WhatsApp, six months ago:
Coinciding with our planet crossing the 7 billion population mark this week, last week WhatsApp crossed its own milestone for the first time by sending just over 1 billion messages in a single day.
1 billion messages per day. Let’s put that into perspective: it takes Twitter users one entire week to send a billion tweets.
7–8 trillion SMS messages were sent worldwide in 2011 (depending on the source); that comes to about 20 billion texts being sent per day worldwide. Which would mean that WhatsApp holds around 4–5% market share in the mobile messaging market.1
RIM claims that “billions” of BBM messages are sent every day – presumably that’s at least twice as many as WhatsApp – but no one expects much from a dying company.
On the other hand, Apple’s own iMessage protocol will likely become WhatsApp’s strongest challenger. It’s already available on any iPhone, iPod and iPad running iOS 5, and is seamlessly integrated with SMS (barring a few improvements). The beauty of that integration is that people will start using it without knowing it.
Yes, most iOS users still haven’t upgraded their devices to iOS 5, but it’s not difficult to imagine that in 6-12 months those people will be in the minority. That is to say, within a year, almost every iOS user could be using iMessage. And when that happens, what does WhatsApp have left to offer, other than being the incumbent?
The features that made WhatsApp successful so far are (in order of importance):
- Unlimited Messaging
- Photo Sharing
- Group Chat
iMessage also has free texts and MMS. iMessage also offers group chat (albeit with hiccups). Which leaves only one reason for anyone to keep WhatsApp around: friends who are adamantly sticking to their Android/BlackBerry phones.
WhatsApp’s raison d’être must go from subverting ridiculous SMS charges to being THE platform for cross-platform messaging.
The Shifting Paradigm
But WhatsApp is, in its own words, “a telephony application and as such iPod or iPad are NOT supported devices.” It painted itself into a corner. The fact of the matter is that we message people, not devices nor phone numbers. When we send a message, we want it to reach a person, whether they’re on their phone, tablet, or computer. We want to pick up any conversation exactly where we left it, no matter what device we’re holding.
By using phone numbers as a “login”, WhatsApp enables users to immediately message anyone whose number is in their address book and dispenses with the can-I-add-you requests and approvals. It was a great idea when entering the market.
And now WhatsApp must play to its strength as a cross-platform messaging protocol; it suffers from limiting its service to only smartphones. If WhatsApp wants to survive, it must do everything iMessage can do, and more. Bring WhatsApp to iPods and iPads and Android tablets (if they exist). Bring WhatsApp to Macs and PCs even before iMessage comes to Macs.2
Synchronization and Ubiquity
But iMessage will never go mainstream from inside the Walled Garden of Apple, you say. Yes, iMessage is locked into the iOS ecosystem, and perhaps sounds just like BBM for iPhones. The one crucial difference between the two is that iMessage is beginning to break free of the antiquated telephony system. It’s already on iPad and coming soon to Macs. WhatsApp would be foolish not to follow suit.
The carriers are losing their grip on mobile messaging. The service that will permit you to instantaneously reach any person wherever they are or whatever they’re using will champion the mobile messaging market. It will require synchronization and ubiquity. WhatsApp is multiplatform but it’s not ubiquitous enough. Email is still around perhaps because it’s still the only communicative protocol that manages both.
WhatsApp is perhaps the most popular mobile messaging app right now. Facebook acquired Beluga. Skype acquired GroupMe. Microsoft acquired Skype. It’s the final showdown between WhatsApp and iMessage.
What We Want
In the end, we want fewer communication mediums. We have too many phone numbers, emails, accounts, logins, and passwords. We want integration. The movie He’s Just Not That Into You (2009) says it best:
Mary: I had this guy leave me a voice mail at work so I called him at home and then he e-mailed me to my Blackberry and so I texted to his cell and then he e-mailed me to my home account and the whole thing just got out of control.
Simplify, simplify, simplify!