Some companies have started to use messaging apps as a novel means of communication. BBC News, for example, announced on April 4 that it is using WhatsApp and the similar Chinese app WeChat to provide breaking news updates on the upcoming India election.
WeChat has also facilitated at least one real estate deal. In March, Douglas Elliman broker Emma Hao used the service to strike a Manhattan luxury real estate deal of $13.3 million. A client she had met in China contacted her directly through the app, and The Real Deal said that the entire negotiation happened through a mobile group chat with Hao, including the buyer, the buyer's attorney and bankers.
Many apps are working to build their platforms by offering games. In addition to letting all users of the messaging app play together easily, Tango's CTO and co-founder Eric Setton said focusing on one channel is beneficial to developers.
"It's very competitive to distribute on mobile today," he said. "Tango takes care of the distribution. [There's] one distribution, free of outside fees."
Through a partnership with PlayPhone, Tango also streamlines the payment process. Although most apps focus on linking credit cards with the device, PlayPhone lets Tango users pay for games and other purchases through their monthly phone-carrier bill. Countries outside the United States already offer similar mobile carrier-based payment systems.
"Commerce is one of the next big frontiers," Forrester's Ask said.
Stores such as Starbucks and Burger King already let customers use smartphones to pay, while Ask said she used WeChat to buy takeout in China. Other developments she said to watch for include subscribing to deals via messaging. (Facebook is also likely to get into financial services.)
Brian Blau, consumer technology analyst with Gartner, said that most people aren't used to shopping via social messaging apps at this point. That behavior, however, could change.
"I think there's a long way to go before the technology community embraces one mobile e-commerce solution," Blau said. "But once that happens, social messaging apps and, together, social networking apps are going to be front and center."