Last week the UN and World Bank revealed a surprising stat that went largely unnoticed. At some point in the last decade, the number of cell phones grew larger than the earth’s population.

As Quartz reports, this doesn’t mean everyone owns a phone (and certainly not a smartphone). But it does help explain why, for many around the world, mobile messaging and the internet have become indistinguishable.

No internet who dis 🤔

Here’s another fun fact. According to Pew Research Center, millions of people now use the internet without even realizing it. In developing countries, as many as 14% of adults surveyed said they do not use the internet, yet they reported using over-the-top messaging apps like WhatsApp on their phones.

Dubbed “unconscious internet users,” this group exists in the developed world as well. Only 90% of South Koreans, for example, reported using the internet, even though 97% said they own a smartphone or use social media. In the U.S., one quarter of people who denied using the internet indicated they own a smartphone.

Messaging first ☝️

Pew suggests that while this may seem like a “niche issue,” having an accurate measure of how much of the population is online can be crucial for policy-making and ensuring free access to information.

The phenomenon also helps explain why the world’s leading tech companies — namely Apple, Facebook and Google — have become so obsessed with connecting businesses and consumers over messaging.

Apple has been busy rolling out Business Chat internationally, allowing Australian students to seek financial aid over iMessage, for example.

Google continues to pursue its two-pronged strategy, encouraging phone carriers and device manufacturers to ditch SMS in favor of the richer, more business-friendly RCS, while quietly building its own enterprise messaging platform on top of the all-powerful Google search engine.

Meanwhile, at the annual F8 developer conference last week, Facebook doubled down on its private messaging pivot, announcing a sleek new version of Messenger and hinting at a host of new features for WhatsApp, including payments and product catalogs.

In a blog post about the Messenger redesign, Facebook’s head of consumer messaging put it plainly:

If we were to start to build a social network today, we’d start with messaging first.

It won’t be long until people around the world consider messaging a business as unremarkable as… being online.


This is an excerpt from The Message, Smooch’s biweekly newsletter about the messaging industry, chatbots and conversational commerce. Subscribe to get the next edition delivered straight to your inbox.