, people spend more than 50 percent of their time on devices worldwide using communication apps.
  2. Within Facebook, WhatsApp has overtaken Facebook Messenger, Instagram and the main Facebook app in terms of monthly active users.

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Jonathan is a Contributing Writer for CNET's Download.com. He's a freelance journalist based in New York City. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia since 2013.