Thirty six per cent of smartphone owners in the US report using messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Kik or iMessage, with 17 per cent using ephemeral apps like Snapchat and Wickr, and the percentages are higher for young users.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, just under half (49 per cent) of smartphone owners aged 18 to 29 use messaging apps, while 41 per cent use Snapchat and the like.

“These apps are free, and when connected to Wi-Fi, they do not use up SMS or other data. Furthermore, they offer a more private kind of social interaction than traditional social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter,” the research notes.

Another advantage is that some of these apps, such as iMessage, maintain conversations even if a user switches between devices.

Messaging apps are not solely the preserve of the young: 37 per cent of smartphone owners aged 30 to 49 and 24 per cent of those aged 50 and older use such products.

The study also mentions that this survey is the first time Pew Research Center has asked specifically about mobile messaging apps as a separate kind of mobile activity from cell phone texting, due to their increased popularity.

“The results in this report reflect the noteworthy and rapid emergence of different kinds of communications tools serving different social needs. These new tools add to an already complex and varied terrain of online and mobile interaction,” the study concluded.

Pew Research polled 1,907 adults in the US.