Despite some legal issues with Research in Motion (s rimm), messaging app Kik has become one of the leaders in the group messaging space with 6 million users. But the company sees a new opportunity in not just connecting users through its own app, but in becoming a content-sharing layer between other apps.
Kik is launching a new open API today that is designed to help app users transmit content directly from one app to the same app on another device. Instead of sharing on Facebook or Twitter or emailing someone a link that opens a web page, users of apps that integrate Kik’s API will be able to take a level in a game, a restaurant review or an cool art sketch they just created and message that directly to another user, who can pull up the content immediately on their corresponding app. Both users would need to have Kik installed, because the content traverses Kik’s network. And if the recipient doesn’t have a particular app, they’ll get a prompt to download it.
The Kik API enables new channel for direct sharing between app users, and can also serve as a way for apps to drive downloads through their existing user base. Kik is also adding an option called Apps That Kik in Kik Messenger for people to discover and download Kik-enabled apps. It’ll be featured on new versions of Kik Messenger available Thursday on iOS (s aapl) and Android (s goog) devices. At launch, Kik is working with five apps: Zwonks, FlyScreen, Smiler, DrinkOwl and FileKicker.
This helps address one key limitation of apps: they are often siloed destinations without the linking structure we have on the web. RSS developers Dave Winer recently complained about this, saying this limitation is what will prevent apps from killing the web. But if we can create an infrastructure for sharing app to app, it will help address those concerns. Of course, not every app developer and publisher wants to enable users to easily share content beyond their walled space, but this API introduces another good option for those that do.
I’m not sure Kik will be the ultimate answer for most developers, since, while popular, it doesn’t have ubiquitous reach. But this is just the start for the company. Kik’s CEO and founder Ted Livingston said Kik is looking to expand and become a real-time synchronization layer between apps. Some apps already have this functionality built-in, but Livingston said Kik could be a provider for developers who don’t want to create that themselves. And he said that even with the rise of the mobile web, many people prefer apps, even with their perceived limitations.
“On the smartphone today, there are apps and there are mobile web pages and while there is an advantage for the mobile web, people greatly prefer apps because it’s a more efficient, seamless experience. We want to enable app to app sharing within these apps,” Livingston told me.
Kik’s move also shows the changing face of the group messaging market. While some competitors like GroupMe and Beluga have been bought up, startups like Fast Society have moved on, big names like Apple and Google have joined the fray, and independents like Kik and TextPlus are evolving. TextPlus just added free calling with a new Wi-Fi calling app. And Kik is now looking to become more of a service for developers. I wonder if there’s enough business anymore in just being a straight-up, independent group messaging provider.