Hike has been around in the Indian messaging app space since the early days of the smartphone revolution. After adding a host of features to its sticker-centric messaging app it then turned turning itself into a ‘super app‘ built for more than just chatting.
But even as it has added tons of features to the messaging app, the company had been silently working on a revamped version of Hike infused with machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies and more emphasis on using stickers for conversations, instead of text. The revamped app is called Hike Sticker Chat and it’s built from the ground-up for a sticker-first experience, along with elements from a typical social media platform.
Hike founder Kavin Bharti Mittal told Inc42 that Hike Sticker Chat was born out of the company’s ideas to eliminate the need for keyboards in mobile messaging apps. Mittal said that in India virtual keyboards can’t fully replicate the experience of communicating in a regional language, and stickers can fill this gap. Hike Sticker Chat has been released today and is available on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.
Using AI For Chat Stickers
As a result, Hike Sticker Chat has a machine learning-based stickers engine, which not only recommends new stickers for anything you want to say, but also suggests stickers to use in response to stickers sent by other users. It’s all part of reducing the dependency on the keyboard to input what you want to say. Mittal also said that the recommendation engine is smart enough to tell when you are chatting with just a friend, or when you are chatting with a loved one or partner, and show you custom stickers for both situations.
Hike Sticker Chat uses AI and machine learning to design and automatically create multi-contextual stickers for Hike based on signals such as emotions, colours, fonts and language. The app seems faster in everyday use, and has a Timeline and Stories like many rival social networks.
The app brings over 30K stickers available in over 40 Indian languages and dialects, which Mittal says only covers about 20-30% of vocabulary for online communications. Not only are stickers recommended when you type anything in the text box of the app, Hike Sticker Chat will also recommend stickers that are related to the conversation by analyzing the context and mood of your conversations.
“The most used applications in the country these days are simple applications that do one or two things right.” – Kavin Mittal
Hike Sticker Chat also has UI changes to accommodate more stickers at any given time within a chat window. The company expects to have over 100K stickers across languages by the end of the year, and is particularly focussing on creating stickers for Indian regional languages.
In its bid to reduce reliance on the text format for messaging, the app will also convert text into colourful stickers in real-time, similar to text stickers on Instagram or Snapchat.
Going From Super To Multi
So far, Hike has positioned itself as a ‘super app’ which not only lets you chat but also has news, social feeds, Hike Wallet integration, bookings, gaming recharges and more. The Delhi-based venture is backed by SoftBank, Tiger Global, Tencent, Foxconn and Bharti, and has raised $261 Mn till date. In its Series D round in August 2016, Hike raised funding led by Tencent and Foxconn at a valuation of $1.4 Bn.
“In the last 18-24 months, we have seen something happen in this country that has happened nowhere,” Mittal said about the 4G revolution and the fact that India has the lowest price per gigabyte of mobile data in the world. According to him, India is ready for a multi-app strategy and has outgrown the super app model. “The most used applications in the country these days are simple applications that do one or two things right.”
Hike Sticker Chat is the first piece in Hike’s new strategy of going from this kind of super app to a multi-app entity. At the same time, the older Hike Messenger app will continue to provide the super app experience for ‘laggard users,’ according to Mittal. But even among those who used stickers, the problem was of discovery i.e how to find the right stickers for the right time.
Mittal underline this as the USP of its revamped app. “We are able to give you the best stickers because we understand your age, your gender, your location, who you are, your personal preferences, the season of the year, and we broadly understand the relationship between our users based on the chats. It helps us further tailor our recommendations for that chat. Ultimately, it’s about finding the right sticker for whatever you want to say.”