What’s Up in WhatsApp - The New Indian Express

What’s Up in WhatsApp

Published: 09th March 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 08th March 2014 06:25 PM

When your dad, who is retired and who was never a big fan of the SMS, asks you to join a messaging service and then, this is worse, starts forwarding silly jokes, you know something is up with that messaging app. Of course, I am talking about WhatsApp, the messaging app which has become the talk of the town because it got acquired by Facebook.

Whenever a large company acquires a smaller company for an astonishing amount of money, people start speculating if the deal has been visionary or if we are in a software bubble. But when the only social networking giant acquires a messaging app for $19 billion, it is not easy to put a label on that deal. To put it in context, Motorola, a company that makes physical products like mobile phones, and which has offices all over the world with thousands of employees, has been sold for a mere $2.91 billion to Lenovo only last month. WhatsApp on the other hand makes one application and employs a little over 30 engineers.

So the question is why would Facebook pay so much money for a single app? The question could be answered with one word. ‘Mobile’. That one word has led to WhatsApp’s growth. And to Facebook’s lack of it. When WhatsApp launched in 2009 on the iPhone, SMS was the favoured tool of communication for those who did not use BlackBerrys and its messaging service BBM. But the exponential growth of smartphones, along with the relative ease of use of WhatsApp, meant that the messaging app has seen growth that no other software application has ever seen before. Right now the app boasts of 450 million active users of whom about 72 per cent use the app every single day. Last year this time that number was 200 million. If the growth continues at the same pace, by this time next year the app will have a billion active users. As Wired magazine reports, on a typical day in January more than 18 billion messages were sent and because most of them have multiple recipients 36 billion messages were received on a typical day in January. Considering that global SMS volume is around 19.5 billion per day, it is more than likely that sometime soon WhatsApp will cross the good old SMS. Add to this the fact that around 500 million photos are shared on WhatsApp per day, which is way more than those shared on Facebook and you can see why Mark Zuckerberg is so interested in the messaging app.

On the other hand everything is not sunshine and rainbows in the Facebook land. For one thing Facebook is a quintessentially desktop service which is finding the move to mobile devices very hard. And in an increasingly mobile world, where users find it easier to talk to each other using WhatsApp like groups, it is afraid of becoming irrelevant. The second problem is that it has over 1.2 billion monthly active users which means everyone and his grandmother are on the service. That exact fact that your grandmother can see what you are doing is turning away teens in hordes away from the network to places like WhatsApp and Snapchat.

WhatsApp founder Jan Koum always said he has three rules for his service. No advertising. Respect user’s privacy by not storing or sorting messages. And delivering a gimmick-less, reliable, friction-free user experience. The most interesting thing to watch out for would be the number of rules that $19 billion can break.

Matham is a tech geek. Follow him on Twitter @AdarshMatham

The Alternatives

Viber (iOS/ Android/ Windows/ Mac)

The service Viber offers is most reliable and is available for everything from iOS and Android to the operating systems that the world almost forgot like Bada and Symbian. Yes, Bada. It lets you send text, photo and make calls for free with a service that rivals Skype and FaceTime audio. One of the most compelling reasons to get Viber is the fact that it has some great desktop apps for both Windows and Mac.

Telegram Messenger (iOS/Android)

Since Whatsapp entered the Zuck Kingdom, the Telegram Messenger has been picking up its users left and right. This well-designed app customised for iOS 7 can be called a clone of Whatsapp, if it looks better and does more. Its two buzzwords are speed and secure. For starters the messages you send on Telegram are heavily encrypted and can self-destruct. The app is cloud-based; you can access messages from any device.

Line (iOS/Android/Windows/Mac)

Line, the Japanese messenger service, is a weird little app. On the face of it, it does everything that a good messenger app should do. Free calls, free video calls, free messages, availability on all major platforms, desktop clients like Viber, and the ability to sync messages between all your devices. Using the ‘Snap Movie’ feature you can capture small videos akin to Vines. It has also a vibrant sticker store.

WeChat (iOS/Android/Windows Phone)

The number one app in China, owned by China, endorsed by Varun Dhawan. If these three things don’t put you off, WeChat could be a nice little alternative for Whatsapp. Again, you can talk, chat, chat with groups and chat with animated smileys, and chat with photos and videos. You can also use the walkie-talkie mode with up to 40 friends so you can always stay in touch and annoy your loved ones.

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