WhatsApp may lead the mobile messaging space with 400 million monthly users, while Snapchat is taking the youth market in the US and Kik is quietly growing, but don’t discount Facebook. As I wrote last month, the company’s dedicated messaging app — Facebook Messenger — was given new features and viral elements to help it compete more fiercely, and new data from December gives an idea of its high levels of adoption across the world.

A report from Distimo found Facebook Messenger to be the fifth most downloaded free app among iOS users worldwide last month — the highest of any messaging app. On Android, it was the third most downloaded free app, though admittedly WhatsApp came in one position above it.

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Those findings are backed by data from App Annie which shows that, in many markets including the US and UK, Messenger hit its highest ranking of the year in the App Store during December.

A large part of that is likely down to the number of new devices bought or gifted during the holiday period, so while the growth may go on to decline a little, the data shows Messenger is a popular choice for many. (Interestingly, the app remains in a high position in early January.)

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Mobile messaging apps are bigger than Twitter in parts of the emerging world, and their influence is only growing as more people buy smartphones for the first time and/or discover the convenience of messaging apps.

Facebook has kept Messenger fairly basic for now, but this year it is likely to up the ante with VoIP calling for all users worldwide and perhaps more. Asia-based rivals Line and WeChat have seen huge success with their game platforms and, given that Facebook pioneered social gaming on the desktop, you’d expect it to follow suit. We also expect it will launch paid-for stickers at some point, the wider trend of chat app-based e-commerce is another avenue it might explore in the future.

In the US and parts of Europe, Facebook does have the disadvantage of being ‘older’ than other services, and a place where grandparents, aunts and others are members — but that’s largely countered in other parts of the world, where Facebook IS the Internet for many. For these people, and others, Messenger is an easy way to keep up with anyone for free.

Image via Mari Smith / Flickr